NBA Rookie Watch: February 5th
Most rookies are recognized for their numbers, but it can be hard to get any stats to show off if your coach will not give you the minutes. Just ask Andrew Nicholson. Nicholson has modest numbers in very few minutes and in those rare opportunities when he gets to play, he tends to show off what might have been. However, it’s worse if the reason a rookie isn’t playing is because he can’t.
Injuries have been an issue in January. Alexey Shved missed two weeks in January with a sore ankle. Jonas Valanciunas has just returned after missing six weeks with a broken finger. Jared Sullinger’s season is over after back surgery. Bradley Beal has missed a week resting a sore wrist and is day-to-day. Also day-to-day are Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with a concussion and Andre Drummond with a sore back. Anthony Davis was sidelined earlier this season and the list of rookies who have missed games due to injury is a long one.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals
It was just another very good week for the Western Conference Rookie of the Month in January. Lillard put up over 20 points in each of the past three games and, in a four-game week, led his team to a 3-1 record. In many ways, this is what we have come to expect. His three turnovers in the last two and a half minutes that let Minnesota almost come back and steal Monday’s game at the buzzer will not be remembered by anyone except Lillard by this time next week.
The Trail Blazers are two games over .500, half a game behind Houston for eighth and just three games ahead of the tenth place Lakers. This is heady stuff for a high lottery pick in his rookie season. None of the other rookies on our list can claim this level of impact.
2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals 1.7 blocks
Drummond made a statement last Tuesday when he piled up 18 points and 18 rebounds on the Bucks in a blowout home loss and although this was a tough week on the Pistons, their emerging rookie center blocked 10 shots over the five games.
Drummond only played eight minutes on Monday night. After a monster crush over Tyson Chandler, five boards, a block and a steal, he left the game with a sore back. It wasn’t known if he would be back in time for Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn.
The 19-year-old continues to impress, but head coach Lawrence Frank is deaf to the pleas of “Free Drummond” and refuses to boost his playing time. Despite the lack of minutes, Drummond moved ahead of Davis in rebounds per game this week.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
In a four-loss week where Davis only received big minutes in his team’s two blowout losses, the rookie found some of that scoring touch again and averaged over 15 points a game in a week for the first time in 2013. Unfortunately, his rebounding numbers have continued to slide.
Some of the dip in Davis’ production can be blamed on head coach Monty Williams, who has gone to Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith in a mostly futile attempt to win some close games, but the reality is, there is little to be disappointed in. Davis continues to average more than enough minutes for his development and with the injury concerns, it is probably prudent to not over tax this future franchise player.
Out of the context of the Rookie of the Year race, Davis is having a great season.
4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
The Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January injured his wrist on January 18 in a game against the Nuggets and was playing through the discomfort, but on Wednesday, he visited a specialist in New York and was advised to give it some rest. Beal hasn’t played since a week ago Monday and remains questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Knicks.
We are not about to drop the Rookie of the Month for missing a few games, but this could become a concern if he doesn’t return to action soon.
5. Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Zeller had 16 points and five assists in his best offensive game of 2013 on Tuesday, but the weakness of his game was on full display in 17 ineffective, foul-plagued minutes against the Pistons’ big frontcourt two nights later in Detroit.
Zeller knows he needs to add weight and strength, but he continues to take advantage of his minutes on most nights and shows no fear of banging with bigger bodies for rebounds. He bounced back with seven points and eight boards in Cleveland’s shocking win over the Thunder on Saturday night at home.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 11 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.8 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.4 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals
Some Rookies To Watch: Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons), Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors), Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors) and John Henson (Milwaukee Bucks)
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.