NBA Rookie Watch: March 26th
It has been a little rough lately for a couple of the top ranked prospects on our Rookie Watch as both Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal may be done for the season. There is no official word yet, but with only three weeks left to go in the season, pretty soon there won’t be much to come back to anyway.
Throughout this season, we have been dropping injured players from the list and if Waiters and Beal do not return, there might be time to give a couple of other rookies some props. However, these two players have earned a spot in the top five for the season and before it is all over, the exploits of Andre Drummond deserve another look as well.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 19.1 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals
Damian Lillard is having the best month of his impressive rookie season in March. So far, the league’s top rookie is averaging 22 points and seven assists while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from three-point range. The Trail Blazers have a record of 7-6 for the month and sit a mere three games behind the Lakers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The only player on the Trail Blazers to have played in all 70 games this season, Lillard has been more than just a contributor on a border-line playoff team. Lillard is the main reason why this team is still in the hunt with 12 games remaining. No other rookie has made a bigger impact on his team this season than Lillard and it isn’t close.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: 13.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.8 blocks
After a disappointing January and February, Anthony Davis has bounced back in March to average a double-double of 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds through his first 10 games. The increased minutes from head coach Monty Williams and Davis’ surprisingly consistent production have some corners suggesting the 20-year-old could win his first Rookie of the Month award in March. However, with the way Lillard is playing, that would have to feel just a little pity-based. There can be no suggestion made that Davis is in any way impacting the Hornets to the same extent Lillard is impacting the Trail Blazers this month.
Davis has 12 games left to work on his craft before heading into an offseason where strength and conditioning should form a major part of his regimen. Davis has shown he is a highly-skilled big man, but like many one-and-done players who entered the NBA, he has a lot of work to do on his body before he will realize his full and very extensive potential.
3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers: 14.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals
The Cavaliers are playing for ping pong balls in this year’s draft lottery and with Kyrie Irving already sidelined with a shoulder injury, there is no possible rationale to play Dion Waiters for the duration of this season now that an MRI has confirmed a loose cartilage fragment in his left knee. Read no timetable for his return to really mean no reason for his return.
The Cavaliers should be very pleased with the progress of their supposedly risky fourth overall draft pick. Waiters is second in rookie scoring with 840 total points and has shot 46.8 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from deep since the All-Star break.
4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals
Bradley Beal has had a great rookie season and after seriously spraining his left ankle for the second time in March on Wednesday, there has to be at least some possibility that his season is over. With just 12 games left over the remaining three weeks of the schedule, there just isn’t a good reason to bring the impressive young shooting guard back for such a short stretch.
Even if Beal doesn’t return this season, he will end up fourth overall in rookie scoring with 748 total points and he should easily hold on to a top five spot in the Rookie of the Year voting.
5. Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic: 7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks
As the Johnny-come-lately to the Rookie Watch, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if someone was able to supplant Maurice Harkless in the number five spot, but after a couple of sub-par games by his own recent standards, Harkless had a monster game against Oklahoma City. The small forward scored a career-high 25 points on 11-18 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four blocks and four steals. For awhile, it even looked like Harkless’ heroics might be enough for the short-handed Magic to upset the heavily-favored Thunder. On Monday night against Miami, however, Harkless was blocked four times and only scored seven points, but he did manage to grab nine rebounds in the loss. The rookie should be excused for throwing the ball into the seats as the HEAT pressured the Magic into 10 unanswered points to end the third quarter.
Since the All-Star break, the 19-year-old Harkless has only failed to score in double-digits three times and has been deserving of the big minutes being handed out by head coach Jacque Vaughn. He may not have solidified a top-five rookie ranking for the end of the season yet, but he is headed in the right direction.
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.9 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.6 steals
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 blocks
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 8.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.7 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.