Rookie Report: Week 1
Damian Lillard’s arrival, Dion Waiters’ scoring ability, plus Top 20 plays of the week.
by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam
Week 1 (Oct. 30 – Nov. 5)
The ’12-’13 rookie pool, like usual, is filled with talent, intrigue and question marks. Granted, I’m a little jaded because a) I’m overly fascinated with what could be, b) I usually have trouble discerning a mistake from a bad habit/weakness, and c) when analyzing rookies, more so than any other NBA sub-population, I put a lot of weight on statistics (within the context of minutes played) and efficiency, and sometimes stats can be misleading, for better or worse.
Nonetheless, I stand by my claim: The ’12-13 rookie pool is filled with talent, intrigue and question marks. Through one week, we’ve witnessed the rapid ascent of Damian Lillard, the potential of Anthony Davis, the impressive scoring ability of Dion Waiters, an assertive Harrison Barnes and much more.
Season: 19.3 PPG, 8.0 APG, 3.8 RPG
Week 1 (four games): 19.3 PPG, 8.0 APG, 3.8 RPG
The days of not knowing Damian Lillard are over. Through four games, Lillard has, deservedly, garnered the majority of headlines in rookie world. It’s one thing for a rookie to be placed in the starting lineup and entrusted to direct an offense; it’s another thing to legitimately look like the best point guard on the floor in every game he’s played.
In his NBA debut, Lillard (possible nicknames, anyone?) led the Blazers to an impressive victory over Steve Nash and the Lakers, posting a 23 point/11 assist/3 rebound line to join Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 assists in a debut. The dominance carried into the next two games, as Lillard posted 21/7/3 against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder (becoming the third player in NBA history with at least 20 points and 7 assists in his first two career games), and 20/9/6 against Jeremy Lin and the Rockets.
[Side: Last night, in what may or may not temper expectations going forward, Lillard finally came down to earth and had his welcome to the NBA moment against Dallas, shooting a horrid 2-13 from the field (1-8 on three-pointers) en route to a 13/5/3 outing. I suspect Lillard will occasionally struggle, but judging on the totality of his first four games, games like last night should be nothing more than outliers on his season trajectory.]
I use the word dominance because that’s how it’s appeared thus far. Lillard’s calm, cool and collected demeanor has seamlessly translated on to the court, as he is playing under control and at his own, commanding pace. Almost always, the biggest adjustment for rookie point guards is learning how to slow down, be patient and take what the defense gives (big reasons why John Wall and Brandon Jennings have had their share of struggles, and why Rajon Rondo always seems like he’s in control). Apparently, Lillard has already mastered this skill.
Lillard is talented, tough and intelligent. He makes shrewd decisions on the pick-and-roll—knowing when and how to attack, and knowing when to pull it back and regroup—and finishes extremely well with both hands. His already-pretty crossover should become elite, and if the defense goes under screens or sags off, Lillard can knock down both mid-range jumpshots and three-pointers. The Oakland native leads all rookies in scoring and assists, and is top-5 in those categories among all point guards.
To reiterate, peep his stat lines over the past week:
LAL: 23 PTS, 11 AST, 3 REB, 6 TO
@OKC: 21 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB, 2 TO
@Hou: 20 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB, 3 TO
@Dal: 13 PTS, 5 AST, 3 REB, 1 TO
I’m not ready to anoint Lillard Rookie of the Year, or say he will join the Rookie 20/5/5 Club, but we should still take the sample size for what it’s worth. The funny—or scary, depending on how you look at it—thing is, numbers aren’t even the best way to convey Lillard’s abilities. The true beauty of his game lies in the eye test; watching him run the pick-and-roll to perfection, break down his defender with a Gary Payton-like mean streak, consistently set up LaMarcus Aldridge for his automatic elbow jumper or dish to Nic Batum/Wesley Matthews in the corners. Lillard has solidified himself as Portland’s point guard of the future, bringing spontaneity and flair to an offense that’s been tedious for far too long.
Season: 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG
Week 1 (two games): 14.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG
The Anthony Davis era in NOLA is officially underway. The No. 1 overall draft pick had an up-and-down week, beginning with a promising debut—posting 21 points (6-12) and 7 rebounds in a 99-95 loss to the Spurs—before suffering a “mild concussion” against the Jazz last Friday.
