NBA Rookie Rankings: Lillard, MKG take home Rookie of the Month honors


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.

Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)

It’s a good week to be Damian Lillard. Not only is he number one in our rookie rankings, Lillard was also named Western Conference Rookie of the Month earlier this week. Through their first 17 NBA games, only Damian Lillard, Derek Rose, and Allen Iverson recorded 300 points and 100 assists. Notably absent from that list is last year’s number one pick, Kyrie Irving. Through each of their first 19 games in the NBA, Lillard holds an edge over Irving in both points and assists, and even is turning the ball over at a lower rate than Irving did to start his career.

Cavs fans got their first up close look at Lillard in a double overtime loss to Portland last Saturday. Lillard recorded the 2nd double-double of his career  and gave Clevelanders a look at another rising young point guard besides their own.

Despite the stats favoring Lillard, the eye test still makes me believe Irving is and will be the better player. Kyrie has an ability to get to the rim whenever he wants, and find a way to finish from all angles. Lillard, also has the ability to slice and dice his way through defenses, but his strength has lied in his pull up game. Whereas Lillard can get a shot off whenever he wants, Irving can get to the rim whenever he wants. I’ll take a shot at the hoop instead of a 15 footer any day. I’ll take Irving.  

2 Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Last Week: 3)
3. Dion Waiters (Last Week: 4)

The Bobcats’ wonderkid was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November beating out Cleveland’s Dion Waiters. Waiters is scoring, but Kidd-Gilchrist is rebounding, and playing more efficiently. Kidd-Gilchrist played his best basketball during the first 10 games of the season, but has dropped off recently while Waiters continues to put the ball in the hoop.

These two are complete opposites to watch play. If they were a 2 on 2 team, Waiters would handle, and shoot the ball while MKG would do everything else, and they would be good! Kidd-Gilchrist is the ultimate glue guy, where Waiters is your microwave, instant offense.

After one of the best stretches in Bobcats’ history, the luck of Michael Jordan’s mustache has worn off some in Charlotte as the ‘Cats have lost five in a row. Still, Charlotte has already matched their season win total from last year, and apparently there isn’t enough space on the internet to even begin to describe the intangibles Kidd-Gilchrist brings to a basketball team. His hustle, humility, work ethic, cure for cancer, competitive spirit and solution to the fiscal cliff make MKG far more valuable than just his actual basketball skills.

Although his basketball skills are still raw, if it all comes together for MKG then the Bobcats could find themselves in a place they have never been, relevancy.

Following three straight games of 7 assists, Waiters has sat out the Cavs’ last two contests with injury and won’t be making the trip with the team to Minnesota. With Irving and now Waiters out, the Cavs’ backcourt has less talent than the 1954 Hickory High state championship team.1 After Irving’s injury, Waiters unofficially adopted the “go big or go home” philosophy, dominating the ball, taking shot after shot. However, during this stretch Waiters assists started to rise as did the team’s scoring. Without Irving, the Waiters led Cavs averaged over 98 points a game, and in the two games without Waiters the Cavs have struggled to score only 82 points a game. For all Waiters’ inefficiency on the court, the fact of the matter is the Cavs need the 4th overall pick back as soon as possible. Until then, Cavs fans will continue to have to try and enjoy TankStrong, starring Anderson Varejao.

4. Jonas Valanciunas (Last Week: 4)

Like most of the rookie class, Valanciunas has plateaued a bit in recent games. The 7 foot Lithuanian has tapered off since his breakout performance against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. His minutes have decreased the last 5 games and so has his production. Valanciunas’ full season of work keeps him in the top 5 for now, but other rookie bigs, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, are threatening big V’s spot. Valanciunas has one of the biggest upsides of any rookie, but with so many European bigs having struggled making the transition to the NBA, Raptors fans are going to need to have even more patience with Big V. I’m guessing patience isn’t exactly in abundance these day in Toronto.

Since drafting Chris Bosh in 2003, here is the list of fine basketball players the Raptors have chosen in the first round: Rafael Araújo, Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham, Andrea Bargnani2, Roy Hibbert3, Demar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciunas, and Terrence Ross. And you wonder why the Raptors haven’t made the playoffs since 2008.

5. Andre Drummond/Kyle Singler

If this doesn’t get you excited for the Kyle Singler era, than nothing will.

Before the season, there were a handful of rookie duos getting the hype, Waiters/Zeller, Lillard/Leonard, Valanciunas/Ross, Davis/Rivers, but the rookie duo having the most success in 2012 is the Pistons’ Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler. Before Kyle Singler was given a starting spot, the Pistons were 0-7, since Singler began starting, the Pistons are 6-6. While there isn’t one thing on the court that Singler particularly excels at4, constant movement and high energy have been the keys to Singler’s early success in the league.

