NBA Rookie Watch: January 15th
While other rookies deal with the speed of the game, shooting slumps, injuries and coach’s agendas not consistent with winning awards, one rookie continues to impress week-after-week. Damian Lillard was supposed to be a decent scoring point guard, but the Trail Blazers have themselves a floor general playing well beyond his rookie status.
Some other promising rookies have hit bumps in the road. Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved is still a contributor in Minnesota, but in January he has lost the range and is only hitting on 33.3 percent of his shots. Hornets forward Anthony Davis is mired in a slump in New Orleans and his coach has been complaining about a lack of energy and effort. Someone has hit the rookie wall. Even Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who lives in the paint, is missing shots in January.
In Milwaukee, the Bucks replaced head coach Scott Skiles with Jim Boylan and the biggest beneficiary may have been rookie John Henson. Henson scored 19 points against the Raptors on Sunday and looked like someone to watch going forward.
The season is young and early successes or setbacks are unlikely to be remembered in April. There is still plenty of time for the rookies to emerge, re-emerge or disappear from our top five.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.1 steals
In a week facing the HEAT, Warriors and Thunder, Rookie of the Year frontrunner Lillard managed to up his numbers across the board. After the Trail Blazers beat the HEAT at home, Lillard scored a career-best 37 points against the Warriors in front of friends and family in Oakland the following night. While Portland lost to Golden State and then to Oklahoma City two nights later, taking one of three games over this stretch was an accomplishment.
The Trail Blazers still hold the final playoff spot in the West and much of the credit belongs to Lillard.
2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.8 steals 1.6 blocks
Drummond has been averaging eight points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in January as Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank slowly increases his rookie big man’s minutes. While he is still averaging under 20 minutes per game on the season and the increase each month has been interminably slow, Frank appears to have Drummond’s full attention, which suggests his numbers will keep going up.
Detroit is 7-3 over their past 10 games and the improved play of Drummond has been a significant factor in the team’s most recent turnaround.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.8 blocks
Davis is in a slump, at least by the standards he set for himself earlier in the season. His usual consistent effort, minutes and production have been all over the map in January, but he has still managed a respectable 9.4 points on 50 percent shooting and 5.9 rebounds so far this month.
Hornets head coach Monty Williams has only played Davis over 30 minutes twice in January as Davis has struggled and the team has pursued a few badly needed wins. New Orleans has won four of their last five games.
4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals
Beal won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December and he did it shooting just 36.8 percent from the field and 18.4 percent from three-point range. Beal was scoring, he just wasn’t scoring very efficiently.
So far in January things have been different. Beal is averaging 17.8 points on 41.2 percent shooting and hitting 53.6 percent of his three-point attempts this month and has upped his game across the board. The game winner against the Thunder a week ago is still generating buzz.
The impact of John Wall’s return on Beal’s scoring is still to be determined, but hopefully the addition of a skilled playmaker will create better opportunities for Beal and keep his shooting percentages headed in the right direction.
5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 10.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks
January has been rough on the Bobcats’ rookie. He missed the last game of December due to a scratched cornea and the month just has not gotten off to a good start. Kidd-Gilchrist was a stat stuffer with decent scoring, rebounding and better than a steal and a block per game in November, but as the season has progressed, the stat stuffing has tailed off.
So far in January, Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging 9.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks and is shooting below 40 percent from the field. Part of the problem is defenses have adjusted to Kidd-Gilchrist’s game around the rim and he has been leading the NBA in the percentage of shots being blocked. On the defensive end, he isn’t surprising anyone anymore.
The Bobcats have lost 22 of their last 24 games and it isn’t going to get any easier from here.
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves: 10.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 7.7 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.3 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons), Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics) 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 3 p.m. Eastern.