NBA Rookie Rankings: MKG winning, Waiters struggling, and the rise of White Russia

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With the Cavaliers having two rookies playing prominent minutes, WFNY thought it would beneficial to see how the fresh meat around the league is faring in comparison with the Cavalier rookies. Each week, we’ll have NBA rookie power rankings where we’ll rack and stack the freshman class of the NBA. The rankings will be weighted with the most recent games carrying the most importance, but the whole body of work will be taken into account. Great beards and great celebrations may also play a large factor in rankings.

What ‘s the most American 24 hour period in the year?

4th of July?

Veteran’s Day?

The real answer is from noon on Thanksgiving to noon on Black Friday.

It starts with sitting on the couch watching football. Followed by a meal so large that people strategically wear pants with an elastic wasteband to allow their stomach to stretch. Then it’s back to the couch for more football. Followed of course by more over eating, this time deserts. Then guess what? More football. 

And that’s just the first twelve hours.

At midnight we flock to retailers all over the country, shove strangers out of the way, and wrestle 30 others to get our hands on a $100 laptop, a tradition that would make Frank Constanza’s Feats of Strength look like a game of paddycake.

After it’s all over we’re forced to go back to our normal lives. It’s no longer acceptable to assault a stranger in the quest for gadgets, nor is it acceptable to pour gravy over your entire plate. Fortunately for us, on the day after Thanksgiving the NBA returns. The NBA takes a day off during this most American 24 hours, but returns in full force on Friday. So after you get home from your shopping, eat your left over turkey sandwhich, take your inevitable nap, and eat some more turkey, give yourself a much deserved rest and flip on some roundball. 

Without further ado, this week’s rookie rankings.

1. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)

Lillard has been a gem to watch so far during his rookie campaign. Night in and night out the rookie guard is leaving his mark on the game, and as you might expect with a rookie, the results have been mixed. In the last week, Lillard recorded his two highest scoring games, as well as a career high in turnovers. Rookie guards in the NBA are like your buddy who just got out of a long relationship and he’s out at the bar for the first time in a while. You can’t help but get excited about the potential they have, but not having seen much of them in action, you definitely can’t trust them to always make the right play. He’s capable of pulling off moves that dazzle you, but decisions that baffle you. It takes some time to get in the rhythm of things, to know when to try and score, and when passing is the safe decision, but all the while it’s entertaining as hell to watch.

Lillard continues to lead all rookies in scoring, assists, and steals, but also is the rookie leader in turnovers at 3.5 per game. Ball security will continue to be a concern for Lillard, but the last thing you want to do with a rookie guard, or a newly single buddy, is rattle his confidence. Instead of cautioning them, you give them the green light. The Blazers’ guard has embraced the green light given to him, by coach Terry Stotts, but he must be careful of settling for too many jumpers as 61% of Lillard’s shots have come from 16 feet or farther out. Despite all the outside shots, he is still shooting 45% from the field. It’s easy to fall in love with the jumper when it’s falling, but Lillard must force his way into the lane to create for his teammates and give himself some easier looks at the hoop.

Anthony Davis (Last Week: 2)

When Anthony Davis is on the court, he is something special to watch, but The Brow is struggling to stay on the court. Davis has only played in 6 out of the Hornets’ 10 games, missing the last two with an ankle injury. Davis hasn’t played since last Saturday at Milwaukee where scored a career high 28 points to go with 11 rebounds. Davis’ 28 and 11 are worth noting, but the most significant stat from last Saturday was the number of blocks Davis recorded. For the first time in the NBA, or college, or probably in his whole life, Anthony Davis did not record a blocked shot. Still, Davis leads all rookies, and is top ten in the league with 2.2 blocks a game.

Davis continues to lead all rookies in efficiency, EFF481, rebounding, blocks, and is second in scoring. He is still Vegas’s favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but to win hardware, you need to be playing. With Davis out, the Hornet’s spotlight shines on fellow rookie Austin Rivers. Rivers has struggled so far this year and doesn’t appear to be the solution to stopping New Orleans’ five game skid. For Rivers, the Hornets, and those who bet on The Brow to win ROY, Davis’s return can not come soon enough.

3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Last Week: 3)

In case you were distracted by Thanksgiving, football, or any other of the 31 NBA teams, it’s worth noting that the Charlotte Bobcats have won 5 of their last 6 games.

“The same Bobcats that didn’t win their fifth game until 36 games into the season!?”

Not quite.

The 2012-13 Bobcats have one big difference from last year’s team. Three words, one hyphen.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

The Bobcats are 40 points better when MKG is on the court versus when he’s on the bench. That’s the greatest difference in +/- of any rookie. His 1.4 estimated wins added is second among rookies2 and equal to the likes of Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, and Kevin Garnett. To be in the company of those names in a category that measures how much you help a team win is extremely impressive.

