NBA Rookie Watch: November 20th
Inconsistent play from rookies should not come as much of a surprise. Every rookie enters the NBA with a lot to learn and this year’s crop isn’t an exception. Anthony Davis had a couple of subpar performances this past week, but the shooting of Dion Waiters (9-45 from the field) and Bradley Beal (7-31 from the field) over their past three games could not be ignored and allowed two newcomers to join our top five.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 19 points, 6.1 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals
Averaging 21.7 points on 56 percent shooting, Damian Lillard led his team to a 3-0 week that evened the Trail Blazers record at .500 and moved the conversation in Portland from likely lottery team to possible playoff contender. This is the type of discussion that can help a player win the Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season.
The nine assists per game Lillard averaged in week one has come back down to earth and his assists will likely remain in the anticipated five to six range, but those numbers are very respectable for a scoring NBA point guard. Aside from his obvious ability to score, what has been impressive so far is that Lillard does not appear rushed. Many rookies will play at a 100 miles per hour all the time as they try to keep up with the speed of the NBA game, but Lillard looks like he belongs on floor and plays more like a young veteran than someone with just 10 games under his belt.
The turnover numbers are on the high side at 3.3 per game, but if he can keep his assist-to-turnover ratio around two, there will not be many complaints.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets; 16 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, 1.0 steals
Anthony Davis wowed us with his second double-double performance – a 28-point, 11-rebound effort – during the loss to Milwaukee, but earlier in the week Davis shot 2-7 against Houston and 4-14 against Oklahoma City in a couple of subpar, eight-point performances. The Hornets dropped all three games this week to fall below .500.
Some up-and-down performances are expected and Davis continues to impress with at least one All-Star level game each week, but it will take a more consistent effort to bump Lillard from the top spot.
Injuries are always an important factor and Davis said he tweaked his ankle in the game against the Thunder and yet again while playing against the Bucks. It wasn’t considered serious enough to miss any time, but this is a situation worth monitoring.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: 11.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.1 steals
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had his second poor performance of the young season as he played in just 17 minutes during the Bobcats’ victory over Minnesota. A two-point, two-rebound and two-assist night sandwiched in between a pair of his typical stat-stuffing games.
This blip in performance against the Timberwolves wouldn’t normally be a concern, but Kidd-Gilchrist had to ice his back at the end of the game against Washington the night before. The sore back was not used as an excuse, but it is something to watch going forward. A bigger concern probably should be the five fouls he accumulated twice last week, which limited his playing time.
4. Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons: 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.8 blocks
Kyle Singler has been labeled as a rookie to watch since the season started. In three starts last week, he made a big impression by scoring 14.7 points on 54.5 percent shooting in 31 minutes per contest.
Singler got the start at shooting guard when Rodney Stuckey missed Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia with the flu and the Pistons snapped their winless start to the season. Detroit is now 2-1 with Singler in the starting lineup and the Pistons are showing some unexpected chemistry that included a 20-point victory over Boston on Sunday.
There is no way to know if the 24-year-old rookie can hold onto the starting job in Detroit and continue to play at this level. Stuckey has said publicly that he wouldn’t mind coming off the bench behind Singler, but Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank is hesitant to make a permanent change. However, after going 0-8 with the previous lineup and winning two of three games with Singler starting, the Pistons would be foolish not to milk this change in fortune for all that it’s worth.
5. Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves 10.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 0.8 blocks
On the mash-unit otherwise known as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Alexey Shved has to play. The team only has nine healthy bodies to put on the floor and Shved has been a pleasant surprise.
Over his first nine regular season games, the undrafted 23-year-old guard is averaging 4.4 more points and 1.5 more assists than he did in the preseason. As part of Minnesota’s new nine-man rotation, Shved has really stepped things up, averaging 17.5 points over the last two games.
Shved played six seasons with CSKA Moscow before joining the Timberwolves and was on the NBA radar for years before Minnesota signed him as a free agent this summer. He’s not your typical rookie and it may be difficult to cut Shved’s minutes as the injured veterans return.
Honorable Mention: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 6.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals 1.0 blocks
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.6 blocks
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: 10.7 points,4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists
Some Rookies To Watch: Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers), Tyler Zeller (Cleveland Cavaliers), Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Thomas Robinson (Sacramento Kings), Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics) and Meyers Leonard (Portland Trail Blazers)
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 rookie class so far? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below! Follow Stephen Brotherston on Twitter @stevesraptors and hit up his weekly chat every Monday at 3 p.m. ET.