Drummond, although not getting the minutes Singler is, has been the most effective rookie during his time on the court in 20125. Drummond destroyed the Cavs the other night, recording nine offensive rebounds and three blocks. Even in the NBA, size and athleticism wise, Drummond is a man among boys. Drummond’s on court efficiency is higher than the likes of Serge Ibaka, Zach Randolph, Blake Griffin, and Kevin Love which is leading to many in Detroit calling for more minutes for the rookie out of UConn. The Pistons are wary to give the big man too much, too soon, but if Drummond continues to be a force in the paint, the Pistons will have no choice, but to turn to the rookie loose.

Honorable Mention

Alexey Shved, Tyler Zeller

By far my favorite group of honorable mention so far this year. A quirky Russian and a man in a mask. Shved continues to pace the ‘Wolves backcourt off the bench, and my head gets closer to exploding each day with my growing excitement at the idea of a Shved/Rubio backcourt.

Zeller has finally settled back in after his concussion and broken cheek bone. The former ACC Player of the Year recorded his first double-double of his career last week against Portland, and has increased his shot attempts over the last week to10 a game. Any scoring Zeller can contribute the Cavs will be greatly appreciated.

  1. In Pargo and Gee’s defense, Jimmy can really shoot. []
  2. I still believe Bargnani can be the second or third best guy on championship contender. []
  3. Traded to Indiana in a deal for Jermain O’Neal []
  4. Besides sweating []
  5. Drummond leads all rookies in EFF48 []
  • ThatAlex

    As much as I love Waiters, are you sure we’re not overvaluing him a little bit with these rankings? Virtually none of the national analysts have Waiters in the top 5 recently. Dion has tremendous upside, but I don’t want these rankings to be based on potential, otherwise Anthony Davis would be #1 every week. Dion does a good job scoring the ball, but right now it’s more of the Antawn Jamison inefficient variety.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    Among rookies, Waiters is ranked second in points and steals, third in assists, fourth in three-point field goal percentage and fifth in free throw percentage. I know that watching him every night may lead to some clunkers sticking out, but I think third is fair when considering the bodies of his peer group’s work.

  • BenRM

    I think that Lillard’s ceiling is lower than that of his contemporaries; Irving, Wall, and Rose, etc. He is playing great, and I in no way mean to take that away from him. But I’m just not getting the “holy crap that dude is special” vibe when I see him.

  • mgbode

    Irving/Rose – I agree.

    but, i’ll gladly give you Wall and take Lillard if we are starting a team from scratch.

  • mgbode

    with Anthony Davis being hurt, I think 3rd is fair as well. I mean, I could argue others as Waiters has been inefficient, but Waiters has just as many arguments in his favor. outside of Lillard and MKG (and some games/moments from Waiters) it really has been an underwhelming rookie class thus far.

  • bealbashr

    How about some more Bradley Beal Bashing please ? I know this is the top 5 and Beal will never see that, but let’s at least mention how smart the Cavs were to not try to get him.

  • mgbode

    well, we may have taken him if he was there. we’ll never know. what we do know is who we did pass up for Waiters. Using WS/48 to account for effective rates w/ WS in parenthesis to show what they have actually done.

    Waiters .034 (.4)
    T-Rob .023 (.1)
    Lillard .113 (1.7)
    Barnes .078 (.8)
    T-Ross -.006 (0)
    Drummond .172 (1.3)
    Rivers -.068 (-0.6)

    So, out of the #4-10 selections, Waiters is 4th in WS/48 as well as overall WS. However, he has been an overall positive in that stat and it must be noted that none of the other players on the list are anywhere near to being forced to direct the offense as Waiters had to do w/ Irving out (except, obviously, Lillard who has been great on offense).

  • Yup

    Furthermore, MKG benefits by having less asked of him on the court then Dion and having better players around him then Dion does. Yes, I think overall, Charlotte has a better roster than the Cavs do. I think Dion is third ahead of MKG if you include Davis in the rankings…and Jonas is not good.

  • mgbode

    I don’t see anyway that you can put Dion above MKG. They both can get to the rack, but MKG actually finishes leading to a much higher FG%. Dion is obviously the superior outside shooter, but MKG has him on defense, blocks, rebounding, and straight-up hustle (and that’s not a knock on Dion). MKG is who we thought he was and he’s good at being that.

    WS/48 for MKG (WS) = .103 (1)

  • Yup

    You completely disregarded the point I made…or you, more accurately, ignored it…

  • mgbode

    It’s pure opinion. I think mkg is asked to do alot on both ends. He is their wing defender and energy guy on d. On o he needs to get on the break and works to the room in half court sets