NBA Rookie Watch: November 6th
With the first week of the 2012-13 NBA regular season in the books, it’s time to start looking at this year’s crop of rookies and identifying who has stood out so far. The Rookie of the Year race is off to a fast start.
It’s early, but most rookies had a chance to play in five to seven preseason games before the start of regular season and it showed in last week’s games. However, not all coaches are willing to give minutes to unproven talent so some promising rookies find themselves playing behind veterans and waiting for a chance to prove they belong. Nothing should be considered carved-in-stone just yet.
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. Other factors such as team improvement over the previous season, improved production of teammates and overall team success are also taken into consideration.
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trailblazers
19.3 points, 8.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals
Damian Lillard was one of the most impressive rookies in the preseason, exceeding expectations with 16.2 points and 5.8 assists over the six exhibition games. However, preseason games are nowhere near the intensity of regular season games so it remained to be seen if he could duplicate that success over the course of the 82-game season. Last week, Lillard picked up right where he left off and his production was off the charts.
Lillard has walked into a perfect situation in Portland. The team needed a point guard so he is starting and playing 38 minutes a game. While he’s a focal point of the team, he has talent around him so he isn’t the only option on the floor. Lillard became just the third rookie in NBA history, joining Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas, to record at least 20 points and 10 assists in his first game.
While scoring was expected, Lillard wasn’t supposed to get noticed as a playmaker, but nine assists per game suggests Lillard may be better than advertised. It’s early, but the rookie point guard has jumped out to big lead.
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
14.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals
A mild concussion knocked Anthony Davis out of his second NBA game and has him listed as day-to-day, but the number one overall draft pick did manage to leave a strong impression in the game and a half he has played in.
Davis battled veteran star Tim Duncan in the Hornets’ home opening loss to the Spurs as he collected 21 points and seven rebounds to start his NBA career. Then, he had a strong showing in 14 minutes against the Utah Jazz with two blocks and a steal.
The good news is Davis had largely maintained his preseason production of 14.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 0.7 steals before he was injured and this setback should not keep him sidelined very long.
3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
16.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 steals
The Cavaliers have been hearing the doubters since they selected Dion Waiters fourth overall and a poor showing during the NBA preseason didn’t help, but head coach Bryon Scott insisted Waiters earned the starting job during the final week of practice before the regular season and the early results suggest he was right.
Waiters’ inconsistent shooting during the preseason disappeared as he has hit on 11-20 three-point attempts and has averaged 48 percent from the field. He had his best game of the season on Monday, scoring 28 points on 10-17 shooting against the Los Angeles Clippers. Scott seems pleased with his very young starting lineup and Waiters is keeping the surprisingly ice-cold C.J. Miles coming off the bench.
4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
7.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.5 blocks, 2.5 steals
In typical rookie fashion, after going 1-7 from the floor for two points, seven boards and two blocks in a surprising Bobcats win over Indiana, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 13 points and five steals in a blowout loss to Dallas.
Through preseason and now in a couple of regular season games, Kidd-Gilchrist has shown he can put up numbers across every category. The second overall pick in the draft is going to get an opportunity to play and develop in Charlotte and if his currently suspect shooting percentages can begin to approach those he had at Kentucky, he should be in our top five all season.
5. Festus Ezeli, Golden State Warriors
4.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.3 block, 1.3 steals
Festus Ezeli finally earned the start against the Clippers after two good efforts off the bench and the 30th pick in the draft rewarded head coach Mark Jackson with eight points, five rebounds, a block and 10 trips to the free throw line. The surprising Warriors improved their record to 2-1.
With Andrew Bogut playing restricted minutes, Ezeli has earned a place in the rotation. Unfortunately, how many minutes Ezeli will be able to retain once Bogut is ready to start again are uncertain, but he could prove to be an important piece in the Warriors’ fight for a playoff spot this season.
Other Rookies Off To A Good Start: Jae Crowder (Dallas Mavericks), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons), Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics) and Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)
Some Rookies To Watch: Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), Thomas Robinson (Sacramento Kings), Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors), Austin Rivers (New Orleans Hornets) and Meyers Leonard (Portland Trailblazers)
How would you rate this year’s rookies so far? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below! Follow Stephen Brotherston on Twitter (@stevesraptors) and hit up his weekly chat Monday at 3 p.m. ET.