Updated Report Card Grades for NBA's Top 10 Rookies

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

Updated Report Card Grades for NBA's Top 10 Rookies

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    As we approach the midway point in the 2012-13 NBA campaign, it's time to reassess how each of the top rookies has performed.

    It's only January, but they've already played more games than in the average NCAA season, including conference and national tournaments. Who's cooling off, and who's heating up?

    Some of the rookies have changed roles to adjust to team needs. For instance, Alexey Shved and Bradley Beal have seen their roles change with the return of injured starters, while Dion Waiters is now coming off the bench after being a starter.

    What does the hierarchy of rookie post players look like? Which guards are overachieving?

    Find out as we grade each of the top NBA newcomers.

    Statistics gathered from MySynergySports.com, Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Unless otherwise noted, stats are accurate as of Jan. 16, 2013.

10. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic

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    2012-13 Stats: 14.9 MPG, 7.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 16.1 PER, 52.8 percent FG

    For a guy who doesn't have tremendous size or athleticism, Nicholson is extremely successful in the post. The power forward is making a noticeable impact during his stints, and Jacque Vaughn is rewarding him with more consistent playing time.

    The 6'9" St. Bonaventure product is shooting 48 percent in post-up scenarios, according to Synergy Sports. Nicholson gets his buckets with a dependable mid-range jumper, a hook shot with either hand and the occasional offensive rebound.

    When Nicholson is in a groove offensively, he's dangerous from almost any spot inside the arc. He can run the baseline, operate from the elbow or back his defender down on the block.

    He's not a dynamic, agile weapon on either end of the floor, but he's an important role player in Orlando due to his efficiency.

    Grade: A-

9. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics

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    2012-13 Stats: 19.4 MPG, 6.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 14.2 PER, 50.8 percent FG

    Sullinger has become increasingly useful for Doc Rivers in 2012-13.

    The power forward's rebounding and scrapping in the paint give the Celtics extra possessions, and his uptick in playing time has coincided with Boston's recent winning streak.

    This isn't enough to crown him as one of the supreme young post players in the league, though.

    His mediocre athleticism prevents him from finishing or even attempting a lot of offensive plays. It also limits his shot-blocking effectiveness and lateral movement against quicker forwards. Sullinger is averaging 6.1 fouls per 36 minutes.

    It's still commendable that he's in this group of top rookies after being drafted 21st overall.

    Grade: B

8. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.5 MPG, 9.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 43 percent FG, 39 percent 3-PT

    Over his last half-dozen games, Barnes has shot extremely well from beyond the arc. The small forward raised his three-point percentage from 32 to 39 percent in a matter of days.

    It's not just his long-range accuracy that is improving. Barnes is also fighting for rebounds more effectively, mostly on the defensive glass.

    Unfortunately, it hasn't translated to Golden State victories, as the Warriors are in the midst of a tough portion of their schedule.

    They already succumbed to the Los Angles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat recently, and it doesn't get easier soon. Barnes has looming matchups against the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Blake Griffin (again).

    Grade: B+

7. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 27.4 MPG, 10.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 16.1 PER, 48 percent FG

    Kidd-Gilchrist is a flawed offensive player, and that's to be expected.

    The small forward is doing his best to convert high-percentage shots near the basket, but he's still learning the art of drawing fouls and exploiting defenses.

    He is also developing defensively. There's room for improvement, which is bad news for future foes.

    That doesn't mean he isn't already a capable defender. He's effective against most swingmen. Over the last couple weeks, he's cut down on his fouls while remaining active on the perimeter and protecting the rim.

    Grade: A-

6. Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.1 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 4.7 APG, 0.9 SPG, 38 percent FG, 32 percent 3-PT

    When we graded Shved in late December, he earned an A- for his superb facilitating and timely shooting.

    Now that the point guard is in a slightly different role with Ricky Rubio in the mix, Shved has done less passing and more attacking.

