Damian Lillard Named 2012-2013 NBA Rookie of the Year

As many expected through much of the season, Damian Lillard was named the 2012-2013 NBA Rookie of the Year earlier today.

Damian Lillard finished "Number One" in Rookie of the Year voting, after an impressive first season in Portland. (nba.si.com)

Damian Lillard finished “Number One” in Rookie of the Year voting, after an impressive first season in Portland. (nba.si.com)

Lillard who averaged 19.0 ppg, 6.5 apg, and 38.6 mpg in 82 games started (all of which ranked first among rookies for this season) helped the Portland Trail Blazers to a 33-49 record. Even though the Blazers failed to make the playoffs, they increased their win total from last season by five victories.

After a very strong Summer League performance, Lillard became this year’s front-runner for the honor after his very first game in the league; in Portland’s season opening 116-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Lillard recorded 23 points and a game-high 11 assists. Lillard was also 8 of 8 from the free-throw line.

From that impressive first showing and win, Lillard had a stranglehold on the award race and never let up. Lillard swept the Kia Rookie of the Month honors for the Western Conference for the Continue reading

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Conclusion of NBA Regular Season Provides Opportunities for Rookies

Houston's Terrence Jones drives against Detroit's Greg Monroe.  Jones has played well as of late, which could lead to more playing time in the postseason (kentuckysportsradio.com)

Houston’s Terrence Jones drives against Detroit’s Greg Monroe. Jones has played well as of late, which could lead to more playing time in the postseason (kentuckysportsradio.com)

The National Basketball Association is days away from concluding its regular season in fine fashion, with plenty still left to play for in these final hours. Teams are still jockeying for position in the postseason field, the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz are still both desperately trying to make the postseason, and the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats will be duking it out (in separate games) to see who claims the title of Most Futile Franchise for the 2012-2013 season.

With so much taking place in the seasons’ final days, it’s easy to forget that there is still plenty more at stake for the NBA’s rookies. Continue reading

NBA Opening Night Recap: Waiters Shows His Stuff, Crowder Solid Off Bench

What an opening night it was.  LeBron finally got his ring, David Stern once again proved that he can’t retire soon enough, and after months of being critiqued and pushed through practices and the preseason, some of the rookies finally got to see some official NBA action with the first professional games of their careers.  Here’s a breakdown of who showed up to play last night, and some who just never got the chance:

Player of the Game:

No. 4 overall pick Dion Waiters drives against fellow rookie, and No. 3 overall pick, Bradley Beal in the players’ first career NBA game. Waiters’ Cavs won, 94-84.

Dion Waiters, a puzzling pick at #4 overall in June’s Draft, showed everything he had to offer last night, scoring 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field, including 2-of-5 from three-point land.  Waiters also contributed on the defensive end with 3 steals to lead the team.  Waiters, who’s preseason play showed some inconsistencies, seemed as if everything truly clicked for him last night, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for him.  Waiters and Cleveland play next on Friday night against the Chicago Bulls.

End of the Bench, Rook:

Unfortunately, this “award” goes to several rookies who simply got caught up in the spirit of competition last night.  Rookies such as Kris Joseph of the Celtics, Robert Sacre of the Lakers, and Jared Cunningham and Bernard James of the Mavs didn’t see the floor at all last night, while others such as Fab Melo (Celtics) and Darius Johnson-Odom (Lakers) weren’t even active for last nights game.  These rookies will get their reps throughout the season; yet nothing can be held against them, or their coaches, for pushing aside player development to get that ever-important first win of the season.  Also, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger played limited minutes last night, as their talents fell by the wayside whilst their teams closed out a close win and played catch-up all night (respectively).

Keep an Eye On:

Although his team suffered a loss, Bradley Beal played well in his time on the court.  Earning the start, Beal shot 2-of-8 from the field and 2-of-4 from three, and tallied 3 rebounds and 3 assists.  With a depleted offense due to the absence of John Wall at point guard, Beal will have to provide more offense for the team; however, the rest of the team did not meet expectations last night, shooting a poor 35% from the field.  Beal next plays on Saturday against the Celtics.

The Mavs secured an impressive win against the always talented Los Angeles Lakers on the road last night thanks to an impressive performance from Jae Crowder off the bench.  Crowder, who was in and out of the starting lineup throughout the preseason due to injuries, willingly accepted a bench role for the season opener and played well, scoring 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting (2-of-4 3PT) and tallying 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal.  Crowder’s role this season looks to have him as a bit of an Energizer Bunny role: he comes off the bench to provide solid play and once he starts, he just keeps going and going and going.  Crowder’s motor should continue to get him minutes and those minutes will lead to results.  Crowder’s next game will be tonight as the Mavs travel to Salt Lake to take on the Utah Jazz.

Rookie Impact: Looking Back While Looking Ahead

It was quite a preseason, to say the least.  The Toronto Raptors were an Eastern Conference-best 6-1, the Los Angeles Lakers were an NBA-worst 0-8, and the rookies came out to play.

With the preseason officially coming to a close Friday night and everyone resting before tomorrow night’s season opener, it’s time to review the top performances from the league’s newest members in the final Rookie Impact before tip-off.

Player(s) of the Preseason:

Damian Lillard lead the Class of 2012 with an impressive 16.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, and an impressive 5.8 apg.  His point total was higher than that of any other rookie, as well as his output of assists.  Lillard also showed consistency in his play by never scoring fewer than 12 points in a game and averaging no less than 3 assists per game.

Anthony Davis should have an enjoyable rookie season, where he could challenge for DPOY, and ROY is between him and Lillard. (ksrcollege.com)

Anthony Davis is living up to his draft expectations, as he average 14.9 ppg and 9.9 ppg for the New Orleans Hornets during the preseason.  He was also third among rookies in blocks per game with 1.57 behind only Jonas Valanciunas and John Henson.  While Davis sometimes struggled to put the ball in the basket (2-for-12, 4-for-12, etc.), his effort on the defensive end was obvious, and helped the Hornets to a 4-4 finish.

Undrafted rookie Chris Copeland earned himself a roster spot with the New York Knicks after averaging 15.5 ppg for the New York Knicks with a .517 clip from the field.  Copeland should be able to spell Carmelo Anthony should he fall flat during a game, or need long periods of rest.  Copeland is also very accurate from the free-throw line, shooting 81% during the preseason.

Jared Sullinger proved that he can play with the big boys of Beantown.  While he didn’t record a single double-double in the preseason, Sullinger filled the stat sheet on an otherwise deep roster, showing that he can play when other stacked teams come to town.  Sullinger also impressed head coach Doc Rivers, which is not an easy task, as Rivers has been impartial to younger players in the past; Sullinger earned the coach’s trust, and could be the starting power forward for doing so.

End of the Bench, Rook:

Charlotte’s second-overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist struggled mightily during the preseason as he averaged only 5 ppg.  It’s hard to expect much out of MKG offensively, given that his jump shot is still developing, and that Charlotte is now focusing more on the defensive side of the ball.  Yet it’s hard to see MKG battling for the all-rookie first-team at the end of the season if his offensive output doesn’t improve.  His defensive intensity, however, and overall knowledge of the game will help him to remain involved as he works through his growing pains.

Kendall Marshall of the Phoenix Suns also had a frustrating preseason.  The North Carolina product averaged a mere 3 points per game this preseason.  Marshall, who was drafted to coincide with Steve Nash leaving, is expected to be the point guard of the future for Phoenix.  Yet it is clear that the team doesn’t think he’s ready just yet, especially with Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola in their primes, and Michael Beasley finally starting to play better basketball.  Give him time, though, and Marshall should excel as he did at UNC.

Golden State got an absolute steal in the draft when the polished collegiate product Draymond Green fell to them at 35 overall.  Green, however, didn’t get a lot of court time, and his numbers suffered greatly because of it.  The Warriors’ rookie only averaged 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 1.8 apg.  For someone coming off a triple-double in his last NCAA Tournament, Green has quite a lot of competition to get back to that level of productivity.

Dallas drafted Jared Cunningham with the thought of him taking over for either Jason Terry or Vince Carter in the long run, due to his solid shooting skills, and his athletic ability.  Yet the Mavs, who are in win-now mode, signed O.J. Mayo this offseason, which limited Cunningham’s minutes.  The Mavs’ first-round pick only averaged 3.9 ppg, 1 rpg, and 0.9 apg.  While he has the time on the bench, Cunningham should be asking as many questions as he can of his veteran teammates now, so that he can take over for them when the right time comes.

Keep an Eye On:

While Cunningham struggled, his teammate Jae Crowder had a very enjoyable preseason.  Crowder, who found himself starting several games due to injury, took advantage of the opportunity and could also start the season opener due to a lack of big men.  The Marquette alum averaged 11.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and led all rookies with 1.88 steals per game.  Expect the rookie’s defense to keep his name in constant conversation throughout the season for the all-rookie first-team.

With John Wall out for six or so more weeks, Bradley Beal will have a lot of pressure from hardcore Washington fans to produce for the team.  Beal, though, is up for the task.  While his play was inconsistent throughout the preseason, he still finished with averages of 11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, and 2.5 apg, and should provide Washington with a wonderful two-guard for years to come; for now, he will most likely fly under the radar without Wall by his side, but it’s probably best for him to focus on his play rather than the critics.

Andre Drummond had a productive preseason coming off the bench for Greg Monroe.  While not expected to do much, Drummond had an exciting month of putback dunks and alley-oops.  Yet his defense was the most exciting part, as he had multiple games where dunks and rebounding looked as second nature to the man as breathing.  Drummond’s role probably won’t expand much in his rookie campaign, but if he can consistently deliever 8 to 10 points and 7 to 9 rebounds off the bench, Detroit could have found themselves a solid big-man in the making.

Rookie Impact: Drummond Records Four Blocks, Henson Injured

Yesterday was a great day to be big.  Young bigs all around the league found themselves contributing to their teams in preseason action yesterday, as we creep steadily closer towards the regular season opener on October 30th.  With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of some of the rookies’ performances from yesterday:

Player(s) of the Game:

This award goes to three rookies who played well yesterday in the limited time they saw: 28th overall pick Perry Jones III of the Oklahoma City Thunder, 54th overall pick Tornike Shengelia of the Brooklyn Nets, and 9th overall pick Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons.  Jones III had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting with 5 assists of the bench for OKC.  Shengelia led the way with 11 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with 2 assists, 2 steals and 1 block in 26 minutes of play.  Drummond also played well off the bench, scoring 9 points in 17 minutes off the bench.  Drummond’s most impressive stat of the night, however, might have been his 4 blocks; Drummond was also foul free for the evening.

Jones III has increased his scoring output in all three games with an improved shooting percentage each game.  Jones III also flashed a bit of his all-around game yesterday with the assists, to go along with 4 rebounds, a steal and a block.  Jones, who was sometimes criticized going into the Draft for not putting in the effort at the collegiate level, has been pleasantly surprising this preseason.  Much of his work, however, has been during the abscence of key players, meaning that his minutes (and, therefore, his numbers) will probably drop when certain players return.

Very little has been said about Shengelia this offseason, as the Nets clearly have a set starting rotation with several key backups (MarShon Brooks, Andray Blatche) already in place.  Yet Shengelia showed as to why he should be left on the roster as a possible 11th or 12th man to provide depth and a scoring spark at multiple forward positions.

Drummond’s impressive night has also helped to quiet doubters who have said he’s not ready for the next level.  Drummond’s plus-minus on the night was +24, a sign that he worked well with everyone he stepped on the court with last night, and that his 4 blocks truly made a difference.

End of the Bench, Rook:

Charlotte rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had a rough outing last night with only 3 points on 0-of-4 shooting in 18 minutes of starter’s play last night.  While Kidd-Gilchrist grabbed 5 rebounds, it was all-for-naught in helping Charlotte’s cause, as they fell hard to the Oklahoma City Thunder.  MKG will continue to get the starts as he is the best available option for the Bobcats, but it seems he’s now reaching the inevitable “struggle-bus” of being a rookie.

Keep an Eye On:

Robert Sacre of the Los Angeles Lakers recorded another start for the Purple and Gold.  With Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill both out with injuries, Sacre is gaining valuable experience with some of the best in the league, including Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Paul Gasol.  Sacre was also a very efficient 2-of-3 from the floor last night with 4 rebounds and a block.

Kyle O’Quinn showed off his skills as a big man, recording four blocks and eight rebounds last night.
(bigstory.ap.org)

Kyle O’Quinn of the Orlando Magic also showed off his intangibles side last night.  While O’Quinn struggled from the floor shooting only 2-of-7, he did record 8 rebounds and 4 blocks, further cementing his value to the team, even as the 49th overall draft pick.Also, John Henson of the Milwaukee Bucks suffered a knee injury during yesterday’s matchup against the Chicago Bulls, when he collided with teammate Mike Dunleavy going for a rebound at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The terms of the injury were undisclosed, but Henson did not return to the game.

A big day for the big men.  What will they do next?

Rookie Impact: Davis makes his debut, Beal shines amid loss

Yesterday was the first taste of many for the incoming rookie class.  The top three draft picks all saw playing time, and faced much more serious competition than they’ve previously seen in college and the Summer League.  Here’s a breakdown of the rookies’ performances from yesterday’s games:

Boston Celtics 105 — Emporio Armani Milano 75
Washington Wizards 88 — Charlotte Bobcats 100
Miami Heat 79 — Atlanta Hawks 92
Orlando Magic 80 — New Orleans Hornets 85
Golden State Warriors 110 — Los Angeles Lakers 83

Boston Celtics 105 — Emporio Armani Milano 75

All four Celtics rookies saw action against their European opponent yesterday.  Jared Sullinger, who got the start, led the way with 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block in 18 minutes of play, as he tries to work his way into a permanent role as a starter.  Kris Joseph and Fab Melo only scored a combined 2 points in 12 minutes, as the starters and other bench players ahead of them on the depth chart (i.e., Jeff Green and Darko Milicic) had much more productive afternoons, giving the rooks little time to show their stuff.  Also, super-rookie Dionte Christmas saw some solid action coming off of the end of the C’s very deep bench; he recorded 9 points and 4 rebounds in only nine minutes of play.

Washington Wizards 88 — Charlotte Bobcats 100

Charlotte’s second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist squared off against third overall pick Bradley Beal’s Wizards, with the upstart Cats getting the win, thanks in part to MKG’s effort on the defensive end.  This steal led to an easy two points, en route to Kidd-Gilchrist finishing the day with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals.  Fellow rookie Jeffrey Taylor scored a single point in a mere two minutes of action.  Beal, however, had the most impressive numbers on the day, as he led all scorers with 18 points off of the bench.

Miami Heat 79 — Atlanta Hawks 92

The returning champion Heat feature no incoming rookies on this years roster, and all those on the Hawks roster were healthy scratches in yesterday’s lineup.  First round pick John Jenkins, second round pick Mike Scott, and super-rookie Keith Benson all observed yesterdays matchup, in what one assumes is a ploy by head coach Larry Drew to have the players watch and learn before hitting the hardwood.

Orlando Magic 80 — New Orleans Hornets 85

First overall pick Anthony Davis made his preseason debut with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes as a starter as he and fellow rookie Austin Rivers (10 points, 1 assist) helped contribute to a late comback by NO.  Darius Miller also added 5 efficient points off the bench in a quick eight minutes of work.  The Magic’s incoming rookies Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn didn’t experience as much success, as the two combined for 4 points off the bench in 24 minutes of work.  Fifteenth overall pick Maurice Harkless (received in the Dwight Howard trade) is recovering from a sports hernia and did not play.

Golden State Warriors 110 — Los Angeles Lakers 83

Two of Golden State’s three rookies played high-efficiency games in the teams win over the Dwight-less Lakers.  Festus Ezeli recorded 6 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block and a plus/minus of (+20) on the day, while Harrison Barnes scored 13 points off the bench and finished with a plus/minus of (+22).  The Warriors’ other rookie Draymond Green sat out the game with left knee inflamation.  In Dwight’s place, the 2012 Draft’s Mr. Irrelevant Robert Sacre got the start in Superman’s place and finished the day with 6 points and 4 rebounds, but also 4 fouls in only 18 minutes.  Sacre did, however, score off a beautiful highlight reel pass from Steve Nash.  Other Lakers rookie Darius Johnson-Odom played a brief six minutes, recording only 2 points.

Rookies Thinking Big

Teammates only a year ago, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist said he can’t wait to face his former U of K companion Anthony Davis on the big stage. (www.bleacherreport.com)

It’s one thing to come into the league and say you plan on making a difference.

It’s another thing to actually follow through on your word.

Two rookies, 2nd overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats and last year’s 5th overall pick Jonas Valanciunas, both have their sites set on some pretty big competition this year.  The two have already pinpointed who they can’t wait to square off against this season and while the big names coincide with big men, the results shouldn’t surprise anyone.

In the Bobcats live Media Day chat earlier this week, Kidd-Gilchrist said he can’t wait to square off against former Kentucky teammate, and this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Anthony Davis.  Valanciunas, however, has his sights set on someone closer to his size, but with a much larger resume than he; Valanciunas can’t wait to square off against Dwight Howard.

It’s good to see rookies want to step up right away when entering the league and facing off against stiffer competition.  It’s even better when they actually give an answer instead of the usual run-around response of “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, I just want to make sure I’m ready for the next game.”

Here’s to Kidd-Gilchrist and Valanciunas having great first games against those they can’t wait to face off against the most.  With that in mind, the Bobcats and Hornets first meet Tuesday, October 9 in a preseason matchup and officially on Friday, November 9 in New Orleans.  Valanciunas will have plenty of time to prepare for Howard, as the Raptors and Lakers don’t square off until Sunday, January 20.