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.
After missing 13 of the Hornets first 19 games, Anthony Davis finally made his return to the court this week in games against Washington and Oklahoma City. Davis was solid, and steady in his extended minutes off the bench in his two games since returning from injury, but it’s another rookie who stole the show this week. Wizards’ guard, Bradley Beal makes his first appearance in the rankings this week thanks to several strong all-around showings, and Waiters being on the shelf. Lillard holds strong at the top, and looks like he’s going to make someone come take his top spot on the rookie ladder, he won’t be giving it away any time soon.
Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)
After having three of the best games of his career, Lillard, in typical rookie fashion, put a buzz kill on the hype with back to back games in Strugglesville1. Teams are starting to force Lillard away from the perimeter where 58% of his shots originate from. Lillard is hitting the outside jumpers, and is having success at the rim, but it’s the mid range where the Blazers guard will need to improve if he wants to be a killer in this league.
When you watch Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving, they have the ability to be under control anywhere on the court. The ability they have to pass or score from not just the paint, and not just the perimeter, but everywhere on the court makes them truly special guards.
As teams force Lillard into the barron wasteland that is between the key and the 3-point arc, he must be able to make them pay. When the 20 footer isn’t there and there is no room the in the lane, Lillard needs to be able to pull up and drill that in between 13 foot bunny.
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Last Week: 2)
Kidd-Gilchrist continues to be very Kidd-Gilchrist like. He’s the guy who never gets picked high at open gym, but you’re always glad he ends up on your team. Every pick-up game has at least one of those guys. He doesn’t have the shot, and he doesn’t look pretty, but he’s the one getting you extra possessions, running the floor, and converting when you find him.
As a player I’d love to play with MKG. You’re going to get 110% effort2, great rebounding, he’ll create extra possessions, and most importantly, he won’t take away from your shots.
The problem is, it’s usually not good when a guy like this is your best player. That means guys like me and Byron Mullens get to shoot almost five 3-point bombs a game, and if me or Byron Mullens is shooting five 3-pointers a game, our team is going to struggle to score. Good vibes only takes you so far, at some point you have to put the orange through the net. The Bobcats are 25th in the league in made shots, thus it’s not too surprising they’ve lost nine in a row.
3. Anthony Davis (Last Week: Not Ranked, injured)
After missing nearly a month with an ankle injury, The Brow made his return Tuesday against the woeful Wizards, coming off the bench to play significant minutes and leave his impact on the defense side of the floor. Offensively, Davis is still far from being able to carry an NBA sized load. With no playmakers on offense, New Orleans was held by Washington (3-16 Washington) to just 10 points in the fourth quarter and 28 points in the whole second half!
It will take Davis some time to figure out how to score consistently at the pro level but his skill and athleticism is already changing games on the defensive side of the ball. At the end of the third quarter against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Thunder spread the floor with shooters and isolated Kevin Durant at the top of key.
Who’s guarding Durant? Davis.
The Brow vs. Durantula.
Time to play, Back to the Future. Where we go back into a play from the week of NBA action and then go to the future to figure out what happens next.
The Durantula is isolated at the top of the key with The Brow guarding him. Possibly the only showdown bigger than this one was Brett Hart vs. HBK at Wrestlemania XII.3 The floor is spread for Durant with Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin, and Reggie Jackson along the perimeter.
What happens next?
A) Durant buries a 3-pointer over the outstretched Gumby arms of Davis
B) Durant immediately gets the ball out of his hands so Reggie Jackson can shoot a three
C) Davis blocks a Durant floater
B) Durant tries to drive on Davis, and gets the ball picked by Davis leading to an alley-oop
Three of those choices would make for a good highlight, so naturally the answer is B. Durant immediately swung the ball to the corner where the “Red hot” Reggie Jackson could get a decent look at a 3 which he missed.
Still, it’s hard to argue that if Anthony Davis isn’t guarding him, Kevin Durant is taking that shot.
Davis has had two solid games since his return, but has been short of spectacular. The Brow will continue to be a main stay on this list as long as he’s healthy, but still has a ways to go before he catches Lillard at the top of the rankings.
4. Bradley Beal (Last Week: Not ranked)
He’s aliiiiive. He’s alliiiiive. He’s aliiiiiive. Bradley Beal has cometh.
Well sort of.
The third pick in the draft made his jump into this week’s top five after finally doing what those expected of him, hitting jump shots. Like any good Irishman, Beal never sees a shot he won’t take. The problem with Beal’s quick trigger is quite simple, he’s shooting but not scoring. The mechanics of a “Ray Allen-like” stroke are in place for Beal, but the Ray Allen-like consistency has not been there. In fact Bradley Beal is so far from Ray Allen we should not use the words Ray Allen and Bradley Beal in the same sentence ever again. Starting…now.
Despite Beal’s ups and downs this season, he is currently riding a high streak. The former Gator has scored in double figures for six straight games, and in only one of those games was Beal’s shooting percentage less than 40%. Beal was supposed to get all sorts of open looks from the penetration created by former number one overall pick John Wall, but due to Wall’s injury problems the two have not spent one minute on the floor together.
Part of Beal’s early struggles can be attributed to the Wizards weakness at point guard. Every scorer’s best friend is a good point guard and Bradley Beal’s point guard is about as good as a friend as Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. I mean I’d be frustrated if I were struggling to score, and the guy trying to help me put the ball in the bucket was A.J. Price. Recently though, Beal has started to involve himself in the game on the glass, and setting up his teammates. In his last three games, Beal is averaging almost 10 assists/rebounds a game, up from the 6 he has averaged throughout the year.
Beal and the Wizards both need Wall back ASAP to develop to their full potential. If he doesn’t come back soon, the Wizards season may quickly turn into Bradley Beal and Jordan Crawford’s unsusccesful tryouts for this year’s NBA Saturday Night Three-Point Shootout
5. Jonas Valanciunas (Last Week: 4)
Like anything from a former Eastern Bloc country, we know little about Valanciunas except that he is big, bruising, and mysterious. Seriously, Valanciunas’ Wikipedia page doesn’t even have a “personal life” section. It is all business on the Valanciunas Wiki page, with “Professional Career” and “International Career” as the only headings to read.
Valanciunas continues to contribute solid minutes off the bench in Baksetball Limbo aka Toronto. For the Lithuainian big to start to gain any significant attention, the Raptors are going to need to win or Valanciunas is going to need to score. At the moment Valanciunas is rebounding and blocking shots, and the Raptors are losing. I guess that’s why he fits in at number 5 on our list.
Andre Drummond, Tyler Zeller
Drummond and Zeller both continue to slowly build from expanded minutes in reserve roles. Drummond is still the biggest enigma of this draft class, one night he’ll pull down 12 rebounds in 19 minutes, while a week later he’ll put up a 0 points and 0 rebounds in 13 minutes. Coaching, coaching, coaching will be the key for Drummond.
Zeller’s numbers multiply out to 11 points and 8 rebounds per 36 minutes played which is very similar to the 12 and 10 Tristain Thompson records per 36 minutes. On several occasions Cavs’ color commentator, Austin Carr, has made note of Zeller’s hesitancy to shoot an open 15 footer. Tyler needs to develop a trust and confidence in his abilities to start opening up his game to take it to the next level. And yes, that next level is a top 5 spot in WFNY’s rookie rankings.