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.
1. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)
It’s been another good week for Damian, collecting December’s Rookie of the Month honor and getting the approval of the King. The Blazers have won four straight and 12 of 15, including wins against LeBron and the Heat, and against fellow rookie Alexey Shved and the Timberwolves. Against Minnesota, Lillard hit step back jumper after step back jumper, leaving the defender no chance to stop him. As the ‘Wolves sagged off, Lillard rose up and buried shots from deep. But the highlight that sticks with me most is his attack off a high ball screen and finish through the contact from mountain man, Nikola Pekovic. With just two explosive dribbles from the top of the key, he manages to get all the way into the lane, onto Pekovic’s body,1 get the ball up on the glass, and in to the hoop.
The Blazers and Lillard are both much farther along than anyone expected them to be. Lillard is the clear frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors, while Portland has cemented themselves in the middle of the murky Western Conference playoff picture. Not a bad time to be a Blazers’ fan.
2. Anthony Davis (Last Week: 2)
The Hornets have won three in a row, but The Brow’s minutes have been reduced in those three victories. Averaging just under 20 minutes of action, Davis put in two uninspiring efforts in the wins against Dallas and Houston, but had his third good game of the season against San Antonio. In three games against Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, The Brow has averaged 18.7 points and 9 rebounds a game. Perhaps it took a game against the high profile Spurs to break Davis out of the “rookie wall” his coach, Monty Williams, claimed he had hit. With Lillard starting to separate himself from Davis in the Rookie of the Year conversation, Davis is going to need to bring it every night to get in position for some hardware. While Davis is still ahead of Andre Drummond, the gap is narrowing, and Davis better take notice.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Last Week: 3)
The Bobcats FINALLY snapped their 18 game losing streak in a win over Detroit on Monday. Kidd-Gilchrist willed his way to 11 points and 8 rebounds to do his part in the Bobcats’ first win since November 24, 2012. MKG followed up that solid showing with a 15 and 8 on 63% shooting in a game the Bobcats were never really in against Utah. For two people who are obsessed with winning, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Michael Jordan sure are doing a lot of losing. That’s not to say MKG is a bust by any means, because he’s had some very bright moments this year, but he clearly can not be a go to guy on a good team.
One still may wonder what Kidd-Gilchrist would have looked like running up and down the floor with his old pal Kyrie, but instead he’s forced to start alongside Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Taylor, and Tyrus Thomas. That may be the least watchable starting five in the NBA.2 It’s sad to think that MKG may have fallen into a black hole in Charlotte, and we may have to wait until his rookie contract expires to see his true value in the league.
4. Andre Drummond (Last Week: 5)
The D has won six in a row, and Andre Drummond is starting gain well respected attention from fans and media. The nagging story surrounding Drummond all year has been his limited minutes, which have been linked to his “lack of conditioning.” This week Drummond spoke out by stating “I’m not getting as fatigued anymore.” Pimp Juice, as he is known to Corey Maggette, appears to be ready for more minutes. 10 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes of action is one thing, but 15 and 15 in 30 plus minutes would be another. If the big fella says he’s ready, Lawrence Frank needs to let him run wild.
5. Bradley Beal (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Throughout the year, I’ve hardly been shy with my criticism of Bradley Beal, but even I can’t deny the progress the number 3 overall pick is making. For starters, Beal was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December, and has scored over 20 points in three of his last five games.
Most impressively, Beal and the Wizards scored their biggest win of the season over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. In a career high 44 minutes of action, Beal scored 22 points on 5 of 7 shooting from downtown. The knock on Beal all season and during his time at Florida was that he simply was not hitting shots. Once everyone starts using your name in the same sentence as Ray Allen, you better be hitting your shots.
Honorable Mention: Alexey Shved (Last Week: 4)
Shved continues to be quite the success story for David Kahn and the Timberwolves, but a disastrous 1-11 shooting game against Damian Lillard and the Blazers drop him out of the top 5 for this week. Shved followed up his stinker against Portland with solid performances in a win over Atlanta and a loss to OKC, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the momentum of Drummond and Beal.