Rookie Watch: January 14th
With teams nearing the quarter-season mark of the shortened 2011-12 NBA regular season it’s time to start looking at this year’s crop of rookies and which ones stand out. Yep, that’s right – it’s our first preview of the Rookie of the Year race.
Is it early? Not exactly. Most teams are about 12 games in, which in this shortened season is equivalent to 15 in a normal year. Rotations have generally been set and the players who are going to stand out typically have already made themselves known.
Let’s rank the top ten. But first, what are the criteria? 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. Team improvement over the previous season and overall team success is also factored in, as well as possible improved production of teammates.
On to the list!
1 – Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves: 10.4 points, 8.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 46% FG, 42% 3FG
Until Friday about the only negative you could come up with about Rubio’s rookie season was he wasn’t starting, but after 44 strong minutes in his first ever NBA start he won’t be looking back. Rubio leads all rookies in assists and efficiency, is second in steals, and fourth in scoring (after Friday’s win in New Orleans). The Wolves, despite being 4-7, are also winning at a 15% higher clip than last year.
2 – Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: 17.0 points, 5.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 47% FG, 40% 3FG
Irving’s position on this list isn’t by much. He leads all rookies in scoring and free throw shooting and is second in efficiency and assists. Last year the Cavaliers finished the season with the second-worst record in the NBA, winning only 19 games; this year with Irving running the point they started the season 5-5.
3 – Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons: 12.3 points, 2.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 45% FG, 42% 3FG
In just the second game of his NBA career Knight poured in 23 points off the bench for the Pistons. He’s started the last five games in place of the injured Rodney Stuckey and averaged 14.8 points and 2.8 assists. He hasn’t proven himself to be a true NBA point guard, but his shooting percentages are very good (taking 13 three-pointers against the Knicks not withstanding).
4 – MarShon Brooks, New Jersey Nets: 14.5 points, 1.0 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 46% FG, 40% 3FG
Coming into this season the Nets clearly needed another scorer. They thought Travis Outlaw would be that player, but one year into a five-year deal they waived him via the amnesty clause and Brooks has taken full advantage. He has scored in double figures in all but two games and has given the Nets the scoring they desperately need.
5 – Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns: 8.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 49% FG, 56% 3FG
Morris has scored 13 or more points in five of seven games and in that same span averaged 7.4 rebounds. And check out that three-point percentage – that’s not from a small sample size. Morris, at 6-10 and 245 pounds, has hit 14-24 from long-range. Who saw that coming?
6 – Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers: 8.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 51% FG
The Cavaliers are bringing along their other rookie a little slower than Irving, partly because they have Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao as veterans starting in the frontcourt. Thompson has been efficient and shown the ability to rebound and block shots, which means the Cavs could move their power forward of the future into the starting lineup with Irving sooner rather than later.
7 – Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves: 8.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 43% FG, 32% 3FG
Williams play has been up and down. One night he hits 4-7 three-pointers and then another he can’t buy a basket, going 1-7 from the field. He may be trying a little too hard, trying to prove he deserves minutes with Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver all forwards who play for the Wolves.
8 – Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: 12.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.4 steals, 38% FG, 29% 3FG
Shumpert has missed a couple games with injury, but steal leads the rookie class in steals by a wide margin. Once not even considered first-round pick material, he fits in nicely on the uptempo Knicks. His shooting percentages are a concern (he takes 3.9 threes a game and makes 1.0), but he does a little bit of everything.
9 – Norris Cole, Miami HEAT: 9.8 points, 3.3 assists, 1.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 43% FG
Cole caught everyone by surprise when he scored 20 points off the bench in just his second NBA game. Seven times since he has score nine or more, becoming a key reserve HEAT team that started 8-1.
10 – Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings: 8.2 points, 2.3 assists, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 36% FG, 30% 3FG
Fredette is clearly a NBA player, but he’s struggled with shooting, the one aspect of his game most considered a given. He has hit half of his shots just twice. With starter Marcus Thornton out Fredette has started two straight games but hit just 5-17 shots and recorded three assists in 51 minutes.
Honorable Mention: Chris Singleton (Washington Wizards), Josh Harrellson (New York Knicks), Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Greg Stiemsma (Boston Celtics), Kemba Walker (Charlotte Bobcats).