NBA Regular Season Finale Recap: Lillard Leads Surge, Copeland, Henson, and Moultrie All Deliver

For many basketball fans, yesterday seemed most likely seemed like the end of a long and trying journey. Fourteen teams now ready themselves for May 21st, when they hope that they can call themselves winners in one of the wackiest annual games of ping-pong known to mankind; sixteen more will continue to battle for league supremacy and the NBA Championship.

Damian Lillard has impressed the entire year, and didn't let up in the season finale. (bleacherreport.com)

Damian Lillard has impressed the entire year, and didn’t let up in the season finale. (bleacherreport.com)

Meanwhile, here at NBA Rookie Class, our season is neither ending nor our postseason beginning; instead, we’re simply savoring the continued excellence of so much new talent in the league, and the bright future so many individuals have –whether they are playing for a ring or not.Yesterday’s regular season finale offered the average viewer minimal opportunities to watch their team’s stars play, as many squads took the time to let their veterans rest. And while the veterans are away, the rookies will come to play.

Fifty-four rookies (that is not a typo; fifty-four!) saw the court on the season’s final day of full-fledged competition, and all fifty-four of them ran with the opportunity they were given. So, instead of simply focusing on one star performance (as is the norm here), we’ve decided to give you our All-Rookie Team from April 17, 2013. These rookies made the most of what they were given yesterday and put on quite a show:

Starters:

PG- Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: 7-13, 21 pts, 3 ast, 1 reb, 1 stl, 38 mins

There is no other way to say this; Lillard has been the best rookie this season. While his squad wasn’t able to reach the promised land (better known as the postseason), Lillard has shown all of Portland –and the entire nation –that he has come to play, and that he’ll be around for quite some time. This effective and efficient performance only added to a stellar rookie year, and is a positive sign for his future and the rest of his career.

SG- John Jenkins, Atlanta Hawks: 8-19, 20pts, 3 reb, 3 ast, 1 stl, 39 mins

The beauty of the NBA is how any player on any given night can have a horrible game, and then turnaround and have one of his better performances of the season the very next day. Thus is the case for John Jenkins who, one day after getting rode out of town on a rail by yours truly, had one of his strongest performances of his rookie season. His stat sheet stuffing numbers show that Jenkins was more than just throwing up shots last night; he really worked at being an all-around player.

SF- Chris Copeland, New York Knicks: 14-29, 33 pts, 3 reb, 1 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk, 40 mins

While we haven’t given as much press coverage to Copeland as the average Knicks fan would’ve hoped for (or expected), we acknowledge out shortcomings; our friends at sbnation.com, though, have picked up our slack. Copeland has proved time and time again that he can be provided for a serious scoring punch off the bench, and in more ways than one. “Cope” is a all-around offensive threat who can play at multiple positions; down the final stretch of the season, Copeland even started a few games at center for the Knicks’ resting bigs. Look for him to make some noise in the playoffs.

PF- John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks: 11-19, 28 pts, 16 rebs, 1 ast, 44 mins

When the season first began, many assumed that Henson was going to have to add plenty of muscle to be able to succeed at the next level. While we’re sure Henson has been adamant at building up his frame, it hasn’t kept him from impacting his team early in his NBA tenure. Henson has shown time and time again that he can get to the ball for rebounds on both the offensive and defensive end, and his other numbers (steals, blocks, points) fall into place from there. Like Copeland, Henson will be seen in the postseason, as he’ll have the tall task of handling Miami’s Big Three.

C- Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors: 6-10, 18 pts, 7 reb, 3 blk, 29 mins

Toronto’s newest post-man may easily become the newest poster child for how to play like a big man in the league. Night in and night out Valanciunas has played efficiently, shooting well from the floor and from the foul line –a rarity from bigs in today’s game. The most promising aspect of J-Val’s game is his ability to hold his own against other centers in the league (as apparent by his 3 blocks) and his nose for the ball (as apparent by his 7 rebounds). In due time, Valanciunas could be competing for Defensive Player of the Year, or a NBA title.