From the onset of the opener, it was clear that the Hornets are now Davis’ team, and that the team’s success will be largely predicated on how AD plays. Against the Spurs, Davis played with heightened tenacity and focus, taking Tim Duncan head-on and making his mark. Davis displayed the rebounding and defensive abilities that were coveted heading into the Draft, but also excelled in the one spot that’s been labeled his weakness: scoring. Davis’ back-to-the-basket and face-up games were both in effect, as was his mid-range game. Yes, mid-range. I don’t know if it was just a one-time thing, but if Davis develops range on his jumpshot, considering his previous life as a shooting guard, it could be over for the rest of the League.
Despite his injury, Davis was a noticeable force in the minutes he did play against the Jazz. He scored 8 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 2 shots in just 14 minutes, with all 8 points coming on dunks. Again, a very small sample size here, but early indications are that Davis could be New Orleans’ anchor on both sides of the ball. Here’s to a quick recovery, AD.
Season: 16.3 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.3 RPG
Week 1 (four games): 16.3 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.3 RPG
Ladies and gentlefolk, we’ve been served.
Waiters, who didn’t start a game at Syracuse, was immediately thrown into NBA wildfire last Tuesday, starting in Cleveland’s opener against the Wizards. He faired well, scoring 17 points (6-14) to go along with 3 steals (including a pretty pick-pocket on Brad Beal, which can be seen in Top Plays below).
After his 28-point, 7-three-pointer barrage in last night’s road win over the Clippers, I’m now convinced of two things: 1) Waiters has a legitimate chance to win Rookie of the Year, and 2) Waiters is the best scorer in the rookie class, and could emerge as one of the best scorers in the NBA.
As the commentator in the video below says, Waiters’ body type and scoring approach make him a Dwyane Wade/Tyreke Evans hybrid. He’s 6-4 and 215 pounds, and although he’s officially labeled a SG, much like Wade and Evans, Waiters can handle the ball and initiate offense for himself and his teammates. Waiters’ girth allows him to effectively seal-off defenders, creating lanes and automatically forcing help defense whenever he drives to the hoop. Couple that with sneaky athleticism and unlimited range on his jumper (observe the three-pointers he made… defenders literally glued to him), and you’ve got a scary-good basketball player. Waiters plays with a chip on his shoulder, and has the requisite confidence of an NBA scorer. Jump on the Kyrie/Dion bandwagon while there’s room.
Season: 7.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.5 SPG
Week 1 (two games): 7.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.5 SPG
Admittedly, I’m a little biased here because I’ve always been a huge MKG fan, turning a shoulder to his offensive shortcomings and solely concentrating on the palpable competitiveness/intensity/effort he exudes.
Even through an objective lens, though, it’s obvious that Kidd-Gilchrist’s relentless motor will translate to the NBA. He struggled in Charlotte’s opener against Indiana, scoring 2 points on 1-7 shooting, earning him a spot on the bench down the stretch. Still, he recorded 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, most notably stuffing 7-footer Roy Hibbert at the rim (check the tape).
After the opener, the always-candid Kidd-Gilchrist had this to say: “I was nervous coming into this game. I’m a rookie. So, I was just nervous.”
For a player who wears his emotions on his sleeve, this quote put a smile on my face. Not because it absolves MKG, but because I know he’ll make sure he’s ready in due time.
In the Bobcats’ second game, this time against the Mavericks, Kidd-Gilchrist started to get on track with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals in 27 minutes. If MKG can hover around those averages all season (5 steals is absurd, but you know what I mean), by all accounts Mike Dunlap and Co. will be very pleased.
For the most part, the beauty and effectiveness of Kidd-Gilchrist’s game can’t be fully understood by viewing a box score. MKG’s hustle and heads-up plays ignite fast-breaks and infuse a next-level energy and intensity not acknowledged in the box score. If his jumpshot ever comes, the 19-year-old Kidd-Gilchrist, who’s equipped with an elite motor and mindset, could be a monster in the NBA.
