10 NBA Rookies Worth Your Attention

Jeremy Gottlieb@@jmg2776Contributor IJanuary 5, 2012

10 NBA Rookies Worth Your Attention

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    The NBA season is roughly 10 days old, and with that time lapse some separation between the haves and the have-nots has begun. A few members of the league's rookie class have begun to emerge.

    Some (Cleveland's Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, Charlotte's Kemba Walker) were expected to come in and contribute quickly given their high draft status and college pedigrees. Others (Miami's Norris Cole, Milwaukee's Jon Leuer) have made an early impact with little to no warning.

    Let's take a look at a handful of the top rookies the NBA has to offer in the opening days of this abbreviated season.

Norris Cole, PG, Miami Heat

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    Cole, the 28th pick in the 2011 draft by way of Cleveland State, came to the Heat in a trade with the Chicago Bulls and has opened a great many eyes in his first six NBA games. In just his second game, Cole led the Heat to a 115-107 win over the Celtics, scoring 20 points and taking over for stretches of the fourth quarter when the Celtics had cut what was a 20-point deficit in the third quarter to just three.

    Cole scored 14 of his 20 in that fourth quarter (shining while LeBron James typically shrunk from the spotlight) and hasn't looked back since, averaging 11.7 PPG in just under 24 minutes a game for a 5-1, championship-contending squad.

Brandon Knight, PG, Detroit Pistons

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    Knight, the point guard out of Kentucky, has seen his minutes diminish somewhat over the past couple of games, but he's still getting at least 21 minutes of run per night for the rebuilding Pistons.

    Headed into Wednesday night's clash with the Central Division-leading Bulls, Detroit was on a modest, two-game winning streak and Knight, the No. 8 pick in the draft, has proven he belongs, averaging 11 points and three assists per game, including highs of 23 and six (featuring 3-of-5 from three-point range) last week against Cleveland.

Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Thompson was Cleveland's second pick in the 2011 draft out of Texas, No. 4 overall, and while he's looked incredibly raw on offense, he's wildly talented and super athletic.

    He scored 16 points on 7-of-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds on Tuesday night in a 115-101 win over Charlotte, representing his best output of the season thus far. The 20-year-old Thompson is playing 19 minutes per game for the young and improved Cavs, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 boards.

Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Finally, after over two years since being drafted fifth overall by the Wolves, Rubio came to the States and his impact on a young Minnesota squad has been palpable.

    Not much of a scorer, Rubio has compensated by playing the role of the consummate facilitator, averaging seven assists per game in about 25 minutes of action while seeing the floor for the majority of the Wolves' fourth quarters.

    Minnesota, which has won just 32 games combined over the past two seasons, has won its last three straight and with Rubio, star forward Kevin Love and fellow rookie Derrick Williams (taken No. 2 overall in the 2011 draft) in the fold, this franchise looks like there are better days to come.

Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns

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    One-half of the famed Morris-twin combo out of Kansas, Markieff has shined for the Suns in the season's early going. Getting more run than veteran big men Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye in a win over Golden State on Monday night, Morris put up 16 points (7-of-13 shooting) and nine rebounds in 32 minutes and is averaging 9.4 and 5.4 in about 20 minutes per night.

    Things are a little bleaker than they've been in quite some time for the Suns these days, but Morris is a real bright spot.

Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The No. 1 overall pick out of Duke, Irving has come as advertised so far for the Cavs. He's already the focal point of the Cleveland offense, averaging 16 points and five assists in 26 minutes per game in helping the franchise turn the page after the loss of LeBron James and a subsequent 19-63 season that looked and felt much, much worse.

    Irving has already reached the 20-point plateau twice in his first six NBA games and is hitting three-pointers at a 56 percent clip. Between him and Thompson, the future looks bright for the Cavs

Kemba Walker, SG, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Walker, the former UConn star who almost single-handedly willed the Huskies to last year's National Championship, is learning on the job for a Bobcats team that has a long way to go.

    He's put up a couple of excellent games while also submitting a couple of stink bombs, a not entirely unusual set of circumstances for a rookie in his first couple of weeks in the NBA.

    After winning on opening night, Charlotte lost five straight before running past the Knicks on Wednesday night, with Walker playing between 15 and 20 minutes off the bench per game. He could play more point guard down the road but for now, with D.J. Augustin holding down that spot, he'll see most of his time at the No. 2. 

Jon Leuer, PF, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Leuer didn't have to travel far after playing his college ball at the University of Wisconsin, landing with a Bucks team looking to return to the playoffs after a down year in 2010-2011. He's seen mostly spot duty through Milwaukee's first five games, playing just 13.2 minutes and averaging about five points and three boards.

    But in a tight, 98-95 win over Minnesota last week, Leuer showed what he's capable of, scoring 14 points and grabbing eight rebounds in 20 minutes, capping off his night with a three-point play with 1:17 left to play to seal the win.

    Leuer, a second-round pick, may never be a star and is playing behind former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut, but he's certainly shown flashes of being a capable contributor.

MarShon Brooks, SG, New Jersey Nets

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    The Nets are off to a dreadful start, but it's not Brooks's fault. The scoring machine out of Providence College has opened his NBA career averaging 15.2 points per game, shooting at 47 percent and drilling 46 percent of his three-point attempts. He's already broken the 20-point barrier twice this season and is playing more minutes than any other teammate except for star point guard Deron Williams.

    New Jersey's offense hasn't exactly fired up the league through the season's first couple of weeks, which means there should be plenty more opportunities for Brooks to light it up.

Jimmer Fredette, PG, Sacramento Kings

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    Playing behind Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton hasn't proven a problem yet for Fredette, who is managing to get double-digit shot attempts in about 22 minutes per game for the Kings through their first six games.

    Fredette, last year's Division 1 leading scorer and National Player of the Year, has a ways to go if he wants to reach the same kind of heights he did at BYU. But he's shown some flashes so far, none brighter than his 17 points (6-of-12 shooting, 4-of-6 from 3-point land) in 29 minutes on Tuesday night against Memphis.