Rookie Watch: February 1st
It’s time for another edition of HOOPSWORLD’s rookie rankings. Again there was no movement at the very top of the list, but that number one position is tenuous.
Let’s talk about that top spot for a moment, the ongoing battle between point guards Ricky Rubio of Minnesota and Kyrie Irving of Cleveland. Clearly they are the best in this year’s rookie class, and if Rubio had not chosen to come over from Spain this season nothing would stand between Irving and the Rookie of the Year award. What are the major differences between the two? What is keeping the race tight?
For Rubio it’s his shooting percentages. He is a fantastic playmaker and has shown a deeper range than many expected, but his overall shooting number has dropped below 40%. Everything else about his game is fantastic, but that is going to be something voters key on.
For Irving his shooting numbers are phenomenal, but it’s the other numbers that will hurt him. Rubio blows him away in assists, steals and even rebounds. He needs to step up the rest of his game a bit.
If either player improves in those areas – or leads their team to a playoff berth (which looks to be easier for Irving than Rubio at this point) – that may be all they need to ice this award.
On to the list! (Stats are through games from January 30th. Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1 (1) – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: 11.4 points, 8.9 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 38% FG, 35% 3FG
Had Rubio not hit 6-10 shots Monday night and come within just two rebounds of a triple-double, Irving may have claimed this top spot. Before that game he had hit just 15-51 in the previous four games. He also recorded just one steal in the past three games after five straight of three or more. Then again, with wins in three of Minnesota’s past four games, maybe it doesn’t matter. Besides, as a point guard, the 10.7 assists per game in his last six is a much more important statistic anyway.
2 (2) – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: 17.9 points, 4.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 52% FG, 41% 3FG
Here’s a number for you: Irving has shot 60% or better in four of his past five games. As a rookie. As a rookie point guard. His shooting percentages for a rookie at this position are simply outstanding. An even more telling number is his almost 3:1 assist to turnover ratio in his past three games, a marked improvement. Not, it’s not a coincidence that the Cavaliers have won two of the past three after a four-game slide.
3 (7) – Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats: 12.2 points, 3.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 37% FG, 34% 3FG
Walker moving up to three has as much to do with the performance of others as it does his own. He did raise his points, assists and rebounds this past week – highlighted by his second 20-point effort – but that came with generally poor shooting, including a 4-19 effort against the hapless Washington Wizards. If you are paying attention here, though, you will see Walker continuing a trend…
4 (4) – Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons: 12.4 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 41% FG, 38% 3FG
Knight has reached 50% or better shooting in just six of 22 games this season, lowlighted by the first zero of his season Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks where he missed all four shots from the field and his only free throw. These are the games where a player needs to find other ways to contribute and Knight failed to do so, dishing just two assists against four turnovers while Brandon Jennings and Shaun Livingston combined to score 28 points. This just two games after a strong effort against Atlanta where he recorded 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds. (Notice the trend continuing? Figured it out yet?)
5 (5) – Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: 10.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.2 steals, 37% FG, 29% 3FG
And with Shumpert checking in at the fifth spot on the rankings, the entire top five is made up point guards. Considering this is the most difficult transition to make from college, that’s impressive. That all five of these point guards currently have starting roles – 17% of the league! – is also amazing. For Shumpert that’s likely to come to an end with Baron Davis joining the lineup in New York. This could be a blessing for Shumpert, whose energy should serve the Knicks better off the bench than it did as the team’s starting point guard.
6 (3) – MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets: 14.8 points, 1.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 46% FG, 35% 3FG
News dropped yesterday Brooks has a fractured pinky toe on his right foot and is out indefinitely while it heals. For a player who is the second-best scorer in this class – behind Irving – missing games is not something Brooks or his Nets need. He also missed time with a sore Achilles’ tendon in his left foot.
7 (6) – Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: 7.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 46% FG
Thompson now has six games of two or more blocks this season, but he needs to work on one thing to get himself more minutes: free throw shooting. He is hitting just 43% from the line this year, lower than his shooting from the field. When that happens teams are going to put you on the line. In order to force them to play honest defense Thompson has to get better from the charity stripe.
8 (NR) – Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs: 7.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 45% FG, 26% 3FG
The Spurs seem to just keep rolling along and Leonard is a surprising reason why. Since being added to the starting lineup – after Manu Ginobili’s injury – the Spurs are 7-5. They were 6-5 with him coming off the bench, so that illustrates the rookie’s presence has not hurt their winning percentage. They are also 3-3 on the road in that timeframe after losing the first five. Monday night Leonard recorded his second double-double of the season, so it will be interesting to see how his minutes are affected when Ginobili returns.
9 (10) – Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns: 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 43% FG, 49% 3FG
After a hot start Morris’ overall field-goal shooting has taken a tumble, but that three-point percentage remains impressive. There’s more to it though; he’s taking fewer shots from long-range. For the season Morris is 19-39 from three-point range, but only eight of those attempts (three makes) have come in the last eight games. Curious. After hitting 16-31 in his first 12 games in the league, did someone tell him to stop shooting them? Or is he simply not looking for what has turned out to be his most efficient shot anymore? Have to keep an eye on this.
10 (9) – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves: 7.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 43% FG, 26% 3FG
While most of the rookies (save Irving) have seen their shooting percentages drop, Williams actually raised his two points since last week. Unfortunately, the rest of his numbers – and his minutes with the return of Michael Beasley – took a bit of a hit, highlighted by his zero rebounds in the past two games while playing just 17 total minutes; Beasley put up 52 points and 15 rebounds in 63 minutes in the same two games. It’s time for Williams to assert himself a little more on the floor if he wants his minutes back.
Honorable Mention: Nicola Vucevic (Philadelphia 76ers), Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento Kings), Jimmer Fredette (Sacramento Kings), Norris Cole (Miami HEAT), Andrew Goudelock (L.A. Lakers)