NBA Rookie Watch: February 24th
The past two weeks there were some serious shifts in the rookie rankings, from the top of the list all the way through the honorable mentions. And yes, another point guard has broken into the rankings, this one the last pick in the entire draft.
What better way to prepare for tonight’s Rising Stars Challenge than to see the latest Rookie Rankings?
On to the list! (Stats are through games from February 23rd. Last ranking in parentheses.)
1 (2) – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
18.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 48% FG, 42% 3FG
That’s right; we have a new leader in the clubhouse. Irving missed a few games because of a concussion, but has come back and done well. On Wednesday he posted a season-high in assists with 11 – against just two turnovers – on a night when he shot poorly (just 2-13). It was just the third time this year he failed to reach double digits in scoring.
2 (1) – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
11.3 points, 8.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 38% FG, 35% 3FG
Since our last report Rubio has lost 0.5 assists a game on his average and his shooting percentage has dropped another point. He also posted a season-high with 22 points in a win over Philly last Sunday. The bad news? He posted five or more turnovers in four of the past six games. Is Rubio getting tired of the NBA pace? The normal NBA pace (as in, games per week) is faster than in Euroleague or the NCAA, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see rookies hit a wall in this season of all seasons.
3 (9) – MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets
14.6 points, 2.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 44% FG, 36% 3FG
Brooks returned from injury and didn’t waste any time getting back to being indispensable for the Nets. He poured in double-digit scoring in the past six games, topped off with a season-high 24 points on Wednesday in a loss to Orlando. Here’s another fun tidbit: Since Brooks returned to the starting lineup on February 11th, All-Star teammate Deron Williams is averaging 28.3 points and 7.3 assists. That’s not a coincidence. Brooks takes some of the heat off his backcourt mate because teams can no longer help off of him, which makes scoring easier for Williams.
4 (3) – Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
12.8 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 41% FG, 38% 3FG
On the 17th Knight posted his best game of the season, recording 23 points, 10 assists and six rebounds – and zero turnovers! – in a win over the Sacramento Kings. On most nights the scoring is there, but those assists are an aberration; for the season he’s dished 159 against 120 turnovers. Take away that game against the Kings and his season assist:turnover ratio is 1.24:1. That needs to improve.
5 (4) – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
7.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 46% FG, 35% 3FG
Count Leonard among the few rookies who is actually seeing his shooting percentages improve. His minutes are still up and down, best illustrated by the fact he came off the bench for seven straight games before getting the start against Portland (where San Antonio’s 11-game winning streak was ended, but that’s not Leonard’s fault) and a season-high 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and five steals. At some point he has to simply move in front of Richard Jefferson in the rotation, right?
6 (NR) – Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings
8.8 points, 2.9 assists, 2.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 41% FG, 35% 3FG
A strong case could be made Thomas should be higher on this list and next time, provided he maintains his pace, he probably will be. The Kings moved the last pick in the second-round of the 2011 NBA Draft into the starting lineup a week ago after figuring out he’s the only real point guard on the roster and Tyreke Evans isn’t the answer at the one. He’s responded. In four starts he’s averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 51% from the field and 45% from three-point range. Oh, and he’s only 5-9.
7 (6) – Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.4 steals, 38% FG, 27% 3FG
Perhaps the most underreported aspect of the ascension of Jeremy Lin – if there is one – is the improved play of Shumpert. Forced to play the starting point guard role until Coach D’Antoni turned to Lin, Shumpert has been moved back to the bench and seems to be more relaxed. Since being moved back to the bench on February 6th – the same day Lin got his first start – Shumpert scored in double figures in four of eight games, including his second 20-point game of the season. His play tailed off in the last few games as he battled injury, but perhaps after sitting out three games and the All-Star break he will return to form.
8 (5) – Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
13.3 points, 3.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 37% FG, 35% 3FG
After winning Walker’s first start back on January 14th the Bobcats lost 16 in a row. That’s not Walker’s fault – the team as a whole needs improving – and he actually played better as the streak went along. The Cats then won the first game he returned to the bench and have now lost two straight. Maybe the answer is starting Walker every other game?
9 (NR) – Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
7.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, 0.4 steals, 43% FG
Thompson has posted double-doubles in two of his past three games (including once in just 16 minutes of game time). Three times in February he has grabbed 10 or more rebounds and four times blocked two or more shots. With Anderson Varejao out it’s getting harder and harder to justify Thompson coming off the bench and we may see a change soon.
10 (7) – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
7.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 44% FG, 25% 3FG
Williams has become a little more efficient recently, turning the ball over just twice in his last six games while producing on the glass. His minutes are still all over the place, but he has impressed the staff enough that Michael Beasley could be moved at the trading deadline expressly to give Williams more court time.
Honorable Mention: Nicola Vucevic (Philadelphia 76ers), Norris Cole (Miami HEAT), Lavoy Allen (Philadelphia 76ers), Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte Bobcats), Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors), Markieff Morris (Phoenix Suns), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets)