Rookie Rankings: And What A Start It’s Been

With just over a week into the NBA season, we’re finally seeing our rookies getting some playing time.  Granted, not all are making the largest impact on their team; yet there are those that are rising to the occasion of helping out their franchise while others continue to struggle to see any court time.  With that in mind, here are the first formal Rookie Rankings, based off of the first few weeks of the season:

1) Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, PG

Lillard has been an absolute wonder to watch so far this season.  Whether he’s passing on the pick-and-roll, or taking the ball to the hoop, Lillard has been very impressive with one of the oldest plays in the book, and it has helped him to an early season stat line of 19.3 ppg and 8.0 apg, both tops among rookies.  Lillard has already taken on a long list of worthy opponents, including the Lakers, Thunder, and Clippers, and has proven that he’s ready to run with the big boys.  Once the game continues to slow down for him, it will be amazing to see what Lillard can really do.
Last week’s rating: N/A

2) Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets, PF/C

I guess there is plenty reason to fear the Brow.  Davis has impressed in the early going of his career, averaging 14.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg.  Add in the 1.5 bpg that he is averaging, and Davis is living up to the hype that many expected from him.  A mild concussion has kept him out of most of the Hornets’ contests, but once cleared, expect Davis to go right back to his shot-blocking ways.
Last week’s rating: N/A

3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers, SG

This is easily the surprise of the week for NBA Rookie Class.  While most assumed that Waiters was over-drafted at No. 4 by the Cavaliers, especially after the Summer League and Preseason performances that Waiters had, Dion has be quick to prove his doubters wrong.  Through five games, the Cavs newest shooter is averaging 15.4 ppg as well as 2.6 apg.  While the secondary numbers aren’t the most impressive, if Waiters continues to score (i.e. 28 points vs. Clippers, 10-of-17 FG, 7-of-11 3PT), I don’t think that Cavs fans will mind very much.
Last week’s rating: N/A

4. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors, C

After taking time last year to continue to work on his skills overseas, America (well, Canada, actually) is getting its first look at Valanciunas, and Toronto fans couldn’t be happier.  Valanciunas is doing something that hasn’t been seen by a Raptors big man in quite a long time: playing defense.  While the defensive numbers aren’t there yet (only 0.8 bpg), Valanciunas is contributing with 8.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg to a very young Toronto squad.  Yet Jonas’ biggest attribute to the team is his defense, and regardless of the numbers, he should continue to see plenty of minutes in Dwayne Casey’s system.
Last week’s rating: N/A

5) Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks, SF

Dallas’ dreaded man has contributed immediately to a Mavericks team that has needed him to do so.  A second-round pick, Crowder has already started this season (in place of the injured Shawn Marion), and could be fighting for starters minutes by season end if the Mavs’ season turns sour.  Crowder’s numbers of 8.6 ppg and 3.0 rpg aren’t breathtaking, yet his efficiency has been: 50% from the field and 50% from three-point land.  Expect Crowder to continue to impact the Mavericks with his high energy, and crazy-awesome hair.
Last week’s rating: N/A

6) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats, SF

Davis’ Kentucky teammate Kidd-Gilchrist finds himself slightly lower than his former Wildcat, yet MKG is establishing himself nicely on a young Charlotte team.  MKG has been able to come in and provide high-energy immediately, something that Charlotte is desperate for.  Kidd-Gilchrist’s numbers (8.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.7 spg, & 2.0 bpg) aren’t as impressive offensively as some would expect from a No. 2 overall pick, but his defense (i.e. 1.7 spg & 2.0 bpg) are incredible.  If Kidd-Gilchrist can keep those numbers, expect them to translate to more offensive opportunities, and a few votes for Defensive Player of the Year down the road.
Last week’s rating: N/A

7) Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons, SF

Singler, our second super-rookie (second year rookie with first year playing experience) to make the list, has played well in the early season.  The Duke product is averaging 9.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg off the bench for a Detroit team that is still searching for answers.  Singler’s most impressive asset to the Pistons this year has been his three-point shooting, where he is shooting 45.5%.  Should the Motown team continue to struggle, head coach Lawrence Frank may look to give Singler a few starts in due time.
Last week’s rating: N/A

8) Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics, PF

Sullinger’s season began on the bench after starting much of the preseason for the Celtics.  Yet, after an 0-2 start for the team, Doc Rivers placed Sullinger in the starting line-up, and the C’s have gone 2-0 since.  While Sullinger’s numbers haven’t been jaw-dropping (4.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), he’s carried himself well, especially while having Kevin Garnett barking out orders on the court.  Sullinger’s numbers will continue to rise as his confidence and self-awareness on the court do too, and he may be moving up this list with ease by midseason.
Last week’s rating: N/A

9) Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards, SG

Beal, who was taken before Waiters in the Draft at No. 3 overall, has struggled some early in the season.  While the numbers look decent from the outside (8.7 ppg and 2.3 apg), Beal’s field-goal percentage has been quite the opposite (.286).  Beal has the added pressure of trying to make up for the lack of John Wall early for the Wizards and has had to face a difficult Celtics team twice already.  Expect both sets of numbers (averages and percentages) to rise with some time, patience, and the return of John Wall.
Last week’s rating: N/A

10) Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors, SF

While the numbers aren’t anything to write home to mother about (8.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), especially for someone who was dropping buckets back at UNC, Barnes has adjusted to the NBA well.  He’s started in all five contests for the Warriors, and his percentages are decent (48% FG, 30% 3PT).  Once Barnes gains more confidence in his abilities at the next level, expect all of these numbers to rise.  Barnes is a talented shooter whose confidence is key to his overall play.
Last week’s rating: N/A

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: 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.

Media Day Has Arrived

Well, it’s about time!  Media Day is finally here!

If you’ve visited twitter in the past couple of hours to try to follow your favorite team and incoming players, you’ve most likely seen an influx of tweets flying your way.  Yet trying to follow the incoming personal posts, it may be just as easy to tune into each teams live online Media Day news conference.  Here are a few teams that are holding theirs now:

Charlotte Bobcats: After a dismal season last year, the Cats will have plenty of questions flying their way about how they plan on improving this season.  Help will most definitely come in the form of incoming rookies SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and SF Jeffrey Taylor.

Washington Wizards: John Wall is out for the first eight weeks of the season, which may give rookie PG Tomas Satoransky some time off the bench, or at least a guarenteed roster spot.  Also, much will be expected from SG Bradley Beal to provide plenty of scoring in Wall’s absence.  With the expanded workload, Beal could easily falter, or boost his ROY stock to start the season.

Toronto Raptors: The Raptors have quite a lot of new blood within the organization.  Super-rookie C Jonas Valanciunas will finally be making his league debut, and should flourish in Dwane Casey’s defensive system.  SG Terrence Ross has also looked impressive throughout the summer, and F Quincy Acy is sure to provide a spark either in the starting line-up or off the bench.  However, those are crucial roster spots to try and blend together in the preseason, and the Raptors may face difficulties putting everything in place.

For more live video coverage throughout the day, NBA.com will be providing live feeds for teams throughout the afternoon.

The calendar has turned; the leaves will turn soon, too.  And the long summer break from NBA action has now turned; Media Day has arrived.