Ranking NBA's Top 10 Rookies After Quarter-Season Mark

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

Ranking NBA's Top 10 Rookies After Quarter-Season Mark

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    Now that the multitude of first-year players in the NBA have started to acquire a certain level of comfort, the top 10 rookies are truly starting to emerge.

    And come on, who doesn't love rookies? 

    Potential abounds in this set of rankings, as the young guns are starting to put the league on notice. They're carving out roles for themselves, producing some rather spectacular highlights and starting to play a winning brand of basketball. 

    Of course, as is always the case, some have been better than others. And these are the best of the bunch. 

    So, who have been the top Rookie of the Year candidates through the first quarter of the 2012-13 season?

    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are current through Tuesday, Dec. 11. 

10. Andrew Nicholson

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    Team: Orlando Magic

    Position: PF

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 steals, 14.0 minutes, 18.68 PER

    It took until the very end of the 2012-13 season's first quarter for Andrew Nicholson to truly assert himself, but assert himself he did.

    In a 98-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns, the power forward from St. Bonaventure absolutely exploded, knocking down nine of his 11 shots from the field en route to recording 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals.

    It was the first truly impressive line of his young career, although Nicholson's looked good in limited action for the Magic. It won't be the last impressive performance, though, especially as he continues to eat away at Nikola Vucevic's minutes. 

9. Jonas Valanciunas

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    Team: Toronto Raptors

    Position: C

    Age: 20

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.3 steals, 23.6 minutes, 14.09 PER

    Although Jonas Valanciunas has fallen off the impressive pace at which he began his rookie season, he's still displaying quite a bit of potential during his first foray into the NBA. 

    The Toronto Raptors have entrusted the Lithuanian big man with a rather large role thus far. Although he's not heavily involved in the offense, Valanciunas is counted on to play excellent defense, especially when considering Andrea Bargnani's complete and utter unwillingness to play even decent help defense. 

    Starting all 22 games to open the 2012-13 campaign, the seven-footer has displayed flashes of brilliance on both ends of the court but has also had to take the bumps and bruises commonly experienced by NBA rookies.  

8. Kyle Singler

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: SG/SF

    Age: 24

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.4 steals, 27.8 minutes, 11.05 PER*

    While I don't think that Kyle Singler has enough talent to ever truly become a star in this league, I'm already sold on his ability to become a valuable upper-tier role player throughout his NBA career. 

    The former Duke Blue Devil has been a bright spot on a rather lackluster Detroit Pistons squad, contributing across the board with solid efforts. Singler doesn't score a lot of points, which is probably going to push him into the perennially underrated category, but he does make a positive impact on the game. 

    Detroit's offense in particular has undergone a positive shift when Singler is on the court. According to NBA.com's advanced stats, the 24-year-old rookie has helped the Pistons score 102.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, compared to just 97.1 per 100 possessions when he's catching his breath on the pine. 

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Tuesday, Dec. 11, the PER is only updated through Monday, Dec. 10.

7. Harrison Barnes

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    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Position: SF

    Age: 20

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists. 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals, 27.2 minutes, 10.47 PER

    The 2012-13 season has been a mixed bag for Harrison Barnes, who is already carving out a fairly large role for himself in Mark Jackson's system. 

    By just about every measure, he's been a defensive stalwart for the Golden State Warriors. While playing 52 percent of the available minutes at small forward for the Dubs, Barnes has held opposing small forwards to a PER of just 13.7, according to 82games.com. He's had similar success at shooting guard (and his offense also drastically improves at that position). 

    The problem, though, has been his offense. 

    Barnes is averaging 9.1 points per game on 43 percent shooting, which is by no means terrible on the surface level. Those numbers are bolstered by a four-game stretch in the middle of November during which the former North Carolina Tar Heel averaged 17.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting. 

    If you remove that string of stellar showings from Barnes' game log, he's averaging only 7.2 points per game on 39.3 percent shooting. 

    That, coupled with his lack of ability to create for others in the Golden State offense, keeps him from climbing further up the ranks.

6. Andre Drummond

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    Team: Detroit Pistons

    Position: C

    Age: 19

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 6.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.8 steals, 17.9 minutes, 20.07 PER*

    While I understand that Lawrence Frank and the Detroit Pistons brass are trying to ease Andre Drummond into his NBA career, throwing the rookie center into the fire might actually be the best course of action.

    It's not like Detroit has anything to lose other than more games. Why not give him a little more run when he's looked so impressive in his relatively limited action?

    While the young big man has been understandably hesitant—due in part to his limited playing time and to a very raw offensive game—he's been undeniably effective. Unless push comes to shove, Drummond knows that he shouldn't be taking shots outside of the paint.

    While his offense has been at best solid in those hand-picked spots, Drummond still has been able to excel in other areas of the game.

    He's been particularly ferocious on the boards, as his offensive rebounding percentage trails only Anderson Varejao (tied for second with Derrick Favors) in all of the NBA (per Basketball-Reference.com). His work on the defensive glass isn't quite as stellar, but he's still been effective enough that his total rebounding percentage of 19.6 leaves him behind only Reggie Evans, Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Zach Randolph and Omer Asik.    

