Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie Entering the Home Stretch

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2013

Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie Entering the Home Stretch

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    Several high-profile NBA rookies have caught a second wind in 2013, picking up steam after the All-Star break.

    While some of them saved their most exciting performances for the second half of the season, a handful have waned in recent weeks. Injuries and illness have also derailed a few others.

    A couple rookies notched career-highs in scoring and shooting categories, serving notice to the rest of the league.

    Who deserves a boosted grade, and who deserves some extra red ink? Find out as we break down and grade each impact rookie.


    *An "impact rookie" is one who averaged at least 17 minutes per game since February.

Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic

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    2012-13 Stats: 17.0 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 54% FG

    Recent Activity: 7-of-8 shooting (17 points) vs. HOU 3/1/13

    Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson continues to be one of the most efficient members of the 2012-13 class.

    Unlike most of the other rookie post players, Nicholson demonstrates an advanced ability to diagnose a defender's position and exploit the slightest footwork mishaps.

    As the season rolls along, it's become increasingly evident that there's not a spot on the floor inside the arc that he can't score from. Although he has the ability to convert from anywhere, he knows that his best chance to score comes below the free-throw circle.

    Hence the outstanding 54 percent shooting.

    Updated Grade: A-

Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 27.1 MPG, 8.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 43% FG

    Recent Activity: 7.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG since All-Star Break

    Thrown into a tough spot early in his career, Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller has been serviceable but not stellar. 

    The UNC product is still struggling to convert at a high clip, and Bleacher Report Cavaliers columnist Greg Swartz shows that his close-up finishes aren't the problem:

    His field-goal percentage is an alarmingly low 42.9 percent for a big man...Breaking this down, Zeller is a solid 61.3 percent on his shots at the rim, according to hoopdata.com.  Moving just a few feet back, however, and Zeller has been downright awful. From three to nine feet away, Zeller is connecting on just 28.9 percent of his shots. (2/27/13) 

    Until he brings these numbers up for an extended stretch, there's only so much I can do about his grade.

    Updated Grade: C+

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.8 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 46% FG

    Recent Activity: Back-to-back 17-point games (3/4 and 3/6)

    Last week, I bemoaned the offensive ineptitude of Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    He turned things around in a big way, becoming noticeably more aggressive as a slasher and shooter.

    Sure, his jumper still has a hitch in it and is ineffective. But he's been aggressive going to the hoop and finishing with force, and that's led to 56 percent shooting over the past week.

    When Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive aggressiveness matches his defensive intensity, he looks every bit the part of a top-tier rookie.

    Updated Grade: B-

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    2012-13 Stats: 31.9 MPG, 14.2 PPG, 2.5 APG, 41% FG, 38% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 29 points, 11 rebounds vs. NYK (3/1/13)

    Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was making a late run at Rookie of the Year consideration until the former Gators star sprained his ankle against the Philadelphia 76ers.

    According to Michael Lee of the Washington Post, Beal is day-to-day and the injury isn't as severe as some initially feared.

    Before his ankle impediment, Beal was shooting the lights out and playing all around magnificent basketball. He was breaking down defenses, passing when necessary, and rebounding extremely well.

    Let's see if he can return to his pre-injury brilliance sooner than later.

    Updated Grade: A

Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets

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    2012-13 Stats: 23.4 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 2.1 APG, 37% FG, 33% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 5-of-6 shooting (10 points) vs. LAL (3/6/13)

    This may be the last updated grade you'll see for Austin Rivers this season, because he could be out for the rest of the year.

    The New Orleans Hornets shooting guard broke a bone in his right hand against the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night, according to John Reid of the Times-Picayune.

    Prior to the fracture, Rivers had put together a string of solid games. He never quite posted the production that Hornets fans hoped to see from the top-10 pick, but he at least gave New Orleans some hope for future development.

    Updated Grade: C

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    2012-13 Stats: 21.1 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 51% FG

    Recent Activity: 6.2 RPG in last 10 games

    A 10-point outing against the Phoenix Suns brightened what was otherwise an underwhelming week for Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas.

    The fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Lithuanian occasionally unleashes glimpses of potential stardom, but for now, he's less helpful to the squad's offense compared to most of his teammates.

    According to 82games.com, the Raptors score 102.8 points per 100 possessions with Valanciunas on the floor, and 109.9 when he's not.

    When Toronto travels to Los Angeles to face the Lakers, Valanciunas will pit his youth and athleticism against superstar center Dwight Howard Friday night.

    Updated Grade: B-

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    2012-13 Stats: 27.7 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG 51% FG

    Recent Activity: Five offensive rebounds, four blocks vs. ORL (3/4/13)

    If anyone was wondering about Anthony Davis' shoulder, he put their worries to rest immediately with his performance against the Orlando Magic Monday night.

    After a brief hiatus, the New Orleans Hornets power forward stuffed the stat sheet for 17 points, 15 boards and four blocked shots in 39 minutes of action. It was against a subpar opponent, but it's nevertheless impressive that he can take care of business in dominant fashion.

    He posted another double-digit night against the Lakers, but his toughest test comes Saturday against the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Keep an eye on how Davis fares against the physical and skilled front line of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.

