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.
Two weeks into the NBA season and like many basketball nuts out there, I’ve already managed to fall behind in most aspects of my life. My kitchen sink is full of dishes, my DVR is full of shows, and instead of playing catch up, I’m continuously getting sucked into a full night of watching roundball. Instead of engulfing myself in Brody, Carrie, and the rest of the gang from Homeland, I find myself settling in for Wizards at Bobcats. I imagine the only other people outside of D.C. or Charlotte watching that game were me, gamblers1, and those who clicked on Wizards vs. Bobcats hoping to see Gandalf and Harry using spells to fight off aggressive felines.
Whatever the reason for tuning in, those watching were treated to a player of the game performance by none other than Ramon Sessions. I know Ramon is enough to get most hoops junkies going, but for me it was all about Beal vs. MKG. There isn’t much better television than two top three picks going head to head2. Kidd-Gilchrist shined with a 15 point, 8 rebound night, while Beal stuggled with his shot going 1-8 from the field.
Bradley Beal came into the 2012 draft with comparisons to Ray Allen thanks to his sweet stroke, but the reality of it is, Beal was not a good shooter at Florida and has continued to struggle with his shot in the NBA. At Florida, the “sharp shooting” Beal shot only 34% from 3-point range, and is shooting just 33% from behind the arc so far in his NBA career. Beal is 19-67 on shots not at the rim, good for a whopping 28%, compared to Dion Waiters who is 33-73 (45%) on those same shots. Beal needs to start scoring more efficiently if he wants to succeed in the league, and more importantly find a spot in the weekly fresh meat rankings.
1. Damian Lillard (Last Week: 1)
Lillard has slowed some since his amazing start, but still is playing at a high level. After four losses in a row with Lillard having under seven assists, Lillard dished out nine in a blowout win over the Kings. He is the rookie leader in points, assists, and usage rate, but most importantly in estimated wins added to his team with 1.1.
One key to the Weber State product’s success so far is his ability to pull up and shoot off the dribble. Like Russell Westbrook or Eric Bledsoe, Lillard uses his strength and speed to create space to shoot. When those shots start to fall, defenders are forced to respect it, making the drive much easier.
Pair that with the way Lillard has been launching and hitting three’s and Lillard is a big time offensive threat. Half of Lillard’s 15.1 points per game are coming off of three point shots. If he continues to hit that shot consistently, Portland will start to win some more games.
2. Anthony Davis (Last Week: 3)
After missing two games while out with a peach-grade concussion, The Brow returned to the court with his best game of his young career putting up 23 points, 11 rebounds, a massive 5 blocks, and two steals in a win over the Bobcats. On several occasions I’ve seen polls where fans overwhelmingly say that they would prefer their team to have Anthony Davis over Kyrie Irving. Now this is a bit of a rush of a judgement as Kyrie has played far more games in the NBA than Davis, and although we can’t definitively say Davis will surpass Irving as the league’s best young player, it is clear Davis is going to be a force in this league.
He runs the floor, blocks shots, gets in passing lanes, rebounds, scores in the post, can takes guys off the dribble, and has a wing span comparible to a terydactyl. Davis leads all rookies in efficiency3, rebounding, blocks, and steals. Before I start sounding too much like Boobie Miles’ Uncle in Friday Night Lights, let’s get into what keeps The Brow out of the top spot on this list.
Neither of New Orleans’ two most productive lineups feature Davis on the floor. The Hornets’ strongest lineup (Lopez, Anderson, Aminu, Vasquez, Rivers) has a +/- of 20 which is 14 points better than their second strongest lineup (Lopez, Anderson, Aminu, Vasquez, Mason Jr.), and neither has Davis on the floor. Putting up big numbers is sexy, but being on the floor helping your team succeed is what really matters.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Last Week: 4)
MKG turned in his first dominant performance of his career this week in an overtime victory over the Mavs. Still far from polished, Kidd-Gilchrist was able to take over a game at the NBA level, something you expect from the number two pick. Career highs in points and rebounds showed up in the headlines, but offensive rebounds down the stretch, specifically one that allowed for the tying basket at the end of regulation proved to be the real difference maker.
Naturally, to follow up his first dominant performance, Kidd-Gilchrist turned in his first lemon of the season against the Timberwolves. Something had to have been wrong as MKG scored only 2 points on a mere 4 shots. Not to mention only 2 rebounds and 2 assists. Known for his effort and intangibles, it is surprising to see Kidd-Gilchrist look non existent, but it is only one game.
Despite the let down against Minnesota, Bobcats’ fans finally have a reason to be hopeful in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. A respectable 11.1 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.1 STPG, and 1.7 BPG to start the year, it looks to me as if his upside is a high motored Josh Smith. He’s got all the goods but lacks a real offensive repertoire. Kidd Gilchrist has only made 5 shots that weren’t at the rim all year! Only 5! His ability to improve his outside game will dictate how far he can go as a player.
4. Dion Waiters (Last Week: 2)
Dion continues to be up and down to the start his NBA career. There is no reason to panic, just as there was no reason to get too high after some impressive games early on. Some days will be better than others, but the outcome will ultimately be positive. My favorite stat Waiters has in his favor is that Waiters is a member of the best five man unit in the NBA. Let me reiterate.
THE LINEUP OF IRVING, WAITERS, GEE, THOMPSON, AND VAREJAO LEADS THE NBA IN +/-.
The Cavalier starters have outscored their opponents by 55 points when on the court together. That’s good for best in the league, with the Heat and Lakers’ starters tied for second, a full 22 points worse than the Cavs.
Dion is third among rookies in scoring (14.5 PPG) and fifth in efficiency (10.5). Back to back games with under 10 points, and shooting 3-16 in his last outing have fans in a mini panic, but patience will be the key with Dion. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and pray to god it stays on track.
5. Andre Drummond (Last Week: Not Ranked)
In only 15 minutes a night, Andre Drummond, the big question mark out of Connecticut, is impressing up in the Motor City. Despite being on the worst team in the league, Drummond is second among qualified rookies in EFF48 making him the second most effective rookie while he is on the court. Drummond has a small sample size of minutes, but in extended action last Friday at Oklahoma City, the rookie had a career high 22 points to go with his 8 rebounds. Maybe Drummond has found something in his new secret move and he’ll have some big scoring nights, but if he can at least commit himself on the defensive end, and on the glass he will make Detroit fans happy. Drummond leads all rookies in rebounding rate and times being challenged to a game of horse on the street. The offense will continue to be a major project, but for now Drummond’s effort and athleticism is enough to encourage.
Alexey Shved (Last Week: Not Ranked)
Shved is in the same crop as Drummond, Singler, Beal, Barnes, and Valenciunas, but because of his perfectly groomed facial hair Shved earns some honorable mention. This Russian, 23 year old is having a noteworthy rookie campaign so far in Minnesota. He’s great in pick and roll situations and is really giving the shorthanded Timberwolves a spark during their 5-3 start. It’s also worth remembering the Cavaliers were one of the teams rumored to be interested in Shved’s services.
Tyler Zeller continues to be out with a broken bone in his face and a concussion4. He is slated to return Saturday against the Mavericks, which cannot come soon enough for the Cavaliers as their bench can use all the help they can get.