NBA Rookie Watch: March 19th
There is still hope for changes to the top five in our Rookie Watch as both Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal have been hit with minor injuries lately, but that hope is probably fleeting. Maurice Harkless did steal back the number five spot this week with some big minutes, nice scoring and 10 thefts of his own.
Some rookies are going to see a big increase in minutes, so the last spot in the Rookie Watch could be taken again. There is no better example than in Toronto where Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has recently freed Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. His two rookies have been putting up some nice numbers, averaging double-digits in scoring since March 6.
However, no one is in a position to catch Damian Lillard.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 19 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Lillard’s streak of scoring 20 or more points per game ended at eight when he put up 14 points on 3-12 shooting in Portland’s victory over Detroit on Saturday. However, on Monday, Lillard started a new streak by going for 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in Philadelphia. Lillard hit yet another big-time shot, the three-pointer with 7.9 seconds left to bring the Trail Blazers to within one, but LaMarcus Aldridge missed a jump shot and Wesley Matthews missed a tip at the buzzer that could have won the game over the 76ers.
It’s been an amazing month of March for Lillard with the rookie phenom averaging 23.6 points on 51.5 percent shooting and seven assists. The Trail Blazers’ playoff hopes may be slipping away, but the team has won five of nine games so far this month.
While other rookies have been stepping up their game lately, Lillard just keeps raising the bar. Merely piling up some late season stats will not change anyone’s mind about who this year’s biggest impact rookie has been.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.8 blocks
Since Davis returned from his latest injury, the talented big rookie has been averaging 16.8 points and 10.4 rebounds through eight surprisingly consistent games. His team has only won twice in March and is last in the Western Conference, but Davis is finally averaging over 30 minutes per game for the first time in 2013 and he has been taking advantage of the opportunity.
Between Hornets head coach Monty Williams’ cautious approach, the injuries, a certain amount of rookie wall and a terrible team record, even with the improved play of late Davis’ impact just has not matched what Lillard has been able to do in Portland.
3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals
Since Kyrie Irving injured his shoulder in Toronto, Waiters has been on a tear. He averaged 19.3 points over the four games, but really he was just picking up from where he left off before he got sick. Going back to the middle of February, Waiters has scored 20 or more points seven times. On Monday night, Waiters left the game against the Pacers after 12 minutes because of a sore left knee and without Irving and Waiters, the Cavaliers quickly fell behind and lost by 21 points.
Waiters’ suspect shooting over his first two months has been replaced by a steadily improving stroke and since the 6-6 shooting performance against the Timberwolves just before the All-Star break, poor shooting games have become rare. Post All-Star, Waiters has averaged 18.1 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting and 37 percent from three-point range. Just maybe, Waiters has figured out some of the aspects of the NBA game. Hopefully, the sore knee isn’t serious.
4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 14.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals
Beal missed six games after spraining his left ankle and returned to play limited minutes off the bench on Saturday against Phoenix, putting up 13 points on 50 percent shooting with six rebounds, a block and a steal. That ankle is still suspect, but Beal came off the bench in Charlotte on Monday anyway and went 2-8 for five points, two rebounds and a steal.
Beal has been a steadily improving performer all season and his post All-Star break play has been outstanding. Hopefully, the ankle sprain doesn’t hold him back for too much longer and the battle for second place in the Rookie of the Year voting remains a good one.
5. Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic: 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks
After disappearing for a couple of games, Harkless returned with a purpose last week averaging 15 points on 54.5 percent shooting, five rebounds and 3.3 steals in 34 minutes per game. This past week, Harkless picked up six steals in Oklahoma City and 23 points in Milwaukee.
Since the All-Star break, Harkless has averaged 32.7 minutes of playing time and has been putting up some big numbers for Orlando. He has gone from almost invisible for most of the season to averaging 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in his last 15 games.
On the outs in Orlando is fellow rookie Andrew Nicholson, who has only played two minutes over the past four games. Nicholson was sick on Sunday, but Tobias Harris and Harkless have been taking most of the available minutes recently.
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 8.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks
Some Rookies To Watch: Alexey Shved (Minnesota Timberwolves), Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons) 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.
It’s March Madness so be sure to check out HOOPSWORLD’s coverage at our 2013 NCAA Tournament Headquarters.