My favorite part of the NBA season is watching the development of rookies. Rookies symbolize hope for the future and the idea of endless possibilities. A young player that develops properly could be the difference for a team. It could mean that a team is heading in the right direction, and that can be rather exciting, especially for floundering franchises.
It can be a tricky proposition to grade young players after only a quarter of the season. That being said, there are plenty of insights that can be gleaned after 20-25 games.
Honorable Mention—Tyler Zeller, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (previously unranked)
Zeller is far from a finished product, but in a lot of ways he is proving to be of excellent value.
While he lacks elite strength for the position, he runs the floor very well and can rebound and score when called upon.
He still is stuck on Cleveland's bench as Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson are both entrenched in the starting lineup. But Zeller is seeing his minutes climb lately and is certain to be a big part of Cleveland's future.
10. Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors (previous rank: 9)
Over the past five games, Barnes has had quite an up-and-down run.
While Golden State is tearing it up, winning four of their last five, Barnes has been wildly inconsistent. He scored only 22 points total over a four-game stretch, then unloaded 19 in a win versus Atlanta.
He has shown some solid rebounding chops so far and plays under control and intelligently, but he needs to stop settling for the deep ball and actually get to the hoop more often. If he can't develop at least somewhat into a slasher, he might have trouble getting better in this league.
9. Kyle Singler, G/F, Detroit Pistons (previous rank: 5)
Singler, who tore it up during the first month of the season, eventually landed in the starting lineup and flourished.
But over his last five games, his numbers have gone down considerably. He is averaging less than eight points per game during that stretch and his three-point percentage is down quite a bit. At one point, his three-point shooting percentage was as high as 50 percent but has now dropped below 40.
He still is rebounding fairly well and plays the right way, but he needs to knock down the open jumpers.
8. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards (previous rank: 10)
The biggest knock against Beal continues to be his terrible shooting percentage. For a shooting guard, a field goal percentage below 36 percent is pathetic. His three-point percentage is also a terrible 31.5 percent.
But Beal is still finding ways to score. Over his past five games, he is averaging 15 points per game. He is also passing a bit better, with two six-assist games during that stretch.
No doubt his development would be coming along smoother if point guard John Wall was around. But Beal is doing his best in Wall's absence and will surely see his numbers improve once the All-Star returns.
7. Jonas Valanciunas, F/C, Toronto Raptors (previous rank: 8)
It is easy to enjoy Valanciunas' game. He is aggressive and doesn't fear getting dunked on. I personally like that he challenges every shot.
But so far, he has failed to be consistent enough during his rookie campaign. During his last five games, this has been especially evident. He has a 15-point game during that stretch as well as a 10-rebound performance and three games with multiple blocked shots.
However, during that stretch he is averaging five points and five boards per game. That being said, he is shooting over 51 percent from the field for the year while averaging just over a block per game in somewhat minimal minutes (23 per game).
6. Alexey Shved, G, Minnesota Timberwolves (previous rank: 7)
Shved has certainly been a pleasant surprise for Minnesota this year.
When Ricky Rubio went down, nobody knew exactly who would step up and help fill the void.
It is safe to say that Shved stepped up and helped keep the Wolves' boat afloat in his absence. He has averaged 11 points to go along with four assists and is shooting nearly 35 percent from three-point range.
Now that Rubio is back, it is uncertain how Shved will adapt. Chances are that the two pair very well together and Shved shifts to the shooting guard spot.
This should make for a fun and exciting backcourt.
5. Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers (previous rank: 4)
Waiters, like Beal, has struggled with the accuracy of his shot. He is shooting only 36 percent from the field although his three-point accuracy isn't too bad (35.5 percent).
Also like Beal, Waiters has struggled in part because of injuries to his starting point guard. Waiters himself also has been injured, missing several of the Cavs' last games.
Now that Kyrie Irving has returned, we should get a glimpse of just what type of player Waiters will be going forward.
4. Andre Drummond, F/C, Detroit Pistons (previous rank: 6)
Okay, so if you just look at his numbers, you might not be overly impressed. Drummond is averaging just over six points and six rebounds per game.
But he is doing this in just over 18 minutes per game.
If you look at his averages per 36 minutes, those numbers look a lot more impressive—12.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game.
What has been extremely impressive is his offensive rebounding numbers. He is averaging over five offensive rebounds per 36 minutes.
What's more is that he has been a disruptive force on defense and a menace near the hoop. He is shooting nearly 59 percent from the field with a dazzling array of rim-rocking dunks.
If he were playing as many minutes per game as Damian Lillard, he would be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, G/F, Charlotte Bobcats (previous rank: 3)
MKG is a coach's dream. He hustles on every play, plays fantastic defense and is a fiery and emotional leader.
He runs the court like a deer, and despite not having an overly-accurate outside shot, is still shooting close to 48 percent from the floor.
His averages aren't spectacular, but he does a little bit of everything. He is scoring close to 11 points per game, grabbing over six boards and he is blocking nearly a shot and a half per contest.
MKG is going to eventually be a star in this league.
2. Anthony Davis, F/C, New Orleans Hornets (previous rank: 2)
At the beginning of the year, Davis looked like he was poised to be an immediate star in this league. But then he went down with an injury and missed multiple games.
Davis has been back for the last four games, and is easing his way back into the lineup. During that four-game run, he averaged 12.5 points, just over six rebounds and two blocks per game.
During the beginning of the year he showed confidence and tremendous skill. Since returning, he seems somewhat tentative and has been pushed around a little bit.
Defensively, he is already a game-changer. His offense is solid, and is sure to get much better as he continues to get more comfortable.
1. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (previous rank: 1)
The discussion for Rookie of the Year starts and begins with Lillard. He is leading rookies in minutes, points and assists. He has become the new face of the Blazers and is destined to become one of the top five point guards in the league someday.
What is really impressive about Lillard so far is his composure. He doesn't turn the ball over a ton, he has been very good in clutch situations and he is running the Blazers' offense with stunning precision.
If the vote for ROY were held today, he would be a unanimous selection.
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