Season: 6.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG
Week 1 (three games): 6.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.3 BPG
While watching Valanciunas in his debut against the Pacers, I couldn’t help but think: What if the Andrea Bargnani/Jonas Valanciunas combo in Toronto develops into the NBA’s newest Twin Towers?
Now please don’t get it twisted—I would sue myself for even insinuating such a blasphemous comparison to The Admiral/Timmy D—but I simply mean that Toronto has two legitimate 7-footers with contrasting styles that compliment each other. Bargnani is straight Euro, spacing the floor with his deep range, and Valanciunas is there to bang down low. He rolls exceptionally well to the rim—developing a great chemistry with Kyle Lowry thus far—and draws defenders down low, which creates much-needed open space in Toronto’s perimeter-oriented offense.
Nobody knew (at least I didn’t know) what Jonas Valanciunas was about, and after three games the forecast is still foggy. Valanciunas scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on 6-15 shooting in the opener, but recorded a measly 6 points and 7 rebounds combined in Toronto’s following two games (albeit he played only 12 minutes against the Nets).
Case in point: Right now, I don’t know much about Jonas Valanciunas. If you’re Lithuanian or have seen him play, please contribute in the comments section because I’d love to hear your take on him and get more informed.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
— Former Duke forward Kyle Singler, who spent the lockout-shortened season playing in Spain, has been a pleasant surprise in Detroit. Singler scored an efficient 10 points (4-5) in the season opener vs Houston, and scored 11 points in Sunday’s loss at the Lakers. It seems the year abroad really helped Singler’s development, as he has been a reliable shooter for the Pistons so far.
— It seems Mark Jackson is going with Harrison Barnes as the Warriors’ starting small forward. Barnes, who logged a career-high 30 minutes last night against Sacramento, has shown flashes of promise. He’s assertive on the offense end, driving to the hoop with authority and finishing with dunks. I’m excited to see how Barnes produces in a game where he shoots 15-plus shots (his season-high field-goal attempts is 8).
— Orlando Magic rookie DeQuan Jones, who went undrafted out of the University of Miami, earned his first NBA start subbing in for Hedo Turkoglu Sunday, but unfortunately suffered an injury and had to leave the game after scoring just 2 points. Jones is a very intriguing player to me—he’s a 6-8 shooting guard, with good length and athleticism. I feel weird not knowing about him.
— At what point do we stop calling it “overachieving” and start giving somebody credit? Well, Mavs rookie and reigning Big East POY Jae Crowder deserves some love. Through four games, Crowder is averaging 9.5 points in 18 minutes per game. It remains to be seen what Crowder’s niche/role will be in the NBA, but he’s certainly off to a good start.
— Hornets guard Austin Rivers had a tough opener against the Spurs, scoring 7 points on 1-9 shooting in 24 minutes. He followed that up with a 2-point, 6-assist performance against the Jazz. In his third game, Rivers scored 9 points and recorded 3 steals, but again he shot just 33 percent from the field. It’ll be fun to keep tabs on Rivers throughout the season.
— The Sacramento Kings are taking it slow with No. 5 overall pick Thomas Robinson. Through four games, Robinson has had his fair share of dunks, but still has yet to get his rebounding going (2.8 per). Then again, he’s only averaging 11 minutes per game. Hopefully he gets more burn in the coming week.
— Celtics forward Jared Sullinger has seen his minutes increase over his first three games (8, 18, 30). He’s averaging 4 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes per.
— Pistons forward Andre Drummond has displayed an intensity that many questioned when he was drafted. In the past two games, Drummond is averaging 5 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 20 minutes per game. An increase in playing time could be imminent.
— Cavs rookie Tyler Zeller had a solid first week. He made an impact in last night’s road win over the Clippers, scoring 15 points (6-10) and grabbing 7 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. Through four games, Zeller is averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
— Thirty-five-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni has been a sparkplug for the Knicks off the bench, playing with intensity and creating open looks for his teammates. In last night’s win over the 76ers, the Argentinean posted 11 points and 6 assists in 25 minutes. With time to get acclimated to the NBA, Prigioni has a chance to secure a spot in Mike Woodson’s rotation.
TOP 20 ROOKIE PLAYS OF THE WEEK