NBA Rookie Ladder: Isaiah Thomas and Sleepers Poised for Second-Half Surge

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IFebruary 29, 2012

NBA Rookie Ladder: Isaiah Thomas and Sleepers Poised for Second-Half Surge

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    The rookie ladder sees a shakeup out of the All-Star break, and there is a new entrant to the list who shoots all the way up inside the top three slots.

    Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Isaiah Thomas are all incredibly exciting rookie point guards in a league that is filled with a plethora of young talent at the position.

    There are also some very promising big men who should all be playing larger roles for their respective teams in the second half of the season, and it will be interesting to see who emerges from the field with an increased opportunity.

10. Bismack Biyombo, F/C Charlotte Bobcats

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    Bismack Biyombo had a really rough start to the season, but he's showing exactly why Charlotte was so intrigued with his athleticism prior to the draft.

    Averaging 2.2 blocks during the month of February, Biyombo is still raw around the edges but is illustrating exactly the type of impact he can have on the defensive end of the floor.

    With a ridiculous wing span and incredibly long arms, Biyombo can continue to assert his presence for a Bobcats team that will give him all of the playing time he can handle.

9. Kawhi Leonard, G/F San Antonio Spurs

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    Although Kawhi Leonard isn't a huge contributor on offense, his impressive rebounding skills paired with his understanding of how to play defense make him a valuable rookie for San Antonio.

    An absolute pest regardless of who he is lined up against, Leonard has shown no sign of timidness when going up against the opposition.

    A better shooter than he credits for, Leonard has stayed ready regardless of sporadic playing time, and his ability to dominate the glass despite standing just 6'6" is a major strength of his game.

8. Kemba Walker, G Charlotte Bobcats

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    Perhaps the most scrutinized rookie due to his immense popularity while he was at UConn, Kemba Walker has taken a major step forward for the Bobcats of late.

    Making much better decisions with the ball in his hands, Walker is averaging just 1.0 turnovers (season low) and 4.3 assists (season high) during the month of February.

    Active at both ends of the floor, Walker seems to be getting a better feel for where his teammates are on the court and is changing his shot selection pattern for the benefit of his team.

7. MarShon Brooks, G/F New Jersey Nets

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    This kid is just a pure scorer.

    Although MarShon Brooks will struggle to stay consistent with his shot at times, but there is no question he's shaping up to be one of the largest steals in the 2011 draft.

    He shoots better than 35 percent from behind the three-point line, but Brooks does need to work on how often he shoots the ball as he's scored 371 points on 318 shots.

    Despite his shortcomings, Brooks is developing into a valuable weapon for a team that sorely needs a capable player on the wing.

6. Iman Shumpert, G/F New York Knicks

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    Iman Shumpert has received a lot of hype since debuting for the Knicks, but how much of it is deserved?

    He's scored 289 points on 300 shots this season, which is not a trend he can afford to continue.

    Shumpert struggles to pass up jump shots he feel he can make when he should be using his solid athleticism to penetrate to the rim more often.

    What lands him at number-six is his ability to defend multiple positions and do it well, a trait that is not easily found in first-year player.

5. Tristan Thompson, PF Cleveland Cavaliers

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    There was a ton of skepticism surrounding Cleveland's choice to tab Tristan Thompson as the fourth overall selection, but it looks like a move that will pay off for the future.

    An absolute shot-swatting machine, Thompson is averaging 7.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in eight February games despite averaging just over 22 minutes of playing time.

    He's got double-double's in three of his last four, and Thompson will continue to accrue more playing time as the season goes on with how well he's progressed in his development.

4. Enes Kanter, F/C Utah Jazz

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    If Enes Kanter had been drafted by a team that had a larger role for him during his rookie season, we'd be discussing just how much talent this guy has on a much more frequent basis.

    At 6'11" and just 19 years old, Kanter is making the most of his playing time despite having to take a backseat to both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

    He's yet to play more than 24 minutes in any game this season, but his per 36 minutes are incredibly impressive: 12.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.

3. Isaiah Thomas, PG Sacramento Kings

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    It's about time this kid got national attention.

    The No. 60 overall pick of the 2011 draft has been a spark since being inserted into Sacramento's starting lineup, and he's having more success in that role than almost anyone thought he possibly could.

    Averaging 19.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists on 50.8 percent shooting in five games as a starter, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Kings have looked like a different team since Thomas was handed a more substantial role.

    He spaces the floor incredibly well and has impressive court vision, and this is a player who is very capable of holding value despite being undersized.

2. Ricky Rubio, PG Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The impact Ricky Rubio has had on the Timberwolves this season is obvious, and there is no question that he is an incredible passer who fits into Rick Adelman's system very well.

    There are some growing concerns with Rubio: he's shot under 37 percent from the floor in both January and February, and his turnovers per game has risen in successive months since the season began.

    Rubio hasn't hit double-digit assists since February 7, and he'll need to work on his perimeter game in order to prevent the opposing defense from sagging off on him.

1. Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Kyrie Irving is having a historic season as a 19-year-old rookie.

    The clear-cut leader of his team and the unquestioned favorite for Rookie of the Year, Irving has been all that Cleveland could have hoped for when the Cavs drafted him first overall.

    Watching him leaves one saying "wow" more often than not, and there are very few who have the same ceiling he does.

    Irving has the potential to develop into an absolute superstar, and he's already taken the first step down that path with his play to date.