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.

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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 Continues to Shine, Fab Melo Rides the Pine

How’d the rookies perform last night?  Here’s a recap of the best and worst from October 18th.