Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie Entering Critical Stretch
Nearly nine months ago, the NBA welcomed a new class of first-year players. From college stars to mid-major prospects with something to prove, scouts and analysts did their best to project where those players would be come this stage in the season.
So where are the impact rookies now and what can we make of their current levels of success?
Some players have exceeded expectations, performing at a rate very few thought them capable of. Others have fallen short of the goals set for them, whether by virtue of injury or lackluster production.
One way or another, the following first-year players can be classified as impact rookies.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: A+
Sadly, Andre Drummond has yet to return from a stress fracture in his fifth lumbar vertebra. For those out there who would like a simpler explanation, Drummond is suffering from a fractured back.
Even with 17 games on the shelf, however, Drummond's grade remains astonishingly high.
Despite averaging just 19.7 minutes per contest, Drummond has tallied eight double-doubles. That comes with averages of 7.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 0.9 steals.
At the time of his injury, Drummond also led all rookies in Player Efficiency Rating, Estimated Wins Added and Value Added. Shooting 59.2 percent from the field doesn't hurt, either.
Whenever he comes back, we expect more of the brilliant same.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets: D+
Austin Rivers recently underwent surgery to repair his fractured right hand. That might be the best thing that ever happened to the rookie out of Duke.
Prior to the injury, Rivers was playing terrible basketball.
Through 61 contests, Rivers was averaging 23.2 minutes per game. In that time, he posted a slash line of .372/.326/.546 and a PER of 5.97.
So why was he playing so poorly?
To put it simply, the New Orleans Hornets are quickly learning that Rivers cannot run the point.
Rivers plays isolation basketball. He dominates the ball, thrives off of his ability to create with his dribble and capitalizes on the referee leniency that enables penetrating scorers to gain positioning on their defender.
Unfortunately, Rivers isn't playing against college or high-school kids—he's playing against grown men in the NBA. His inability to match up physically—or positionally, for that matter—had him struggling.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics: A-
Much like Drummond, Boston Celtics big man Jared Sullinger has seen his season cut short by a back injury. He recently underwent surgery on two herniated disks in his ailing back.
To continue with this trend, Sullinger was performing at an extraordinary level before he went down.
Despite averaging just 19.8 minutes per game, Sullinger is the Celtics' leading offensive rebounder. For those concerned about his size, Sullinger is also fourth amongst rookies in rebounds per 48 minutes.
With four double-doubles and five starts under his belt, it's safe to say that Sullinger was on pace for an All-Rookie selection before he went down.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Overall Grade: B-
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.91 PER, 25.4 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.3 APG
Harrison Barnes may not be producing at a consistent level, but he's also being utilized in experimental roles. The more consistency he gets in head coach Mark Jackson's rotation, the better he will perform.
Until then, we'll settle for jaw-dropping dunks and flashes of star potential.
The key to Barnes' season is that he hasn't been doing anything to damage his team's chance at victory. He's shooting respectably well, defends with a solid base and has displayed an encouraging level of poise for a player with his experience.
The issue, of course, is that Barnes still doesn't have a role.
For what it's worth, the Golden State Warriors are close to their best when Barnes is on the floor. Per the numbers, it appears as if they're bound to find legitimate success when he's out there.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Warriors' second-best five-man rotation features Jarrett Jack, Stephen Curry, Barnes, Carl Landry and David Lee on the floor.
Barnes is also in their third, fifth, sixth and seventh most effective lineups. Essentially, he is having a positive impact.
His individual achievements will come in due time.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Overall Grade: B+
2012-13 Season Averages: 13.81 PER, 14.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.5 APG, 37.9% 3PT
Bradley Beal is day-to-day with a sprained left ankle.
To be clear, that does not classify as an injury exception, as the ailment is not expected to be season-threatening.
So let's get back on topic—how is Beal faring on the court?
The Washington Wizards rookie struggled during the first half of the season, as he was often forced to create his own shot. Since point guard John Wall has returned, however, Beal and the Wizards are entirely different forces.
