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: 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.