    That has yielded mixed results, as he's turning the ball over a bit more, including a seven-turnover outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    He is getting to the free-throw line more frequently in the last couple of weeks. If he continues to do that, his overall production will gradually improve.

    If Minnesota wants to snap out of its recent funk, it needs Shved to shine in upcoming games against the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks.

    Grade: B+

5. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    2012-13 Stats: 19.7 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 21.9 PER, 60 percent FG

    The rookie leader in field-goal percentage is enjoying something of a block party lately.

    Drummond swatted 12 shots in a four-game stretch (1/1-1/11), and he continues to crash the glass with his strength and explosiveness.

    Offensively, how does he manage to shoot at such a high clip?

    For starters, Drummond has converted 40 field goals from offensive rebounds alone. He's also 15-of-20 on fast-break shots and 21-of-33 when rolling on pick-and-rolls (stats courtesy of Synergy Sports).

    His most impressive stat as a rookie? He's second in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage at 16.5 percent.

    Grade: A

4. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    2012-13 Stats: 31.7 MPG, 13.7 PPG, 2.7 APG, 38 percent FG, 35 percent 3-PT

    Things are looking up for Beal.

    His shooting's been warming up since Christmas. He's getting clutch. John Wall is back. And the Wizards are winning more frequently. 

    We're finally seeing some of the brilliance Washington fans hoped for when the franchise chose him third overall in the 2012 draft. Beal is shooting 61 percent from three-point range in January, and he's already reaping the benefits of playing alongside Wall.

    Since Wall has returned, Beal is 55 percent from the field, and the Wizards have won two of three. Washington plays at a faster pace with Wall in the lineup, defenses are out of position and Beal converts more open looks. Consequently, Beal's 2012-13 report card went up a full letter grade.

    Grade: B

    *Beal's January stats and Wall-related shooting stats are accurate as of Jan. 17, 2013.

3. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 30.3 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 38 percent FG, 33 percent 3-PT

    For the most part, Dion Waiters is shooting better coming off the bench than he was as a starter.

    Byron Scott's club has undergone all sorts of lineup combinations this season, considering that Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Waiters have all missed significant time. Credit Waiters for playing through it and trying to carry the offense as a 21-year-old rookie.

    He's still not Mr. Reliable from deep, but what he's done lately is attack the hoop and get to the charity stripe. Waiters is letting Irving take most of the triples, as he usually attempts fewer than five per game nowadays.

    The injury-plagued Cavs don't scare anyone collectively, but Waiters put opposing guards on notice after his 33-point, five-assist barrage against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 14.

    Grade: B

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.5 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 20.1 PER, 50 percent FG

    Monty Williams could use more scoring consistency from Davis. Many of New Orleans' losses are a result of offensive ineptitude.

    Davis is still a pick-and-roll threat and a solid mid-range shooter, but the power forward needs to work on making the defense react to him. He's not one step ahead of opponents yet.

    Defensively, he remains a formidable shot-blocker and a mobile presence who can stay in front of most post players. Davis hasn't found himself in foul trouble often this season.

    Can he prove he's head and shoulders above other rookie post players? He'll get his chance soon, as he's slated to face Festus Ezeli and Thomas Robinson in back-to-back games.

    Grade: B+

1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012-13 Stats: 38.4 MPG, 18.2 PPG, 6.5 APG, 16.5 PER, 42 percent FG, 36 percent 3-PT

    Lillard and the youthful Portland Trail Blazers are stumbling through a disappointing losing streak (they dropped their fourth straight on Wednesday), but that doesn't detract much from Lillard's exceptional rookie campaign.

    The point guard's focus, poise and competitiveness continue to impress, especially his knack for calmly creating offense during intense sequences.

    Lillard won't likely make the 2013 Western Conference All-Star roster, but he offered an outstanding audition at Golden State when he dropped 37 on the Warriors Jan. 11.

    When he's not busy firing away from deep, he's using change of pace and balance to dissect the defense and find teammates.

    How important is Lillard to the Blazers? He's sixth in the NBA in minutes played.

    Grade: A


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