    Updated Grade: A-

Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.1 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 44% FG, 38% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals vs. NYK (3/6/13)

    The Detroit Pistons' last couple games against the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs have shown just how far Kyle Singler and the entire club are from greatness.

    He's not playing poorly, and his long-range shooting has been highly effective of late. However, he just doesn't provide the kind of firepower necessary to compete with the game's best swingmen.

    Not every opponent has wings the caliber of Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, but the matchups still exposed Singler's relative mediocrity.

    He remains a superb asset away from the ball and a good triple tosser, but counting on him for more than 30 minutes is a dubious situation.

    Updated Grade: B

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012-13 Stats: 38.5 MPG, 18.6 PPG, 6.4 APG, 42% FG, 35% 3PT

    Recent Activity: Four straight 20-plus point, 50 percent FG performances

    A stretch of high-scoring games by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard no longer impresses me.

    What does catch my eye is the fact that he shot 50 percent or better from the field during his four straight 20-plus scoring nights.

    The polished shooting approach results in more fluid offense for the whole team and, thus, a better opportunity to win.

    If Portland wants a fighting chance at the No. 8 seed in the West, it needs Lillard to shoot like this every night, plus increase his assist production.

    Updated Grade: A

Victor Claver, Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012-13 Stats: 14.2 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 38% FG

    Recent Activity: 4-of-6 shooting (10 points) vs. MIN (3/2/13)

    Originally drafted in the '09 draft, Victor Claver's 2012-13 season numbers are pedestrian, but Terry Stotts has incorporated him into the Portland Trail Blazers rotation more heavily the last few weeks.

    As a defender, Stotts can use the 24-year-old Spaniard against both forward spots because he plays the passing lanes and protects the rim.

    Offensively, however, Claver's effectiveness is sporadic and usually mild. His inconsistency from downtown makes him a more guardable slasher, and gives opponents one less offensive weapon to fear.

    Updated Grade: C

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.6 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 3.2 APG, 41% FG, 32% FG

    Recent Activity: 55 percent shooting, 18.9 PPG in last 10 games

    Eastern Conference defenders were having a difficult time corralling Dion Waiters, but a rough stomach virus slowed him down enough to miss a couple games.

    Over the past couple weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard has been sensational, especially while leading during Kyrie Irving's absence.

    Fewer turnovers, 55 percent shooting and a copious amount of trips to the free-throw line have translated to big nights for the rookie and a more competitive Cavs club.

    Earlier in the season, 3-of-14 and 4-of-15 nights were commonplace for Waiters. Now, an 8-of-15 night is more the norm. That's a great indication for his sophomore season.

    Updated Grade: A

Jeff Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 20.8 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 43% FG, 33% 3PT

    Recent Activity: Five straight single-digit outings

    Charlotte Bobcats forward Jeff Taylor is perilously close to losing his spot on the impact-rookies list.

    If you can't keep a healthy chunk of minutes on the 'Cats, something's wrong.

    Taylor's minutes have gradually decreased in each of his last six games, culminating in an eight-minute stint against the Brooklyn Nets that yielded zero points and 0-of-2 shooting Wednesday night.

    His consistent defensive value will keep his grade somewhat respectable, while a lack of dynamic offensive contribution pulls it down.

    Updated Grade: C+

Moe Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.1 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 49% FG, 28% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 13.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG in last 10 games

    In January and early February, Orlando Magic forward Moe Harkless was as reliable as an umbrella in a tornado.

    Lately, he's been as dependable as they get, with 10 straight double-digit scoring outings. He effectively finds his way to the rim by accelerating from the baseline or weaving from the wing.

    Part of the blockbuster Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum Harkless deal in the summer, the young rookie forward is also starting to show confidence in his long-distance accuracy. He already has two multi-triple games in March, and he didn't have any in February.

    His next test is an upcoming tilt against stopper Paul George and the defensive-minded Indiana Pacers.

    Updated Grade: B-

Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 Stats: 26.7 MPG, 10.0 PPG, 3.9 APG, 37% FG, 30% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 13 points, two blocks vs. MIA (3/4/13)

    Much to Rick Adelman's dismay, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Alexey Shved has been unable to generate substantial offense since early February.

    He can't get his shot to fall, converting just 33 percent from the field in his last 10 games.

    What's more frustrating is his inability to compensate for his poor shooting with some facilitation and distribution. The young Russian hasn't dished more than one assist a night in his last six outings, and he hasn't dished more than three in a night in his last 10 games.

    The drought must be affecting his confidence, and it's certainly affecting his updated progress and grade.

    Updated Grade: B

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.7 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 44% FG, 35% 3PT

    Recent Activity: 16 points, six rebounds vs. BOS (3/1/13)

    The Golden State Warriors snapped a four-game losing streak with back-to-back victories, and rookie Harrison Barnes was a crucial factor in both close contests.

    His most recent performance, a 14-point display against the Sacramento Kings, was prime evidence that he can be a supplementary scorer even when his outside shot is cold.

    It's that kind of resourceful scoring prowess that the Dubs need down the stretch and into the playoffs.

    Without Barnes, Golden State's swingman corps isn't nearly as versatile or dangerous.

    Updated Grade: B+


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