As the players taken in the 2012 NBA Draft are finding out this season, the road to superstardom is often paved with an arduous rookie path.
After years of AAU and collegiate stardom, rookies reach the next level and realize massive adjustments are necessary, both on the court and in terms of lifestyle.
Remember, even a certain fella named LeBron James shot just 41.7 percent as a rookie. It takes time, folks. Usually, by the end of year one or midway through year two, we can begin making assessments on which players have the wherewithal to subsist in the NBA.
So, Austin Rivers, you're not a bust...yet.
However, there are rare occasions where rookies stand out in a positive way that denotes future stardom. Though it's obviously not a guarantee, this season's class of players has a few standouts that could develop into All-Stars down the line.
Just keep in mind that there is a stark difference between very good player and superstar. So with apologies to Bradley Beal, Alexey Shved and others, let's take a look at top rookies who look like future All-Stars and power rank them just for fun.
4. Andre Drummond (C, Detroit Pistons)
It's wholly possible that we look five years down the line and Drummond is the best player of the 2012 draft class. If he is, it won't be due to his handling as a rookie.
Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank has limited Drummond's minutes all season, ostensibly to keep him from being overwhelmed. In reality, though, Drummond's playing time has been a strange exercise in holding back a player whose per 36-minute stats make him look monstrous.
Through Thursday, Drummond has per game averages of 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Those are fine numbers for a rookie center, but they come in only 19.8 minutes per game. Extrapolated over 36 minutes, Drummond's averages would be 12.9 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game.
Even so, the true story of Drummond's excellence is shown when you look beyond the box score. He's emerged as a marvelous pick-and-roll threat, almost in a Tyson Chandler mold, who's almost unstoppable when barreling toward the basket.
He also avoids bad fouls, averaging 3.7 per 36 minutes, and has a motor on both ends rarely seen while at Connecticut.
Like most rookie big men, Drummond isn't without his flaws. He's an absolute mess at the free-throw line, shooting 39.7 percent, and he gets lost way too often on defensive rotations.
Consequently, Drummond has had far more positive impact offensively for the Pistons than defensively. The team averages a little more than 10 points more per 100 possessions when he's on the court than when he's on the bench, per basketball-reference.com, while his defensive presence is pretty negligible.
Of course, part of the reason for that is rather explainable: Drummond plays most regularly with Detroit's worst defensive players. The Pistons' most-used lineup with Drummond is a laughably bad defensive foursome of Rodney Stuckey, Corey Maggette, Kyle Singler and Charlie Villanueva.
Strangely, Drummond and Greg Monroe, ostensibly the team's two building blocks in the frontcourt, have played a little less than 56 minutes together all season (per basketball-reference.com). Unsurprisingly, the most-used of those lineups is actually one of Detroit's most effective.
In other words, once Frank starts playing his best players together, both the Pistons and Drummond should see a massive uptick in performance.
3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF, Charlotte Bobcats)
Much like Drummond, Kidd-Gilchrist is a guy whose excellence stands out far more when you actually watch him play than when you take a quick look at the box score. He's averaging 10.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals per game, but he's playing enough minutes (27.5 per game) that he isn't a per 36-minute marvel like Drummond.
Nevertheless, it's pretty inarguable that he's shown just about everything the Bobcats wanted when they took him No. 2 overall.
The things that stand out most about Kidd-Gilchrist in Charlotte are the same as they were in college. He's a great on-ball defender who can guard three positions on most nights and his motor almost never stops on either end of the floor. Though he's not having as easy of a time getting to the rim as he did in college, Kidd-Gilchrist finishes at a 68.4 percent rate and has gotten plenty of easy baskets with smart cuts.
On the other hand, Kidd-Gilchrist's shooting weaknesses have also carried over from Kentucky in a big way. Other than his great finishing ability at the rim, the Bobcats forward has been pretty cringe-worthy when taking jump shots—even when open. From three feet out to the three-point line, Kidd-Gilchrist has made only 34 of 128 shots, good for a 26.6 percent clip.
