NBA Rookies Guaranteed to Explode onto the Scene Post All-Star Break

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2013

NBA Rookies Guaranteed to Explode onto the Scene Post All-Star Break

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    As the NBA readies for All-Star Weekend in Houston, the progress reports are in for the 2012 rookie class.

    In the immortalized words of former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, "They are who we thought they were."

    The scouts had this draft pegged pretty correctly.

    It's a good class, although its early legacy has been built more around its strength in numbers, over individual stardom. As scouts predicted, the class has already produced one star (Damian Lillard), even if it wasn't whom they had tabbed for greatness (No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis).

    But its star production isn't done yet. The following players have all shown flashes of dominance early on, and a half-season of NBA hoops has put them in perfect position to shine down the stretch.

Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons)

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    Drafted: 33rd overall in 2011

    Season Statistics: 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 28.4 MPG, 44.3% FG, 38.1% 3PT

    No one was happier to see Tayshaun Prince leave Detroit than Singler. (Well, except for Prince maybe.)

    Singler didn't wait for Prince's departure to make his impact, scoring in double figures in 11 of his first 19 games. But, as is the case with most rookies, his minutes fluctuated. Those deviations are a thing of the past now, though, as he's logged over 32 minutes per game for the new-look Pistons.

    An effective shooter with deceptive athleticism, his smarts will be the ultimate cause for his ascension up the rookie ranks. With pass-first point guard Jose Calderon now running the offense, Singler's basketball IQ will lead to strong cuts to the basket and better floor spacing.

    He enters the All-Star break having reached double digits in each of his last five games and in 10 of his last 13 overall.

John Jenkins (Atlanta Hawks)

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    Drafted: 23rd overall in 2012

    Season Statistics: 4.8 PPG, 12.8 MPG, 43.2% FG, 41.2% 3PT

    If you're underwhelmed by the first three stats listed, you're not alone. But it's that fourth stat that draws you in, the same one that landed him a spot on an NBA roster in the first place.

    And it's the strength of his perimeter shooting that will continue to bolster his other numbers. With supersub Lou Williams lost for the year (torn ACL) and first-year Hawks Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson limited by injuries and unimpressive performances, Jenkins has increased his activity over the past two months.

    Through the end of December, Jenkins was averaging a lowly 7.5 minutes per game. But since the changing of the calendar, he's logging more than 16 minutes per night. Through six games in February, he's poured in better than eight points per game. And during those games, he's put forth his best offensive (104.7) and defensive (99.0) ratings of the season.

    He's already outperforming his draft position and looks weeks away from outperforming his rookie contract.

Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic)

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    Drafted: 19th overall in 2012

    Season Statistics: 7.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 15.8 MPG, 53.8% FG

    While sophomore center Nikola Vucevic has given the Magic an active presence on the glass (11.5 rebounds per game), Andrew Nicholson has been providing the interior scoring punch.

    Nicholson doesn't have great size (6'9", 250 pounds) or athleticism, but he makes up for that with strong footwork and a shooting touch that extends to the midrange. He's converted 61.9 percent of his shot attempts from 10-14 feet, putting him ahead of fellow midrange shooting bigs like Serge Ibaka (51.1), Kevin Garnett (47.4) and his teammate, Vucevic (49.2).

    His sample size from that range is small (21 attempts on the year), but scouts raved about his soft shooting touch leading up to the draft. He's been far more active from 15 to 19 feet (91 attempts), where he's still converted an impressive 44.7 percent of his looks.

    Orlando needs to develop its talent on hand, given the offseason departure of Dwight Howard, and that only bodes well for Nicholson's future production. With Glen Davis potentially lost for the season (broken bone in his left foot), Nicholson should continue to improve his involvement in coach Jacque Vaughn's schemes.

    Through seven games in February, Nicholson has logged a season-high 25.6 minutes per game.

Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

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    Drafted: seventh overall in 2012

    Season Statistics: 9.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 25.8 MPG, 44.9% FG

    No player on the Warriors should benefit more from Andrew Bogut's return than Harrison Barnes.

    With Bogut bringing more passing than scoring to the offensive end, Barnes' slashing game and ability to finish plays at the rim should garner him an increase in playing time—and some statistical boosts. 

    His defensive poise already appears well beyond his years, and it could lead to more action alongside the Stephen Curry-Jarrett Jack backcourt combo, given Klay Thompson's lapses on that end.

    His coach's dream-like shooting stroke has yet to translate to the NBA game, as he's converted just 32.9 percent of his field goals outside of five feet from the basket. But that mechanical motion suggests it's only a matter of time before his jump shot closes in on his driving ability.

    His playing time had been trending the wrong direction over the past two months, but his 28.1 minutes per game in February suggests that's changing. Two of his top five season performances have coming during the month's first six games, including an efficient 9-of-11, 21-point, eight-rebound effort against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 2.

    With the Warriors seemingly erasing all of their defensive improvements over the past few weeks, coach Mark Jackson is forced to find even more minutes for Barnes as the season progresses. 

Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors)

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    Drafted: fifth overall in 2011

    Season Statistics: 7.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 21.5 MPG, 52.6% FG

    Typically, a late-season postseason push proves disastrous for rookies. But the Raptors' win-now mentality could actually mean more minutes for Valanciunas, who's separating himself from his frontcourt peers.

    Despite missing over a month with a broken bone in his finger, he's already displayed the post prominence that had the basketball world buzzing before his transatlantic arrival. He's the bruising, physical presence that former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani will never be.

    His high-energy hustle affords the Raptors extra possessions, be it from a corralled tipped rebound or chasing down a loose ball. He's no slouch on the offensive end either and should only improve his percentages with the defensive attention given to new teammate Rudy Gay.

    With two double-doubles in his last four games, heading into the All-Star break, perhaps, Valanciunas won't be bursting onto the scene after the league's intermission. Maybe, he's already there.