Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie Entering the All-Star Break

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2013

Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie Entering the All-Star Break

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    The 2012-13 NBA All-Star break provides us with a perfect opportunity to reevaluate the impact rookies from across the league this season and update the grade book.

    Some finished off their first NBA "semester" with sensational performances, while others limped to the break with signs of hitting the rookie wall. The length of the pro season can often expose certain novices.

    However, some previously underestimated rookies may get noticed or valued midway through the year. Such is the case for a couple of 2012-13's impact rookies.

    Time to get the red pen out and break down the NBA's best newcomers.

     

    *An "impact rookie" is a player who is averaging at least 17 minutes per game in 2012-13 or 20-plus minutes per game in February. Andre Drummond was not included in this slideshow due to his back injury.

Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Stats: 27.6 MPG, 8.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 42% FG

    February Show and Tell: 16 points, nine rebounds vs. SAS

     

    His overall numbers are underwhelming, but Tyler Zeller's 16-point, nine-rebound performance against the San Antonio Spurs kept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the game.

    Zelller's involvement in the Cavs offense varies from game to game, however. For example, before his 7-of-10 shooting night against San Antonio, he took a total of two shots in 25 minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    A nice plus for Byron Scott is Zeller's ability to operate away from the basket. When the 7-footer gets the ball on the wing or at the elbow, he can pass or shoot better than most young post players.

    If he can string together a few more games like the one against the Spurs, he might be able to improve his grade.

     

    Updated Grade: B-

Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Stats: 27.8 MPG, 10.5 PPG, 4.4 APG, 38% FG, 30% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 10 points, nine assists vs. MEM

     

    Alexey Shved and the Minnesota Timberwolves are struggling, to say the least.

    Shved is routinely missing more than two-thirds of his long-distance attempts, and the squad hasn't topped a .500 opponent since Jan. 19.

    He isn't the only Wolf who's been cold from deep (the team shoots a league-worst 30 percent on triples), but it's disappointing because we've seen glimpses of hot shooting from him before.

    If Shved is going to continue to hoist eight to 12 field goals and four to five three-pointers per night, Minnesota needs him to hit around 40 percent of them.

     

    Updated Grade: B-

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Stats: 31 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 2.5 APG, 39% FG, 37% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 28 points vs. MIL

     

    Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal returned from his wrist injury against the Brooklyn Nets, but we didn't really feel his impact until the following game.

    Beal blasted the Milwaukee Bucks for 28 points, including four three-pointers, two blocks and two steals.

    He's undergone an exciting, yet inconsistent rookie year. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives, though, especially considering how young he is.

    Nights like the one against Milwaukee show how potent he can be when he possesses confidence and rhythm. But can he sustain it? Check back next year.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons

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    Stats: 28.2 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 44% FG, 38% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 12.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG in Feb.

     

    Kyle Singler has responded well to an increased role due to Tayshaun Prince's departure. The Detroit Pistons have called upon him for more minutes and more scoring from the small forward slot.

    He's posted double figures in all but one game in February, connecting on an average of five field goals per game.

    From Frank Lawrence's perspective, it's nice to know that he can give Singler extensive minutes and get production in a shootout win. For instance, Singler's 14 points were handy in Detroit's 119-109 triumph over the San Antonio Spurs.

    Did Singler reveal potential stardom? No, but he's proving that he can be a key contributor on a nightly basis.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic

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    Stats: 15.8 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 54% FG

    February Show and Tell: 21 points, eight rebounds vs. CLE 

     

    Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson has been highly effective throughout the season, and now that he's finally getting a chance to play significant minutes, he's shining.

    In his last five games, he's averaging 12.4 points in 27 minutes while shooting 60 percent.

    Nicholson's physique and athleticism aren't imposing at all, but he's methodical and crafty when he works in the post. He uses his pivot moves and a consistent 15-foot shot to foil opposing defenses, and he rarely takes an ill-advised shot.

    His recent efforts were rewarded when he was named as Andre Drummond's injury replacement for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

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    Stats: 16.9 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 40% FG, 33% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: Seven points in 14 minutes vs. DEN

     

    With DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay chewing up almost all the playing time at the swingmen positions, there's not many spare minutes for Terrence Ross.

    He's doing his best to chip in when he comes off the bench, and most of his scoring comes in transition.

    Ultimately, he's not making a compelling case to stay on the floor, because he's not versatile enough yet to be effective at the pro level.

    Ross rarely notches more than one or two rebounds or assists, even when he plays 20 minutes.

     

    Updated Grade: C+

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Stats: 25.9 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 46% FG

    February Show and Tell: 10 boards vs. LAL

     

    In the month of February, Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has yet to record a multiple field goal game.

    His shooting doesn't change the fact that he's a solid defender and rebounder, but his mediocre offense does put pressure on him to play mistake-free on the other end. Otherwise, his playing time will shrink more than it already has.

    It's similar to the team's overall woes: subpar offense often leads to more chances for the opponent, thus creating extra pressure on the defense to succeed.

     

    Updated Grade: B

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Stats: 25.8 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 45% FG, 37% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 59 percent FG in Feb.

     

    In addition to providing the Golden State Warriors with a forward slasher who can shoot from deep, Harrison Barnes plays admirable defense for a rookie.

    Being a young small forward in the NBA isn't an easy task because it often requires guarding some of the league's most lethal offensive weapons. Yet Barnes has made noticeable strides defensively since the beginning of the season, both in awareness and in physical competence.

    Combine that defense with his recent high-percentage shooting, and you get a favorable grade.