His inability to shoot hurts the Bobcats' ability to space the floor, especially when he is paired with other non-shooters. The Bobcats' second-most used lineup is Kidd-Gilchrist, Byron Mullens and Bismack Biyombo in the frontcourt along with Jeff Taylor and Kemba Walker. Per basketball-reference.com, that lineup gets beat by an average of 22.9 points per 100 possessions, making it Charlotte's fourth-worst five-man unit and worst with MKG.
That inability to score from the outside will definitely hurt Biyombo's ability to grow with Kidd-Gilchrist in the interim. However, if MKG is able to work on his game during the offseason and become even a replacement-level jump-shooter, he'll reach his promise.
2. Anthony Davis (PF/C, New Orleans Hornets)
If we were judging based on the merits of these players' ceilings, Davis would top the list and it wouldn't be remotely close.
Unfortunately, Davis' 2012-13 season has been hampered by injuries, which gives him a relatively small sample size to work with. And even when Davis has been on the floor, he hasn't been the guaranteed All-Star that just about everyone expected.
What's been most shocking is Davis' deer-in-the-headlights look on the defensive end. After being one of the more decorated defenders in college basketball history, many simply assumed that Davis would instantly be great on that end.
That hasn't been the case. Already one of the NBA's least efficient defensive teams, the Hornets are significantly worse when Davis is on the floor. They allow more than five more points per possession with Davis playing, according to basketball-reference.com, with their rebounding and blocked shot percentages taking a hit as well.
There's also been a trend during the Hornets' three-game winning streak: Davis isn't playing as much. Though healthy, Davis has logged only 19 minutes per game over the past three contests, as Monty Williams has shuffled his rotation following Eric Gordon's return.
Obviously, it would be rather asinine if this continued over the long haul. But since it's a three-game sample size, we're going to hold off on excoriating Monty Williams for the time being.
The narrative for Davis may sound like he's been on a downward spiral as a rookie, but that's simply not the case. His player efficiency rating of 19.87 is second behind Drummond among rookies and No. 36 overall among qualified players. Davis also leads the Hornets in win score, per Hoopdata, and has shown an adept ability to finish around the rim.
If Williams is patient with Davis, he could still blossom into a star down the stretch for New Orleans. As many said when he came out of Kentucky, Davis is a raw player with otherworldly physical gifts.
The Hornets need to keep playing him heavy minutes and allow those growing pains to work themselves out.
1. Damian Lillard (PG, Portland Trail Blazers)
Undoubtedly the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year as we reach the season's midpoint, there's very few negative things one can say about Lillard's play thus far.
He's averaging 18.2 assists and 6.5 assists per game, both of which lead all rookies by a strong margin, and he is the only Blazers player who hasn't missed a game yet this season.
Even more impressively, Lillard has done all of this despite being just about the only off-the-dribble playmaker on the roster. When he's off the floor, Portland is a little less than 13 points worse per 100 possessions, which is both a testament to Lillard's shot-creating importance and an indictment of the team's laughable bench.
That lack of bench depth can also be blamed for some of Lillard's deficiencies as well. While a solid shooter from beyond the arc, Lillard is still a volume shooter, much like Brandon Jennings, and takes way too many ill-advised jumpers. At 42 percent, Lillard is like a rich man's Jennings, but this is just something worth watching as he progresses.
Lillard's defensive deficiencies are far more concerning. He was never a very good defender in college, but he's been especially bad in the pros. Perhaps spurred a little bit by his offensive responsibilities, opposing point guards do very well against him in isolation and his awareness in help defense is lackluster as well.
The Blazers aren't much of a defensive team even without Lillard, which makes it all the more noteworthy that they're worse with him on the floor in that area.
Is his defense fixable? Partially. He'll have an increased awareness on that end simply by virtue of experience and Portland will ostensibly add more surrounding talent, which should allow him to exert more effort defensively.
Just don't ever expect him to be the complete package. Lillard undoubtedly has proven he belongs atop this list by virtue of his on-court play, but he still doesn't have the highest ceiling in his draft class.
Something tells me Portland is just fine with that.
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