NBA Rookie Watch: January 8th
The Rookie Watch returns after a brief interruption during the holidays and while little has changed, there have been some very interesting developments.
Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Bradley Beal remains on the outside looking in as his shooting stroke has left much to be desired through the end of December. At 36.5 percent from the field, Beal has some work to do. The good news is that Beal is shooting 42.2 percent in January and there is a lot of season left. If Andrew Nicholson could get consistent minutes, he might just have some of the best numbers in this rookie class. Unfortunately for Nicholson, Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn has his own ideas about player development and trying to win awards isn’t part of the program. Don’t forget about Harrison Barnes in Golden State. Barnes has been up and down all season, but the last couple of weeks suggest he is getting ready to challenge for a spot on our list again.
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: 18.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.0 steals
Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts summed up rookie point guard Damian Lillard in one word: “Poised.” The poised play of Lillard is the main reason Portland holds the Western Conference’s eighth seed.
Lillard is playing almost 38 minutes per game and has already completed a typical college season. He should have run head first into the infamous rookie wall by now, but aside from a brief five-game stretch of poor shooting in mid-December, there are no signs of the 22-year-old slowing down. His assists per game have increased dramatically from the first month of the season and during the first four games of January, his shooting percentages have improved too. All this and his team is winning as well.
When a rookie starts, plays big minutes and leads his team unexpectedly into playoff contention, that’s a tough combination to overlook when selecting the Rookie of the Year.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.9 blocks
Anthony Davis has been in a slump. Before Monday, he had scored in single digits over his past four games and only played 12 minutes against Dallas on Saturday as head coach Monty Williams went with Ryan Anderson for 38 minutes off the bench in order to get a much needed win. Williams’ actions must have had an impact as Davis was 8-13 from the field for 17 points and nine rebounds in Monday’s win over the Spurs.
Even with the back-to-back wins, the struggling Hornets continue to reside deep in the basement of the Western Conference. Like the Bobcats, the Hornets buried themselves with a double-digit losing streak in December.
While Davis’ numbers continue to impress, he has only scored over 20 points once since November and those early massive double-doubles have almost disappeared. Injuries, the rookie wall and playing on a struggling team are taking their toll. The shine has not come off Davis, he is still projected to be an impact player, but his present situation and level of play is not matching Lillard in Portland.
3. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals 1.6 blocks
Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank was looking for more consistency from his very young big man and since the middle of December, he has been getting it. Drummond added almost two points and two rebounds to his November averages and last week he impressed with 7.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in just 23 minutes per game. Over his last eight games, Drummond has collected double-digit rebounds five times, scored in double-figures four times and had five multiple block games. The Pistons have a 6-2 record over that period.
As everyone waits for the Pistons to implement a full blown youth movement, Drummond will have to continue to work hard to get his minutes, but when Frank finally gets permission to put his emphasis on player development, Drummond could put up the kind of numbers that will get really noticed.
4. Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.7 steals
The Timberwolves continue to struggle with injuries and head coach Rick Adelman continues to show an increasing level of confidence in Alexey Shved. The 24-year-old rookie guard has played 30 minutes or more in each of the last eight games and has averaged 11.5 points and 6.4 assists.
Despite all the injuries, the Timberwolves are 15-15 on the season and have refused to fall out of the playoff race. Shved has been an important piece of that puzzle in Minnesota. While there remain some inconsistencies in his game, he came up with huge efforts to help end a couple of short losing streaks in December and most nights, he is an efficient and effective scorer and playmaker.
Ricky Rubio has been limited by back spasms in recent weeks, but once he is finally ready to play starter’s minutes, one of the Timberwolves other guards will see their minutes cut. Shved, however, continues to make a case for staying on the court.
5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 10.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.3 blocks
The Charlotte Bobcats finally ended their 18-game losing streak on New Year’s Eve and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed it with a scratched cornea suffered during the game against the Hornets two nights earlier. Kidd-Gilchrist did, however, cap off a solid December with a 22-point, nine-rebound and two-block effort against his former Kentucky teammate Davis.
January has gotten off to a bit of a rough start, most likely due to the scratched cornea, but over his first couple of months, Gilchrist has just been a very solid young player on a bad team and he needs to find another gear in the second half of the season. The injury is not expected to hold him back for long.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 7.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.4 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.6 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 Meyers Leonard (Portland Trailblazers)
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.