NBA Rookie Watch: February 26th
Raptors rookie Terrence Ross was starting to get noticed prior to the All-Star break and after winning the Slam Dunk contest, one might expect his profile was going to blow up, but maybe not. Ross has averaged less than six minutes a game since he returned to Toronto with his trophy. Such can be the life of a rookie.
However, as some teams surrender their hopes for the postseason and begin to value lottery balls more than wins, other rookies will be more fortunate in terms of playing time and those days are not far off. That is why some rookies’ efforts may mean more than others if their team is still in the playoff hunt, but Damian Lillard’s lead is probably too great to overcome.
Portland continued to slide out of the playoff picture by losing seven of their past 10 games, but Lillard maintained his outstanding personal pace with 18.5 points and 6.5 assists over the same period. While the Trail Blazers’ roster may not be deep enough for a post season run this year, Lillard’s presence suggests it will not be a long absence.
Lillard scored his 1,000th point against the Lakers on Friday and this outstanding rookie has caught the eye the USA Basketball and will likely be invited to this summer’s minicamp.
2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
By the time April rolls around, Beals’s Rookie of the Year prospects will probably be described with ‘what if’ inserted immediately before his accomplishments. What if Beal could have found his 2013 shooting average closer to the start of the season? What if John Wall had been in the lineup from day one and they were fighting for a playoff spot in April?
Since January, Beal has been one of the best rookies in his class. Averaging 14.8 points on 44.9 percent shooting in 2013 after shooting 34.1 percent in November, Beal’s numbers continue to improve. During his past six games, he has averaged over 20points while his shooting percentage continues to skyrocket. On Monday night in Toronto, Beal shot 8-13 for a team leading 20 points in the team’s fifth road win. Head coach Randy Wittman described Beal’s play as nothing unusual.
“That’s kind of what [Beal] does,” Wittman said. He picks his spots and he is very patient. Then he realizes the areas where he can attack and becomes more aggressive and I thought he did that tonight. He had a very efficient game for us.”
The Wizards are 13-9 since Wall returned from injury and playing beside the star guard has not hurt Beal’s game. The Wizard’s 5-28 start to the season and Beal’s early poor shooting all but took the rookie off the radar, now what if seems like a very important question to be asking. If things continue to improve for Beal and his Wizards, this two-time Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month may keep getting harder to look past.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 12.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
Davis left Friday’s game with a knee injury, but fortunately it didn’t hold him out Sunday when he put up just his third 20 point effort in 2013. The last five games have finally started trending in the right direction as Davis managed 15.6 points and 8.8 rebounds over that span, but overall 2013 has not been kind to the original favorite for Rookie of the Year. Since the start of January Davis has averaged less than 12 points and fewer than seven rebounds and those are not number the numbers everyone expected.
Davis is not dominating the game every night and New Orleans is just two games out of last place in the Western Conference, but any perception of the rookie not living up to expectations is more the result of preseason hype and several injuries than anything Davis is doing wrong. Even his 2013 production level is outstanding for a rookie.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals
The league’s second leading rookie scorer should get his 700th point against the Bulls on Tuesday as the Cavaliers rookie guard has used a hot shooting month to finally get his season average above 40 percent. Just about everything has gone right for Waiters in February. He is shooting 50.9 percent from the field and has cut his less effective three-point attempts in half to just 1.7 per game.
The light has come on for this rookie when it comes to shot selection. Bad shooting games are becoming rare and those mid-thirty percent shooting averages of November and December seem like a distant memory.
5. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 8.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.4 blocks
Through the first three months of this season, Nicholson averaged 7.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in just 14.2 minutes per game and with more opportunities in February those numbers have improved. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when the league tapped Nicholson to replace the injured Andre Drummond for the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.
With 10 starts in 11 games during February and averaging 27 minutes a game, Nicholson has boosted his production to 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game. He had his second 20 point scoring game this past month and only failed to reach double-digit scoring three times in February.
Nicholson should continue to see big minutes through the balance of the season as Glen Davis is sidelined by foot surgery and the Magic have won just three of their past 31 games.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.0 blocks
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 10.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.8 steals
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons) and Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)
Rookie of the Year is an award that typically rewards production, but that can’t be the only thing taken into account when doing rankings. As the season moves along, team improvement over the previous season and overall team success is also factored in, as well as the improved production of teammates.
How would you rate this year’s rookies so far? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Follow Stephen Brotherston on Twitter @stevesraptors and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 3pm Eastern.