Article after article about the Bobcats’ success this season emphasizes the intangibles Kidd-Gilchrist brings to the team. The kid3 is a winner. Last year, the Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history, and this year they have the league’s seventh best record. Last year’s roster looks almost identical this year’s except for those three words and one hyphen, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Third among rookies in efficiency, second in rebounding, fourth in scoring, and shooting 47% from the field, MKG does a little bit of everything. Everything except hit outside shots. Kidd-Gilchrist still has only made four shots not at the rim all season. For someone to score as much as he has, and efficiently as he has, it’s astounding that he has only made four jump shots all year. Once he develops his outside shot, the sky is the limit for MKG.

In MKG Bobcats fans finally have hope, and as The Shawshank Redemptiontaught us, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”.

4. Dion Waiters (Last Week: 4)

After the top 3, there is a significant drop off in production from this rookie class. Waiters is avearging 13.9 PPG, leaving him third among rookies in scoring, but in his last four games he is 16 of 67 from the floor, good for 24%. He’s shooting well from behind the arc at 42%, but is only 35% on 2-point field goals. Coming into the season everyone expected Dion to get his points at the rim, not 3-point land. Dion needs to find a better balance between outside and inside to start scoring more efficiently.

Dion Waiters is not shy, which is a good quality of a rookie guard or your newly single buddy,  but when Dion’s shot isn’t falling he must find other ways to help his team win. In the Cavs win over Philladelphia this week, Waiters recorded a career high 6 assists and career high 4 rebounds. 6 assists and 4 rebounds may not seem like much to brag about, but it’s a positive step in the right direction for Dion.

With Kyrie Irving out for the next month, the weight on Dion Waiters’ shoulders will only increase. He’ll see more time as the team’s primary ball handler, which should lead to more assists as well as more turnovers, and will also see more plays as the team’s primary scoring option.  Over the next month, Waiters will be thrown into the pressure cooker, Cavs fans can only hope he enters as a lump of coal and comes out a shiny, new diamond.

5. Alexey Shved (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

“White Russia”4” as he is being referred to, had a career night last Friday against Denver. Shved scored a career high 22 points and dished out a career high 7 assists. He leads all rookies in assist percentage5 and has an almost identical EFF48 to Damian Lillard. In the two games where Shved has played 30 minutes or more, White Russia is averaging 19 points and 6 assists.

The Timberwolves are .500 and Shved is making fans forget about their other European point guard, Ricky Rubio. Shved is nowhere near the passer that Rubio is, but his scoring is farther along than the Spaniard. Shved is a hybrid point/shooting guard and I am salivating at the idea of Rubio at the 1 and Shved at the 2.

T-Wolves general manager, David Kahn, is often the butt of many jokes, but recently Kahn has been pressing some of the right buttons. Russians Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved were two under the radar free agent signings this summer that are paying dividends early on, as well as big man Nikola Pekovic. Kahn is quietly adding quality European talent around Kevin Love that could help the ‘Wolves make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, or at least make them a popular draw on League Pass.

Honorable Mention

Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Jonas Valenciunas

Zeller Report

Since returning from his concussion, Zeller has been fairly quiet for the Cavaliers. He adds much needed depth to a thin Cavaliers’ roster, but has yet to make a serious impact in a game this year. Although Zeller hasn’t shined, he also hasn’t stunk it up. The more time on the court, the more comfortable Zeller will get. All-Rookie 2nd team appears to be a realistic goal for Zeller and Cavs fans.

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Footnotes:

  1. EFF48 measures how affective a player is while on the court []
  2. Lillard is first. []
  3. No pun intended. []
  4. My second favorite nickname, behind “Chandler Bang” []
  5. The percentage of team field goals assisted on while on the court []
  • http://www.facebook.com/lnicholas2 Lee Nicholas

    I think our rookies are, overall, performing at, if not above expectations.

    Dion is, as of late, 4th on most peoples rookie rankings… With the 4th overall pick at is what you hope for. Barnes is doing better of late and I sensr those two’s careers will be watched together for Cavs fans. I love how confident he plays. I love his athleticism at that position. Despite his confidence he hasnt forced much. I belive it was on this site that I saw earlier in t he year a post about SG being the hardest position to adapt to the NBA based on players average PER in their rookie seasons by position. With that in mind, Dion is easily the best SG in this rookie class. Additionally he is the best SG the Cavs have had in a very long time.

    As for Zeller I think he is much higher than the 17th best player in this draft. He has brrn solid so far, particularly on the class. He is a good kid with a very strong work ethic. I see him having a very Zydrunas like career in Cleveland… And not just because he is a white 7 footer with an outside shot that has a last initial of Z. H is a finesse big man who can light up the boards. He seems the kind of guy that will be a fan favorite in cleveland as he matures.

    All in all these rooks are fun to watch and I am very pleased with where they are and where they seem to be heading.

  • ready4thelottery

    Leaning on Dion Waiters with Kyrie out. Now that sounds like a lot of losses. Why don’t the Cavs ever find these “White Russia” guys ?? We certainly picks some reaches. Tristan Thompson looking like more of a reach than Waiters. Waiters should get better. How long before your weekly column on who we should draft next year ?? Isn’t that what this site is all about, next year ??

  • JErry

    Drummond and Nicholson are beast when they are in.