NBA Rookie Rankings: Waiters and Zeller impress against Spurs

Zeller and Waiters

Zeller and WaitersWith 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 nicknames, beards, and great celebrations may also play a large factor.

1. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)

Lillard had an up and down last seven days that started with a horrid shooting night (1-16) last Sunday vs. Orlando. Lillard’s shot wasn’t falling, so he turned to creating, dishing out a career high 12 assists.

When they play 82 games a season, even the best players are going to have poor shooting nights,that’s a given. What isn’t a given is how the player responds to his bad shooting night. When Lillard was struggling shooting the ball, he was still able to hand out easy buckets to teammates and not become a black hole. It’s important for a player to have awareness, to know his limits, and do what’s necessary to help his team win.

After a rough night like Lillard had against Orlando, players can either:

A) Fall deeper into a slump
B) Play tentatively, deferring to other teammates or…
C) Come out the next night and kick ass like you have Kanye’s “Power” pumping into your eardrums.

Two nights later against Miami, Lillard opted for choice C. While his performance against the world champions may not have been set to Kanye’s beats, it was to the tune of 33 points on 55 percent shooting. The Blazers’ guard could get anywhere he wanted on the floor, earning 11 trips to the line, converting on 10.

However, it wasn’t all roses for Lillard in Miami, he got served a nice slice of humble pie on this block from the King. Welcome to the league rookie.

The next night against New Orleans, DL struggled once again in a classic “mail it in before the all-star break” loss to the Hornets. While we’ll have to wait until after the weekend to see how Lillard responds in a real game, we’ll get a look at Shaq’s number one pick Friday night in the Rising Stars challenge. The Rising Stars challenge will be Lillard’s only action over the weekend — which as pointed out by some of our commenters could be one reason why Shaq chose Lillard first over Irving, who will be featured in the Rising Stars Challenge, 3-point shootout, and the actual All-Star game itself. While Irving’s minutes may be limited in the Rising Stars Challenge, Lillard should be locked, loaded, and gunning for MVP honors.

2. Anthony Davis (Last Week: 2)

Those who watched the Hornets/Blazers game on Wednesday may have thought nothing has changed since last June’s NBA draft. Back then, Anthony Davis was a phenom from a team featuring six players drafted and Damian Lillard was an afterthought from a school best known for not being known. We all know now that Davis isn’t quite the phenom he was billed as and Lillard has gone from afterthought to ROY lock, but if you watched Hornets/Blazers the other night it was as if the last 8 months never happened. Lillard had an off night, following his stellar showing in Miami the day before, while Davis looked every bit of the player chosen first overall.

The Brow had his highest scoring game since December 28 (21 points), highest rebounding total since January 19 (11), and added two blocks and a steal to complete the night. Davis, like Lillard, was able to bounce back and have a career high game following a career low scoring night.

In the Hornets’ previous game against Detroit, Davis struggled on the offensive end, failing to make a single shot from the floor (0-7). Davis, once again like Lillard, turned to other areas of his game to help his team when the scoring wasn’t happening. The number one pick, added 8 rebounds, 4 huge blocks, and a steal to help the Hornets thrash the Pistons.

The good thing about Davis is when his offense fails, his defense and rebounding are there to pick up the slack. The bad thing about Davis, his offense is failing far too often.

3. Dion Waiters (Last Week: 5) Waiters has been a sparkplug and a dividing point for Cavs fans and NBA fans alike. Whether you’re a Waiters hater or supporter, the numbers don’t lie, Dion is improving. Against the league’s best team on Wednesday night, with Kyrie Irving struggling (2-15), it was Dion’s show. And as a spectator at the show, it was one hell of an entertaining performance.

Late in the second quarter, with the shot clock winding down and the offense stalled, Waiters was stuck with the ball his hands. Kyrie tried to bark orders Dion’s way to which the Syracuse product shrugged off, and instead pulled up to bury a deep j.

You could tell Dion had it going on this night. A few moments later Dion leaked out for a breakaway dunk in which he hung on the ring an extra second, landed, and kept his arms in the air a la the Shaq “I didn’t do anything” celebration. Brilliance.

Dion wasn’t done, the next time down the floor, another broken play. This time instead of pulling up, Dion attacked to score the bucket and earn a trip to the line for the and-1.

He kept it going throughout the third, drawing another and-1 and prompting the lady making my wings to exclaim “Don’t get mad, get even!” This was the Dion Waiters show.

But Dion saved his best act for last. With the game tied, and under a minute to play, Waiters came up with a timely steal, setting the stage for the biggest shot of his young career. Once again with the offense stalled, and the ball in his hands, Dion was required to make yet another play. Waiters pulled up for a long jumper like we’ve seen so many times before, but this time it was different. This time, the shot was pure, the shot was nothing but net.

Of course Kawhai Leonard had to ruin Dion’s fairy tale ending by icing a game winning three a few seconds later, but this was the kind of performance Cavs fans want and expect out of their number 4 pick.

4. Bradley Beal (Last Week: NR) Beal returned from a wrist injury to come off the bench in an uninspiring performance against Brooklyn. Although it appears Beal just needed time to get his feet wet again, as his next outing was a special one. Beal has been far from consistent, as most rookies are, but his collection of sharp shooting games continues to grow.

He poured in 28 on nearly 60% shooting, nailing all four of his attempts from 3-point range to lead the Wizards to their 4th straight win Monday in Milwaukee. Despite his career high scoring outburst against Milwaukee, Wizards’ coach, Randy Wittman continued to bring Beal off the bench in a disappointing loss to Detroit.

The Wizards have outscored their opponents by 54 points when Beal and John Wall are on the court together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Beal return to the starting lineup following the all-star break.

I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Beal hit 10 plus 3’s in the Rising Stars game. The up and down pace, and lack of defense has been a 3-point shooter’s paradise these last few years.

5. Andrew Nichoslon (Last Week: NR) First Andrew Nicholson gets added to the rising stars challenge, then he cracks the top 5 of WFNY’s Rookie Rankings. This may be the best week for a Saint Bonaventure athletics since the school’s inception.

Unless you’re from Orlando, or you snuck down to the hotel bar for a sanity break from screaming kids at the Magic Kingdom, you probably haven’t seen Andrew Nicholson play. At St. Bonaventure, Nicholson dominated the A-10 with his variety of post moves, and his shot blocking ability with his 7-4 wingspan which are both translating well to the NBA game. Nicholson has had his bright moments so far this season, but has yet to put together a stretch like his last week of action. Over the last seven days, the Magic rookie is averaging 15 points and 6 rebounds. In an otherwise very forgettable season for Magic fans, Nicholson has been a pleasant surprise.

Honorable Mention: Tyler Zeller Zeller may have had the best game of his career Wednesday against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. Big Teezy looked very comfortable with the ball in his hands in the loss to San Antonio. Put back jump hooks, isolations as the shot clock winded down, and pick and pops all were going Zeller’s way. He is clearly a skilled player, and as he adds more and more confidence, he’s beginning to look a lot like last year’s ACC Player of the Year that Carolina fans loved.

Follow Ryan Jones on Twitter @CzarJonesey7

  • bealhatr

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Beal hit 10 3’s in the rising stars game ? Can I get lots of money on the under ??

  • mgbode

    must be a rough 2013 for you, buddy. Beal is showing that good, consistent form on shooting is what you need to be a good shooter. 50% 3pt shooting in 2013 is just crazy (and that’s on 4 attempts per game).

  • mgbode

    I don’t think anyone would actually put Nicholson ahead of Barnes, but I do love that you are giving the small school kid a chance to shine in the limelight. And what light is brighter than here at the WFNY!