    That's not a bad start to a career for a player whom many projected would be a major draft bust. 

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Tuesday, Dec. 11, the PER is only updated through Monday, Dec. 10.

5. Dion Waiters

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    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Position: SG

    Age: 21

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.2 steals, 32.0 minutes, 12.55 PER

    Although a sprained ankle and bone bruise has kept Dion Waiters out of the Cleveland Cavaliers lineup for all but one game during the last month, the shooting guard has still managed to prove to the NBA that he has some serious potential as a scorer. 

    But as a shooter, Waiters has not been all that effective for the Cavs, despite what his 15.2 points per game might lead you to believe. He's required 15.1 shots per contest to earn those points, and his 36.3 percent shooting from the field indicates that he's hoisting up attempts far too often. 

    It's not enough to just look at the shooting numbers, though, as the situation Waiters has found himself in matters quite a bit.

    Without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, the scoring burden has rested squarely on Waiters' shoulders. When he and Alonzo Gee are the players defenses get to key in on, it should come as no surprise that he's struggled to be efficient. 

4. Anthony Davis

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    Team: New Orleans Hornets

    Position: PF/C

    Age: 19

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 2.3 blocks, 1.3 steals, 27.9 minutes, 26.59 PER*

    I'll be honest here. I have no idea where to rank Anthony Davis, but this spot seems as good as any.

    Only the next three rookies have truly stood out in a positive way while remaining healthy and on the court rather than the bench for large portions of the game. The group of players behind Davis have impressed at times, but they've either struggled or failed to carve out a large enough role in their respective rotations. 

    After all, Davis has been the most impressive first-year player when he's been on the court. He just hasn't been dressed all that often, playing in only seven of his team's first 20 games thanks to a concussion and a subsequent ankle injury. 

    When healthy, Davis has been dominant. He simply does it all, providing an enticing combination of offensive presence—remember when we thought this kid was going to be extremely limited on offense in the NBA?—and defensive impact. 

    We'll know for sure just how much of a stud The Brow is when he's provided us with more than a seven-game sample size, but it's tough not to like what we've seen thus far.

    If his first game back from his ankle injury—13 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks in 25 minutes—is any indication, we're going to keep liking it. 

    *While the per-game stats are updated through Tuesday, Dec. 11, the PER is only updated through Monday, Dec. 10.

3. Alexey Shved

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    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Position: PG/SG

    Age: 23

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.7 steals, 24.8 minutes, 14.23 PER

    Minnesota Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman has endorsed Alexey Shved, so I see no reason to do otherwise (per the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda): 

    Shved's future there is being overlooked by some Wolves followers who have clamored in recent years for the team to obtain a bona fide shooting guard. That guy is Shved, whom the team signed to a three-year, $10 million contract last summer.

    "I think he will be," Adelman said when asked if Shved is the long-term answer at the shooting-guard spot. "I think he's a much better shooter than he has shown to this point. If he plays with Ricky, he'll get open shots and he'll knock those down. We've seen it time after time in practice: He makes shots. I think he'll become more of a solid shooter."

    Even without Ricky Rubio in the lineup, Shved has shown that he'll be in the Rookie of the Year conversation until the 2012-13 campaign draws to a close.

    He already plays a large role in the fourth quarter for the Timberwolves, and his energy will continue to be invaluable on this Western Conference playoff contender. 

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    Team: Charlotte Bobcats

    Position: SF/PF

    Age: 19

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals, 27.7 minutes, 17.38 PER

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker have been the biggest reasons for the Charlotte Bobcats' escape from the NBA cellar, and this former Kentucky Wildcat has been a key contributor on both ends of the court. 

    The combo-forward knows that he doesn't have much of a jumper at this stage in his career, and he plays accordingly, never trying to force his hand but rather staying within the flow of the offense. He will occasionally take a long two-pointer after receiving a pass from a teammate, but he rarely tries to create his own shot outside of the paint. 

    MKG's trademark intensity has also served him well when crashing the boards and wreaking havoc on the defensive end. His 6.3 rebounds per game lead all qualified rookies, and he's putting up quite a few blocks and steals per contest. 

    NBA.com's advanced stats reveal just how valuable MKG has been on defense. While the rookie is on the court, the Bobcats allow 101.5 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, the number skyrockets to 111.4 points per 100 possessions. 

1. Damian Lillard

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    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Position: PG

    Age: 22

    2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.1 steals, 37.8 minutes, 17.30 PER

    Despite his ineffectiveness on the less glamorous end of the court, Damian Lillard has shown off enough offensive prowess to emerge as the prohibitive Rookie of the Year favorite through the first quarter of the season.

    A number of players will give him a run for his money as the season progresses, but there's no doubt who holds down the fort at No. 1 right now. 

    Lillard has come up big in a number of tough late-game situations, but his contributions have by no means been limited to fourth-quarter heroics. The point guard has given every indication that he's a franchise player for the Portland Trail Blazers with his impressive shooting and ability to distribute the rock effectively.

    While he's not having a season quite like Kyrie Irving enjoyed a year ago, the two standout point guards can at least be mentioned in the same sentence at this point.