NBA Rookie Watch: February 7th
It’s time for another edition of HOOPSWORLD’s rookie rankings. Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving are still battling it out for the top spot, but for now Rubio holds on.
The choices for the Rising Stars Challenge rosters will be announced soon – check out this take on which players should make the cut for the Rookies and Sophomores. Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will be the ones doing the “draft” for TNT to decide who plays on which team. That draft will be fascinating to see how the two Hall of Fame big men put together teams for a game traditionally dominated by outside shooting and uptempo guard play.
How about adding Knicks’ guard Jeremy Lin to the Sophomores’ roster?
Regarding the list below, there really should be about five open spots between Rubio and Irving at the top and the rest of the pack. That’s a testament not only to how good those to have been but also to the mediocrity of the rest of the group.
On to the list! (Stats are through games from February 6th. Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1 (1) – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
11.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 39% FG, 35% 3FG
Rubio added tenth of a percentage point to his field-goal shooting this week, but the key differentiator keeping him in first place is a 2-1 week for the Wolves. It says a lot about a Rookie of the Year race where wins – something not usually key for the top rookies because they predominantly go to bad teams – is the top stat determining the award. Usually at most one rookie a year makes a strong impact on his team’s won-loss record, but both Rubio and Irving are doing that in 2012. Since becoming a starter, Rubio’s Wolves are 9-5. As a bonus against the Houston Rockets he grabbed six steals, the second time this season he has reached that mark. His 2.33 steals a game not only lead all rookies, but trail just Mike Conley and Chris Paul for the NBA lead.
2 (2) – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
18.0 points, 5.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 50% FG, 40% 3FG
One early criticism of Irving was his poor assist-to-turnover ratio; he has posted seven games where he turned the ball over the same number or more times than he recorded an assist. On the season his posting a ratio of 1.61:1, which, needless to say, isn’t that great for a point guard, rookie or otherwise. However, in three games this past week – the Cavs went 1-2 – Irving has dished 19 assists against just five turnovers – 3.8:1. It’s a very small sample but shows what Irving is capable. For whatever it’s worth only two players – Jose Calderon and Chris Paul – have better ratios than 3.8:1 for the season.
3 (4) – Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons
12.5 points, 3.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 41% FG, 35% 3FG
Before suffering a broken nose Sunday Knight seemed to be figuring things out. His shooting percentage jumped four points just in the last week and Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks he posted his best game of the season with 26 points and seven assists. The best part about his line that night? Zero turnovers and a Pistons win.
4 (8) – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 45% FG, 33% 3FG
Gary Neal took Leonard’s minutes for most of two games, including one start, but Coach Gregg Popovich went back to the rookie because of his defense to take on Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Durant had an average game by his own standards – which most coaches will consider a win – but Leonard posted his best numbers of the season with 15 points, six rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block, plus he hit all three of this three-point attempts, and the Spurs won the game.
5 (3) – Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
12.3 points, 3.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 37% FG, 34% 3FG
The Bobcats won Walker’s first start back on January 14th, but since then have dropped 11 straight. That’s hardly all on Walker, but 1-11 shooting games like he posted in Portland don’t help. The Cats have inserted fellow lottery pick Bismack Biyombo into the starting lineup so the future is now; will the only rookie to post a triple-double so far start to turn this team around?
6 (5) – Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks
9.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 36% FG, 27% 3FG
The explosive emergence of Jeremy Lin at the point guard position for the Knicks has Shumpert back to coming off the bench. For now that’s a role that fits him nicely. His scoring dropped a point this past week with the move, but his rebound and assist numbers both increased. Shumpert isn’t the right point guard for New York’s offense, at least as a starter, but if you want him to produce and bring energy off the bench he can do that. With Lin leading the way against the Utah Jazz Shumpert came off the bench and put up eight points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals in 32 minutes on Monday in a New York win.
7 (10) – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
7.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 43% FG, 25% 3FG
If there is a time for Williams to shine, to prove the Wolves made the right choice, it’s now. With team scoring and rebounding leader Kevin Love out for two games due to a suspension, Williams moves into the starting lineup in his place. In two starts previously this season Williams averaged 10.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. The team split those two games, but the win was on the road in Dallas.
8 (9) – Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
7.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 40% FG, 47% 3FG
Morris’ shooting percentages dropped again this week while his overall production remained static. His Per 36 Minutes stats have him averaging close to a double-double. Here’s something fun: Morris is getting 20.7 minute per game for the Suns as a bigger forward capable of playing the three and the four. Remind you of any previous Suns? How about one who averaged 24.7 minutes, 10.2 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie back in 1999-2000? No, we’re not saying Morris will become Shawn Marion…but he might.
9 (6) – MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets
14.8 points, 1.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 46% FG, 35% 3FG
Brooks may have to drop off this list just because of his foot injury keeping him off the floor, but he’s still one of the most dynamic scorers in the rookie class. A healthy Brooks should be at least fifth on this list.
10 (NR) – Ivan Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
6.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals 45% FG
Every year there seems to be a player who comes out of nowhere to make an impact on a playoff team and this year Johnson is looking like that player. At 27 years of age he has played for three different D-League teams, two teams in South Korea, and one in Puerto Rico after going undrafted in 2007. He played for four different colleges: two junior colleges, then a year at Oregon before transferring to Cal State-San Bernadino. Last year in the D-League he made the All-Star team and was named All-D-League first team, averaging 22.8 points and 7.8 rebounds on 54% shooting. For the Hawks this year his minutes have been up and down, but he posted a double-double in just 25 minutes on Saturday and seems to have worked his way into a consistent role in the rotation.
Honorable Mention: Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers), Nicola Vucevic (Philadelphia 76ers), Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings), Lavoy Allen (Philadelphia 76ers), Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets), Andrew Goudelock (L.A. Lakers), Tobias Harris (Milwaukee Bucks), Bismack Biyombo (Charlotte Bobcats)