Since Feb. 11, Beal is averaging 20.0 points on 49.3-percent shooting from the floor and 46.3 percent from three-point range.
Although his full season of play has been discouraging, Beal has been superb over the past month. For that reason, the sharpshooting off-guard is likely to make the All-Rookie first team.
An excellent turnaround by a budding star.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
Overall Grade: A
2012-13 Season Averages: 21.13 PER, 28.2 MPG, 12.9 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.1 SPG
For the majority of the season, Anthony Davis was performing at a quality level, but not one that rivaled Damian Lillard for Rookie of the Year. While Lillard has seemingly run away with the award, Davis is making one final stand.
Over his past five games, Davis is averaging 17.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
Davis has been sensational, recording four double-doubles in that time. That includes a 20-point, 18-rebound performance against Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Stop the presses, the No. 1 pick has finally arrived.
This won't be enough to push Davis past an A grade, as he has been average at times. With that being said, the player we all expected to see is coming to life during the final stretch of the season.
Davis now leads all rookies in double-doubles, blocks and steals. Yes, steals.
Coming out of college, most projected Davis to be a future Defensive Player of the Year. Now, we're learning something else.
Davis is an all-around star in the making—one that leads active rookies in PER.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
Overall Grade: B-
2012-13 Season Averages: 14.23 PER, 25.8 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 BPG, 0.8 SPG
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist hasn't experienced the easiest of rookie seasons. His Charlotte Bobcats are 14-50 and they've lost 45 of their past 52 outings—it's been that bad.
Fortunately, MKG has displayed the upside we expected of him.
Kidd-Gilchrist has been better off of the dribble than we had previously projected. Not only is he finding ways to attack the basket, but he's creating space for himself on jumpers.
Unfortunately, those mid-range J's are falling at a rate of 27.0 percent.
With all of this being established, no one has been able to question MKG's effort. He and Kemba Walker have become one of the better young tandems in the league and should provide the franchise with wins, somewhere down the line.
As a rookie, however, Kidd-Gilchrist's mid-range woes and recent cold shooting have damaged his grade.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Overall Grade: A+
2012-13 Season Averages: 16.81 PER, 19.0 PPG, 6.4 APG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG
What more can you say?
Damian Lillard is the runaway favorite for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Not only is he scoring at an obscenely high rate, but Lillard has led the Blazers to a record not too far below .500.
This comes in spite of the fact that Portland ranks 30th in bench scoring, efficiency and defensive efficiency.
Believe it or not, Lillard has actually improved as the season has progressed. Rather than falling victim to fatigue, the rookie is having the best month of his career in March.
Lillard is averaging 24.3 points and 6.5 assists with a slash line of .529/.455/.885 thus far in March. How much better could he possibly get?
Not very much—he leads all rookies in Estimated Wins Added and Value Added.
Thomas Robinson, Houston Rockets
Overall Grade: C+
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.94 PER, 15.7 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG
Thomas Robinson is a workhorse along the interior with the ideal NBA body.
He plays in a physical manner, values crashing the boards and seems to be a perfect fit for the Houston Rockets' up-tempo offense.
Unfortunately, minutes have come rather inconsistently for the former Kansas Jayhawk.
Robinson has seen at least 20 minutes in consecutive games just four times this season. He's played at least 20 minutes in just two of seven games since joining the Rockets.
Even still, the signs are encouraging.
Robinson is very active down low, as he uses his broad shoulders to gain position on opponents and boxes out well with his hips and arm extension. As a result, Robinson has found a way to work the offensive glass and create second-chance scoring opportunities.
With limited playing time, Robinson's opportunity to develop will be capped. Once he begins to see the floor, however, the results will prove worthy of the fifth overall draft choice.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Overall Grade: C
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.30 PER, 16.4 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 2.0 RPG
Terrence Ross is the type of player whose reputation has begun to exceed his true impact on the floor. That isn't a slight against Ross, but instead a reality check for those who ignore his horrendously inconsistent playing time.
Ross averaged just 10.1 minutes per game in February. He's up to 16.7 in March.
