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Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie at End of March

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2013

Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie at End of March

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    Top-tier rookies from around the NBA are taking advantage of the last few weeks of the 2012-13 regular season to showcase their developing skills.

    High-profile studs Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis are living up to expectations, and then some.

    But they're not the only ones thriving as spring arrives. A pair of Western Conference forwards and a foreign-born center are also flourishing.

    How does all this recent activity affect their grades? Find out as we break down every impact rookie in the association.

    *Rookies who averaged at least 20 minutes per game in March are classified as "Impact Rookies." 

    **Andre Drummond, Jared Sullinger and Austin Rivers are omitted due to long-term injuries.

    ***Stats up to date through games played on March 26.

Alexey Shved, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.7 MPG, 9.4 PPG, 4.0 APG, 37% FG, 29% 3PT

    We've been waiting quite a while for Alexey Shved's outside shooting numbers to improve, but it hasn't happened. Consequently, his playing time is shrinking.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves playmaker has burned opposing defenses with his ball-handling skills and court vision. When it comes to long-distance accuracy, however, Shved is anything but hot.

    Fortunately, he's finding other ways to make shots and bring up his overall field-goal efficiency.

    It's important to remember Minnesota endured an injury-ravaged season, and that's made things difficult for everyone, including Shved.

    Updated Grade: C+

Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 26.5 MPG, 7.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 43% FG

    As is the case with many rookies, Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller is struggling with consistency.

    Despite his skill set and court awareness, the Cavs are significantly more productive when he's on the bench. According to 82games.com, they score 108.4 points per 100 possessions without him, and 104.8 with him.

    On many occasions, he's physically overmatched, but that doesn't stop him from bouncing back the next night and aiming for a double-double.

    If there's one offensive tool he needs to work on this spring in preparation for next season, it's drawing fouls and getting to the charity stripe. In March alone, there have been five games when he hasn't drawn a single shooting foul.

    Updated Grade: C+

Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks

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    2012-13 Stats: 18.0 MPG, 5.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 39% FG, 33% 3PT

    A noticeable uptick in playing time has not led to a boost in production for Dallas Mavericks forward Jae Crowder.

    Nevertheless, he's an important component to Rick Carlisle's system because of the way he defends, rebounds and operates as a passer.

    Crowder is tasked with covering many premier Western Conference small forwards, and he usually holds his own. He's easily one of the most valuable defenders on the Mavericks' roster.

    And then, just when opponents think he's in the game solely for defense, he burns them with a trifecta.

    Updated Grade: C+

Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.4 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 43% FG, 35% 3PT

    Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank relies on Kyle Singler for substantial minutes every night, but the forward's offensive output has been wildly inconsistent lately.

    He's shooting the ball horrendously in March: 38 percent from field, 26 percent from distance.

    Singler did, however, bring his best stuff to South Beach, where he scored 18 and grabbed eight boards against the Miami Heat. He was able to get the ball in a variety of spots, get some buckets in the paint and open up his mid-range game.

    He's always handy to have around because he positions himself so well on both sides of the floor. But lately, he can't get anything to fall.

    Updated Grade: B-

Moe Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    2012-13 Stats: 23.8 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 47% FG, 30% 3PT

    Moe Harkless has become increasingly involved in the Orlando Magic offense of late. He hoisted at least a dozen field-goal attempts in his last five games.

    The 6'8" teenager is most dangerous when he's attacking the basket, and no game exemplified that more than his 25-point effort against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harkless spun and slashed his way to the tin at will. He also feasted off putbacks.

    He's still an underdeveloped player when it comes to diagnosing defenses and passing, but the Magic knew what they were getting when they traded for him.

    For now, Orlando will live with his high field-goal percentage and developed shot-making skills.

    Updated Grade: B

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.7 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 46% FG

    After a dreadful mid-winter stretch, Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has turned things around and reclaimed his late autumn form.

    He's markedly more effective offensively, finding the right time and space to take the ball deep in the lane. Kidd-Gilchrist is also picking his spots to knock down in-rhythm jumpers, something he's struggled with for much of the season.

