NBA Rookie Watch: March 12th
The Rockets’ Donatas Motiejunas finally started getting some serious minutes lately and had three double-digit scoring efforts in a row. Unfortunately, Motiejunas couldn’t crack Houston’s rotation on a consistent basis until mid-February and it will be very difficult for him to put together enough good games to be considered now. The Rockets are getting a great look at what they might have for next season.
In Orlando, the rookie environment hit a stumbling block. Andrew Nicholson did not play for the first time in 20 games and Moe Harkless has seen his minutes slashed as sophomore Tobias Harris has been playing well and Al Harrington is getting some time. The Magic have talent to evaluate before the season is over so these two promising rookies may not get the minutes they’re used to.
For now, the top spot belongs to Damian Lillard. The next three players could change chairs, but that’s about it and the fifth spot is up for grabs depending on playing time and performance. If Andre Drummond returns from injury, all five spots will be sewn-up.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 18.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.0 steals
Damian Lillard has scored 20 or more points in six straight games, including a massive 35 point effort in the Trail Blazers victory over the first place Spurs on Friday night. At his current pace, Lillard will end the season with more than 1500 points and 500 assists. He doesn’t just lead the pack, he has almost lapped the field.
Lillard’s season can be compared to recent Rookie of the Year award winners Kyrie Irving, who averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists, and Derrick Rose, who averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 assists. It will take a lot more than a good final month of the season from any of the other rookies to change the inevitable at this point.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 12.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.8 blocks
While Bradley Beal was nursing a bad ankle and Dion Waiters was sick, Anthony Davis was returning from his own short-term absence with a vengeance. After missing two games with a shoulder injury to start the month, Davis averaged 17 points and 12.3 rebounds over his next four games including a monster 20-point and 18-rebound effort in Memphis on Saturday. He followed that game up with 18 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Portland.
Davis has missed 15 games due to injury this season and went through stretches in early January and again in early February that could be described as hitting the rookie wall, but he finally seems to be getting everything back on track in March. If the preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year can keep up something close to his current pace, maybe he can salvage second place in this year’s race.
3. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals
A week ago Sunday, Bradley Beal was carried off the court after spraining his ankle and he hasn’t been back since. Listed as day-to-day and seen warming up with his team on Saturday before the game versus Charlotte, Beal missed practice on Monday and is unlikely to play Tuesday in Cleveland. With back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday and again on Friday and Saturday, this might not be a good week to return from a bad ankle sprain.
Averaging 20.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 1.1 steals since the All-Star game, Beal’s play has been outstanding lately. Hopefully this setback doesn’t cost him any more games after this week.
4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals
After missing two games due to illness, Dion Waiters made an attempt to play versus the Grizzlies on Friday, but he didn’t get back to his old self until he arrived in Toronto for a Sunday night tilt. Waiters had a team-leading 21 points as he brought the Cavaliers back from a five-point third quarter deficit with 13 fourth quarter points to fall just short in the closing seconds.
Waiters has averaged 17.9 points per game since the All-Star break and the improving Cavaliers have gone 5-5.
5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 9.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist started out this season as the third-best rookie on the court and at times arguably the second-best, but that was back in November and each month since then has seen a drop off in play until now.
The Bobcats are a weak team. Limited veteran experience and a lack of talent has put this team’s young players in a losing environment where double-digit losing streaks happen. Despite losing their past 10 games, Gilchrist has started to turn things around. In March, Gilchrist reversed a bad personal February slump by shooting 50 percent from the field and averaging 9.3 points per game.
Gilchrist hasn’t been a consistent producer all season and that is likely a product of his environment, but even including the poor shooting month in February, the 19-year-old wing has maintained 45.6 field goal percentage and his overall body of work justifies a ranking higher than the rookies that have just started producing recently. However, he will have to keep up his improved level of play in order to stay here and his last two games suggest his inconsistent play hasn’t gone anywhere.
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 9.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.8 steals
Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic: 8.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.4 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Moe Harkless (Orlando Magic) and Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors)
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. ET.