When he's given playing time, Ross has proved capable of special performances. He is a supreme athlete with an excellent base defensively, and he's finally beginning to adjust to the NBA's three-point line.
Until head coach Dwane Casey gives him more minutes, however, there is very little to report on Ross' "impact."
Again, this is not a knock on Ross' abilities. This is simply an acknowledgement of what is fact: Inconsistent minutes have led to less-than-desirable results.
Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves
Overall Grade: C+
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.72 PER, 9.8 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.6 RPG
Albeit inconsistently, Alexey Shved has been a revelation for the Minnesota Timberwolves. On a team that has been destroyed by injuries, Shved has managed to step in as a quality facilitator and ball-handler.
In time, his shooting will follow.
Shved has done an excellent job of attacking off of the dribble and forcing opposing defenses to collapse. With elite size for his position, Shved has found a way to rise up over defenders and make the passes that most point guards can't.
The only reason his assist numbers don't reflect such is the simultaneous presence of Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea.
While his shooting percentages are poor, Shved has also provided a quality threat from beyond the arc. He is more than capable of knocking down at least one three-point field goal per game.
The issue, as is the case for most rookies, is that Shved goes to the well too many times.
Maturity on the floor and the return of fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko should help Shved. Assuming the Timberwolves eventually assemble a less crowded backcourt, his production will increase.
The growing pains are worth it with Shved.
Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons
Overall Grade: B-
2012-13 Season Averages: 10.21 PER, 28.1 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 36.5% 3PT
Kyle Singler may not be the first name that comes to mind when you think "impact," but he's started 59 games. Say what you will, but this young man is as important to his team as most other rookies on this list.
Hence his average of 28.1 minutes per game.
Singler is displaying similar traits in the NBA to what he did at Duke University. He's a dangerous three-point shooter that is beginning to find his range at the professional level.
Furthermore, Singler is a long player that knows how to disrupt an opponent on defense. While he'd never be confused with an elite defender, his length can be a weapon when properly utilized.
When it comes down to it, however, Singler's greatest strength is his shooting.
Thus far in 2012-13, the former Blue Devil is hitting 36.5 percent of his three-point field goals. He's cooled down in recent weeks, but this is the type of quality role player that every team looks for.
Singler is having a major impact in Detroit.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers
Overall Grade: B+
2012-13 Season Averages: 14.02 PER, 29.4 MPG, 14.8 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG
During the month of February, Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters shot 51.4 percent from the field. This comes after he shot 37.2 percent in October/November, 34.2 in December and 41.9 in January.
To say that he's improved over the course of the season would be a disturbing understatement.
A major reason for Waiters' improvement has been his development as a jump shooter. The former Syracuse sixth man is hitting 40.8 percent from mid-range and a better-than-expected 34.5 percent on three-point field goals from above the break.
Having Kyrie Irving as his point guard is certainly a luxury, as Waiters is shooting a full 7.0 percent higher from three when Irving is on the floor.
The question is, how will Waiters fare with Irving potentially done for the season?
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers
Overall Grade: C+
2012-13 Season Averages: 11.21 PER, 26.8 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG
Tyler Zeller is quietly putting together a quality rookie season. Even with limited statistics, Zeller has been performing at a high level in Anderson Varejao's absence.
Until recently, that is.
In December, Zeller averaged 9.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 27.1 minutes. In January, those numbers shifted to 8.8 points and 7.8 boards in 34.3 minutes.
He continued his success in February, as the former UNC Tar Heel averaged 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 24.1 minutes. Thus far in March, however, he rests at 5.2 points and 4.2 boards in 23.4 minutes.
Worst of all, he's shooting 37.9 percent from the floor.
The key to Zeller's sudden collapse is an inability to get to the line. During the first four months of the season, Zeller drew contact well and knew when to finish instead of pursuing a call.
In March, the former Tar Heel has been initiating contact but coming up short. That's why you shoot to make it, not to draw a foul.
Zeller has proved to be better than his numbers show, but right now, he's struggling. The past suggests he'll turn it around.