Bench:

6th Man- Arnett Moultrie, Philadelphia 76ers: 7-11, 14 pts, 12 reb, 1 ast, 29 mins

After riding the bench for much of the year, Moultrie had a chance to show his stuff and made the most of it. (bigstory.ap.org)

After riding the bench for much of the year, Moultrie had a chance to show his stuff and made the most of it. (bigstory.ap.org)

Many rookies must ride the bench for multiple seasons before really getting a chance to make a difference in a game. Thankfully for Moultrie, he had the opportunity to do so last night. His performance oozed with efficiency as he continued to shoot the ball at a high percentage and rip down boards, two main factors in Philadelphia drafting him in the first place. If Moultrie’s outing is any indication of what he can do in the future for this organization, 26 other teams that passed on him in the 2012 Draft are going to be kicking themselves silly for a long time.

Bench- Will Barton, Portland Trail Blazers: 7-19, 15 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast, 48 mins

While this isn’t Barton’s first mention for a well played game, it certainly won’t be his last. The second-round pick has made some of the most noise from this Draft’s final 30 selections, stepping up and playing well in the absence of Portland’s starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews. Should Barton be able to step up consistently, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he became Portland’s newest starting shooting guard himself.

Bench- Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder: 6-21, 13 pts, 7 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 41 mins

After a whirlwind of a season for Jeremy Lamb, which has included being traded for James Harden as well as spending time in the D-League, he was finally able to put his talents on display in the Thunder’s regular season finale last night. Granted, 6-for-21 is not a pretty percentage, but there were several aspects of his game that should excite the Thunder about what will come next; Lamb’s activity throughout the game –including his 7 rebounds and defensive presence –should have Scott Brooks plenty excited.

Bench- Perry Jones, Oklahoma City Thunder: 7-15, 14 pts, 9 reb, 1 stl, 39 mins

If Lamb’s performance doesn’t have Brooks excited, than Jones’ sure did. The product out of Baylor showed plenty of athleticism in putting up his 14 points and pulling down his 9 rebounds. With both Jones and Lamb getting a little time, it will be interesting to see how the OKC organization develops the two, who could solidify the bench of an already great franchise for years to come.

Bench- Mike Scott, Atlanta Hawks: 10-22, 23 pts, 14 reb, 1 ast, 36 mins

Like so many before him, Scott has had to ride the pine; not last night. (bigstory.ap.org)

Like so many before him, Scott has had to ride the pine; not last night. (bigstory.ap.org)

After months of minimal game play, and very few opportunities on the court when is number is finally called, Scott received both minutes and chances in the Hawks season finale. His 23 points (a career high) were a pleasant sight; even more satisfying for were the 14 rebounds, as fans will look to Scott to provide them depth off the bench come Sunday. Like Oklahoma City’s rookies, both Scott and the aforementioned Jenkins could –in due time –provide a lethal 1-2 punch off Atlanta’s bench.

Bench- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: 5-7, 13 pts, 3 reb, 3 stl, 3 blk, 1 ast, 30 mins

As of now, there is no nickname that really fits what Drummond can do on the basketball court: shoot at a high percentage, pull down boards as if they are falling money, swats away shots like the next Dikembe Mutombo, and has now added steals to his arsenal. The closest thing to a cool nickname we can come up with is this: “Nothing will be the same in AD: After Drummond”…it still needs work, but until further notice that statement is copyrighted.

Bench- Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns: 1-5, 2 pts, 14 ast, 3 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk, 41 mins

While we value a players ability to put the ball in the basket, there are some defensive standouts (see: Valanciunas, Drummond) who have consistently made our list. We now bring you a new kind of player: the ultimate passer. After playing in 47 games (and what seemed like a lot fewer than that), Marshall exploded for a career-high 14 assists, more than Lillard, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight, and Kyrie Irving have ever had in a game before. Also of note, Marshall achieved the feat in only his third start of his blossoming career; it’s only a matter of time before 20 assist games are in his grasp.

For continued coverage of the NBA’s rookies, keep visiting NBA Rookie Class, as we’ll be wrapping up the 2012 season over the next few weeks. Also, stay tuned as we begin to look towards the next year of rookies and the 2013 NBA Draft!

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