    How can he break into the A-range? Consistent double-digit production.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets

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    Stats: 23.2 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 2.2 APG, 35% FG, 32% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 47 percent FG in Feb.

     

    Austin River's improved conversion rate from the floor hasn't resulted in a gigantic offensive output, but the New Orleans Hornets must be pleased with the increased efficiency.

    He remains puzzling from the three-point line, but that's fine because Monty Williams would rather have Rivers attack the basket for high-percentage opportunities.

    When he's balanced and exhibits good footwork, his runners and floaters fall. Rivers' next step must be to learn how to draw fouls and get free points when defenses are trying to throw off his rhythm. That, in turn, will open up more offense for him—not to mention it will give him confidence.

     

    Updated Grade: D+

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Stats: 38.5 MPG, 18.4 PPG, 6.5 APG, 42% FG, 35% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 33 points vs. MIA

     

    The No. 1 pick in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge continues to generate offense for the Portland Trail Blazers. Unfortunately, his play hasn't been efficient and it hasn't led to wins.

    Damian Lillard's outside shooting has suffered over the last half-dozen games, as he's 8-of-31 from long distance. He went 0-of-8 from beyond the arc during his dreadful 1-of-16 shooting night against the Orlando Magic.

    The Blazers are in the middle of a five-game skid that's distancing themselves from the No. 8 seed in the West. If they want to secure a postseason berth, Lillard will need to regain his rhythm and sustain it for the rest of the season.

     

    Updated Grade: A-

Moe Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    Stats: 19.6 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 46% FG, 17% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: Four multi-steal games

     

    Moe Harkless has played All-Star level minutes for the Orlando Magic over the last few weeks, but his impact hasn't been proportional to the playing time.

    He's 19 years old and still developing in all phases of the game, so it's not a cause for despair for the franchise. However, we can face the facts and note that he's hardly valuable to the Magic on the floor right now.

    In fact, the numbers suggest that he's more valuable off the floor. According to 82games.com, the Magic are minus-11.8 points per 100 possessions when Harkless is on the floor and minus-2.6 when he's off the floor.

    Until his outside shooting and finishing can improve, he won't be too beneficial for Orlando.

     

    Updated Grade: B-

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Stats: 29.5 MPG, 14.2 PPG, 3.2 APG, 40% FG, 31% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 20 points, six rebounds and four assists vs. SAS

     

    Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Dion Waiters is shooting the ball well lately, to the tune of 51 percent in February. He's slicing his way to the rim and sprinkling in a few mid-range tosses to make up for his cold three-point shooting.

    Waiters has suffered some lapses in judgment, though, such as six turnovers against the Minnesota Timberwolves or his late defensive rotation in the waning moments against the San Antonio Spurs. Some of it is growing pains, and some of it is Dion being Dion.

    Cleveland isn't a playoff team, but Byron Scott must be able to smile knowing that Kyrie Irving has a crunch-time playmaking sidekick in Waiters. 

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks

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    Stats: 17.1 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 37% FG, 32% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: 11 points in 16 minutes vs. SAC

     

    In the beginning of the 2012-13 season, we thought Jae Crowder was showing us signs of true versatility and game-changing contributions.

    Unfortunately for the Dallas Mavericks, Crowder's offensive skills aren't much to brag about.

    His ball-handling deficiencies prevent him from creating offense, even though he's a good passer, and his athleticism doesn't make up the difference.

    Consequently, the offense he supplies on any given night is almost exclusively linked to how he fares from the perimeter. His awareness, defense and positioning is what keeps him on the floor most of the time.

     

    Updated Grade: C+

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    Stats: 27.8 MPG, 12.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 51% FG

    February Show and Tell: 21 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks vs. POR

     

    After a series of ugly offensive games, New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis exploded for a 10-of-17 night against the Portland Trail Blazers.

    His big night displayed how dangerous he is when he asserts himself and attacks. Davis' mid-range jumper was clicking and he was also effective near the rim.

    But we can't forget the previous handful of games, none of which looked like performances from a No. 1 draft choice.

    Even when Davis doesn't produce on offense, he still impacts the game with multiple blocks and dozens of shot alterations. Nevertheless, he won't earn serious Rookie of the Year consideration unless he's more consistent offensively.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

Jeff Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Stats: 21.4 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 43% FG, 36% 3PT

    February Show and Tell: Three straight double-digit games to start the month

     

    Last week, I commended Jeff Taylor for his outstanding shooting and torrid start to February. 

    How did he thank me? By netting a total of three field goals in four games.

    Taylor's impact on the Charlotte Bobcats is dwindling, as evidenced by his decreased playing time and involvement in the game plan. He averaged more than 20 minutes per game in November and December, but in January and February, he's seeing less than 20.

    This begs the question: How much playing time would he get on a respectable NBA team?

     

    Updated Grade: B-

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    Stats: 21.5 MPG, 7.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 53% FG

    February Show and Tell: Back-to-back double-doubles (2/8 and 2/10)

     

    Lithuanian rookie Jonas Valanciunas' return to the Toronto Raptors lineup was a successful one for all parties involved.

    When he started earning substantial playing time, his presence in the paint helped the club reel off a four-game winning streak.

    Valanciunas still gets most of his work done within a step or two of the hoop, but he shows confidence in the 15-foot jump shot from the high post.

    If he keeps up his current rebounding pace (5.7 boards in 18.0 minutes in February), the Raptors will have the extra low-post muscle necessary to put together a few more winning streaks.

     

    Updated Grade: B+

     

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