NBA Rookie Watch: January 29th
One of the toughest things many high draft picks have to deal with is playing for losing teams. It is hard to imagine that losing 18 games in a row didn’t affect Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or that being last or second last in their conference doesn’t have an impact on Bradley Beal or Anthony Davis. The positive may be that as teams slide out of playoff contention, some rookies will start to see all the minutes they can handle. Of course in Portland, Damian Lillard is already playing big minutes as he is attempting to keep his Trail Blazers in a playoff race and that’s why it’s hard to see any rookie catching him this year.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals
It was a good week for the most impressive rookie in this year’s class. Lillard put up 20 points at home against the Pacers and Clippers in two big wins that allowed Portland to keep pace with Houston in the loss column. Lillard’s efforts this past week were all the more impressive as he was dealing with a sore hamstring.
Lillard just keeps doing what he has been doing all season and that’s not looking like a rookie. None of the also-rans in this year’s class can say that.
2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals 1.6 blocks
Apparently Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank now believes Andre Drummond is coachable and if anyone suspected this back in June, the young center would not have fallen to ninth in the draft. Frank still hasn’t increased his minutes, but the 19-year-old is starting to prove he wasn’t the risk eight other teams thought he might be.
On Friday, Drummond had six points, seven boards, two blocks and three steals against the HEAT as he continues to pile up the defensive stats and play like a big man. He went 0-1 for no points on Sunday against Orlando, but added two more blocks to his resume as the Pistons pulled out the win.
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 12.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks
Anthony Davis’ offensive production and rebounding has continued to slide from earlier in the season as the rookie averaged just 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds over three games this past week. However, his defensive stats have remained solid as he picked up at least a block and a steal in each contest.
Expectations were sky high before the season started and while Davis is still performing exceptionally well for a rookie, more was expected.
4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
The Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month for December started out this week with strong games against the Jazz and Wolves, averaging 14 points on 50 percent shooting, but the back half of the week saw this improving rookie firing blanks as he averaged just five points on 25 percent shooting against the Bulls and Kings.
Beal has been outstanding in January after using some very suspect shooting to build his impressive scoring average over his first two months in the NBA. His shooting the last two games looks out of place as Beal has averaged 45 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range this month.
The surprising Wizards continue to win more games lately splitting the past four 2-2. This positive development can only help Beal’s case.
5. Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks
While Dion Waiters gets all the attention, Tyler Zeller is starting to fulfill his coach’s prediction of being a true center in a league with few true centers. A seven-footer with a seven-foot wingspan, Zeller knows he needs to add weight and strength. A lack of strength has impacted his ability to finish around the rim, but this hasn’t stopped him from banging inside to grab rebounds.
With more minutes available since Anderson Varejao was lost for the season, Zeller has been playing 34.1 minutes per game in January and averaging 8.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.8 blocks for the month. This past week, the Cavaliers won all three games and Zeller averaged 5.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and a block.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 10 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.1 blocks
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.9 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.3 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 8.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals
Some Rookies To Watch: Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons), Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics), 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 3 p.m. Eastern.