Predicting 2012-13 NBA Rookie Stat Leaders in Every Major Category
One of the most highly anticipated NBA rookie classes in recent memory is just a couple weeks away from proving its worth in the 2012-13 regular season.
Which youngsters will stuff the stat sheet?
Post players such as Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Tyler Zeller will vie for rebounding, shot-blocking and shooting supremacy. Those who can adjust to the pace and physicality of the NBA will fare best.
On the perimeter, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal figure to be contenders in several statistical categories, but who will have the best numbers when the dust settles?
Points Per Game: Damian Lillard, Portland, 18.1
Contenders: Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes
After a handful of summer league games and preseason tilts, it's clear that Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will shoulder a huge share of Portland's offense.
If you haven't seen him play yet, you're missing out on one of the most dynamic mid-major products we've ever seen. Lillard has ankle-breaking ball-handling skills, terrific range and the strength and agility to finish in the paint. He's also money from the free-throw line (87 percent in four years at Weber State).
None of the other guards or swingmen on the Trail Blazers roster can be counted on to consistently create shots and also facilitate.
At 22, Lillard is older than most rookies, and he's more prepared and equipped to produce immediately. Portland's fate rests with him and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Rebounds Per Game: Andre Drummond, Detroit F/C, 9.0
Contenders: Anthony Davis, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Tyler Zeller.
Although he's still developing, Andre Drummond will immediately make the Detroit Pistons more formidable in the paint.
He'll complement the offensively superior Greg Monroe quite well, but his biggest contribution will be his rebounding on both ends and his shot-blocking prowess.
Of all the rookies, his physique and athleticism are most conducive for rebounding. He'll be tough for anyone to handle.
Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson will challenge Drummond, as they each have great rebounding instincts. However, no rookie will reach double digits in rebounding, as it's often difficult for newcomers to adjust to the physicality and gamesmanship in the NBA paint.
Assists Per Game: Damian Lillard, Portland G, 4.7
Contenders: Kendall Marshall
Unless Phoenix Suns rookie Kendall Marshall gets some major minutes in relief of Goran Dragic, Damian Lillard will dish the most assists of any NBA newbie.
His passing skills from the perimeter and off the dribble-drive are solid, and his creativity and scoring threat will give his teammates chances to knock down open shots.
Lillard didn't put up big assist numbers at Weber State, but his team needed him to do all the shot-making and score bucket-loads of points every game.
In Portland, Lillard will help set up featured players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum in addition to creating his own shot. He won't register Stephen Curry-type rookie assist numbers, but he'll occasionally drop seven or eight dimes in a game.
Blocks Per Game: Anthony Davis, New Orleans F/C, 2.3
Contenders: John Henson, Andre Drummond and Fab Melo.
College basketball's 2011-12 king of rejection is the clear-cut favorite to lead all rookies in blocks.
Anthony Davis will likely be in the top five in the NBA. Serge Ibaka is the only player who I can confidently say will swat more shots.
Davis' combination of instincts, athleticism, length and ambidexterity allow him to protect the rim against all intruders, no matter their size or skill level.
Foul trouble might be an issue that derails him occasionally, but that's something most rookie post players deal with. He's going to get enough playing time and enough chances to make his presence felt every night.
Steals Per Game: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte F, 1.6
Contenders: Dion Waiters, Jared Cunningham, Tony Wroten and Jae Crowder.
The 2012-13 rookie class isn't stacked with top-tier thieves, but there is a small group of talented perimeter defenders, headlined by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Charlotte will benefit from Kidd-Gilchrist's tenacity on defense. In a league in which many players pledge to exert themselves defensively but don't actually do it, Kidd-Gilchrist's effort will shine.
His physicality, instincts and active hands will help him crack the top 10 in the NBA in steals per game.
Since he can guard multiple positions, he will be a matchup nightmare for the unfortunate smaller guards who occasionally square off against him.
A sleeper pick to grab a bunch of steals in limited playing time is Dallas rookie Jae Crowder, who nabbed 2.5 steals per game at Marquette in 2011-12.
Turnovers: Austin Rivers, New Orleans G, 2.6
Contenders: Dion Waiters, Tony Wroten and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
A young crop of rookies will translate into frequent poor decision-making and lack of control in many cases.
Leading the way will be Hornets guard Austin Rivers and Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters. Both have a tendency to get themselves into trouble via the dribble.
Rivers had more turnovers per game (2.3) than assists (2.1) as a freshman at Duke. I'm sure he's improved when it comes to diagnosing defenses and picking his spots to attack, but he's still prone to acrobatic forays in the lane and subpar passing.
The only thing saving him from three-plus turnovers is that teammate Eric Gordon will be handling the ball during many sequences.
3-Pointers: Bradley Beal, Washington G: 118
Contenders: John Jenkins and Damian Lillard.
John Jenkins and Damian Lillard had better three-point numbers than Bradley Beal in college, and they'll likely have better percentages as rookies, but Beal is going to get more opportunities.
When John Wall gets healthy, he is going to open things up for Beal. Wall will draw a lot of defensive rotations and find Beal open for spot-up triples.
Beal didn't light it up during his freshman year at Florida, making just 63 threes on 34 percent shooting. However, he improved dramatically toward the end of the season, and his role was different in Gainesville than it is in Washington.
It's going to be a close race. Lillard is going to hoist up a ton of three-pointers and connect on a high percentage. But a sizable chunk of his playmaking will come inside the arc.
Field Goal Percentage: Anthony Davis, New Orleans F/C, .549
Contenders: Tyler Zeller, Festus Ezeli and Andre Drummond.
He won't match the blistering .623 clip he enjoyed at Kentucky, but Hornets rookie Anthony Davis will still fill the hoop at a high percentage.
Davis isn't the type of player to force bad shots or take risky ones.
Even though his mid-range and long-range shooting is respectable, he will be selective and refrain from taking closely contested jumpers.
Alley-oops, put-backs, and fast-break finishes are his preferred diet of scoring for now, and his efficiency will land him in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage. Head coach Monty Williams won't saddle him with too much offensive responsibility, which will result in a favorable percentage.
Don't overlook high-percentage dunk machines Andre Drummond and Festus Ezeli, along with ACC standout Tyler Zeller.
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