    According to 82games.com, the Bobcats are more productive offensively and defensively when he's on the floor.

    Now if they could just translate that into more than three wins per month.

    Updated Grade: B

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.2 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 55% FG

    Dwane Casey bestowed Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas with more playing time, and the young Lithuanian has rewarded him.

    Valanciunas has been scoring efficiently for weeks, but the past five games have been off the charts. He's converting 77 percent of his shots en route to 13.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest.

    The pick-and-roll has treated him well all year (62 percent on those plays according to Synergy Sports), and he's continuing the success into late March. He's also enjoying his share of putbacks and short-range jumpers within 10 feet.

    Of course we don't expect him to make three quarters of his shots for an extended time, but his latest hot streak has Raptors fans hoping for 15-point, 10-rebound sophomore averages.

    Updated Grade: B+

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.3 MPG, 14.7 PPG, 3.0 APG, 41% FG, 32% 3PT

    Before he was sidelined with knee cartilage issues, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters was having a solid, if unspectacular month.

    Grading Waiters' rookie campaign is tricky, because some of it was alongside Kyrie Irving and some of it wasn't. He's clearly a different player than Irving, but Byron Scott must love the luxury of having two high-level playmakers.

    Waiters has the capability to drop 20 points and dish a half-dozen assists, but he's also prone to the occasional poor shooting night or handful of turnovers.

    The Cavs are willing to endure the bad alongside the good, because the good part is well worth it.

    Updated Grade: B+

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.3 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 45% FG, 36% 3PT

    Harrison Barnes picked a good time to heat up, because the Golden State Warriors needed his help to string together some wins and solidify their playoff positioning.

    When his offensive game features inside and outside production, the Dubs are a formidable unit because defenses can't cheat as much.

    The assertiveness is back in Barnes' drives, and he's dialed in from long range also. Over his last five games, Barnes is hitting 51 percent of his shots and 57 percent of his three-pointers.

    Does he get bumped up a full letter grade for likely being the only impact rookie headed to the playoffs? No, but he gets an extra sticker on his report card or something.

    Updated Grade: B+

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    2012-13 Stats: 31.2 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 41% FG, 38% 3PT

    Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal is still recuperating from the re-aggravation of his left ankle injury, so we haven't seen him in action for over a week.

    He saw limited minutes in his three-game return from the initial sprain, and his shot wasn't as automatic as it was in late February.

    Nonetheless, Beal's body of work and terrific play before the ankle woes are enough to keep his grade high.

    Washington fans can't wait for a healthy Beal and John Wall in 2013-14.

    Updated Grade: A-

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.2 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 52% FG

    Damian Lillard will end up with the Rookie of the Year trophy, but Anthony Davis is certainly making him work for it.

    In recent weeks, the New Orleans Hornets youngster has played like a legitimate NBA star. His exploits include strong all-around defense, loads of rebounds and an increasingly versatile offensive approach.

    Davis is shooting 55 percent in March, and that includes a healthy diet of mid-range jumpers. He's comfortable stepping out to 18 to 22 feet. In his March 27 performance against the Los Angeles Clippers, he took six shots outside the paint and made five of them.

    His stellar play has not only justified his draft status, but it's given Hornets fans reason to believe in the 2013-14 Pelicans.

    Updated Grade: A

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    2012-13 Stats: 38.6 MPG, 19.1 PPG, 6.5 APG, 43% FG, 37% 3PT

    In February, and even early March, there was an outside shot that Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters or Anthony Davis could make a late run at Rookie of the Year honors.

    Damian Lillard has since put an end to the discussion.

    The Portland Trail Blazers star is as confident as ever, shooting 49 percent over the last four weeks. That's impressive considering how much he handles the ball and opposing defenses game plan against him.

    While routinely scoring 20-plus points, Lillard is keeping his assist-to-turnover ratio tidy at 2.8.

    It's unfortunate that his rookie season will likely end without a playoff appearance.

    Updated Grade: A+

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