Updated Grades for Every Impact NBA Rookie at Start of April
In the closing weeks of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, several rookies are taking their game to a higher level.
A few are still experiencing growing pains, but many are enjoying newfound success with increased responsibilities.
Lithuanian post players Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas are showcasing their versatility, while Anthony Davis isn't the only New Orleans Hornet stuffing the stat sheet.
Elsewhere, Harrison Barnes is bolstering the Golden State Warriors' playoff pace, and Andre Drummond is getting his footing back.
Find out what the rest of the impact rookies are up to as we grade each of them entering April.
Injured Impact Rookies
The following players have been sidelined with injury for an extended period or have been ruled out altogether.
-Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers (Knee): No return imminent (via The Cleveland Plain Dealer)
-Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets (Hand): Likely out for season (via The Times-Picayune)
-Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards (Leg): Out for season (via The Washington Post)
-Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics (Back): Out for season (via The Boston Globe)
Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers
2012-13 Stats: 26.5 MPG, 8.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 44.6% FG
Recent Impact: 57.6-percent FG in last 10 games
Wins are a scarcity for the Cleveland Cavaliers these days, but double-digit scoring nights from Tyler Zeller are more frequent.
He's getting the ball deep in the post more often and only using his outside jumper as a supplementary tool.
Defensively, Zeller's becoming more comfortable each week, but he's struggling with a rash of foul trouble. In seven of his last nine games, he's committed at least four fouls.
If Cleveland had a complete roster, Zeller's season would have been much different. Byron Scott hopes the extra exposure will help him have a productive sophomore campaign.
Updated Grade: C+
Kyle Singler, Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Stats: 28.3 MPG, 8.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 42.8% FG, 35.0% 3PT
Recent Impact: 13 points, six rebounds vs. Toronto (March 29)
Although he's still getting heavy minutes in the Detroit Pistons' rotation, Kyle Singler hasn't been much of an offensive factor since the All-Star break.
His hot shooting from November is long gone, which is a shame because Lawrence Frank's club needs all the help it can get in the scoring department.
Singler will never be more than a fourth or fifth option in any given lineup, but Detroit would love for him to make the most of the offensive chances he gets. Lately, the Pistons are lucky if he converts more than 40 percent of his shots.
Updated Grade: C+
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
2012-13 Stats: 25.7 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 45.9% FG
Recent Impact: 53.3-percent shooting in last five games
With 11.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in his last five appearances, Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has regained the look of a Top Five pick.
We've been saying all year that he's at his best when he's attacking the rim, and he's been doing a healthy amount of that lately.
For example, in his 21-point outing against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 30, eight of Kidd-Gilchrist's nine made field goals were in the paint, and seven of those were within a step of the hoop. It's also worth noting he missed only two shots in the game.
When he produces offensively, he's easily the best plus-minus player on the 'Cats, because we know the defense and rebounding take care of themselves.
Updated Grade: B
Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Stats: 16.7 MPG, 5.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 55.7% FG
Recent Impact: 22 points, 10 rebounds vs. Golden State (March 30)
In the last couple of weeks, 7'1" center Meyers Leonard has stepped into a major role for the Portland Trail Blazers' rotation. Terry Stotts is invested in the rookie as a low-post counterpart to LaMarcus Aldridge, and the last eight games have yielded promising results.
Leonard might not be a post-up beast with advanced moves, but he's adept at driving to the rim and finishing strong. He's also feasting off his mid-range jumper and close-range baby hooks.
Against the Golden State Warriors, he exhibited his combination of power and finesse, pouring in 22 points and grabbing 10 boards. It was a glimpse of what could be a common occurrence in the future.
Once he becomes a more consistent and effective rebounder, he'll be a nightmare for the rest of the Western Conference.
Updated Grade: B
Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets
2012-13 Stats: 12.3 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 47.3% FG, 30.1% 3PT
Recent Impact: 16 points vs. Memphis (March 29)
Lithuanian power forward Donatas Motiejunas is finally getting substantial playing time, and the Houston Rockets are better off for it.
According to 82games.com, the already-potent squad scores 117.8 points per 100 possessions when he's playing, compared to 110.4 when he's sitting.
Motiejunas supplies Kevin McHale with a low-post threat who has range out to the three-point line. For a foreign rookie, he's adapted to the American game quite well, and he has a good feel for where to be and what to do with the ball once he gets it.
Updated Grade: B
Brian Roberts, New Orleans Hornets
2012-13 Stats: 15.9 MPG, 6.7 PPG, 2.6 APG, 41.8% FG, 37.1% 3PT
Recent Impact: Double-digit scoring in four straight games (March 25-31)
New Orleans Hornets guard Brian Roberts followed his 18-assist explosion against the Denver Nuggets with three more games of high-level offense.
During his time filling in for the injured Greivis Vasquez, Roberts took what the defenses gave him. Sometimes, it meant distributing to shooters. Other times, he drove the lane and created floaters and scoop shots for himself. And to a lesser extent, he worked the pick-and-roll with Anthony Davis.
His ability to hit mid-range shots or drive to the rim makes him infinitely more dangerous as a facilitator, because he's unpredictable.
Updated Grade: B
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Stats: 25.3 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 44.5% FG, 35.3% 3PT
Recent Impact: 11.0 points, 51.2-percent shooting in last 10 games
It's easy to look at the star power on the Golden State Warriors and dismiss Harrison Barnes as a mere peripheral contributor.
He's not some interchangeable part, but a vital cog in this unit. Barnes is the only swingman on the roster who can attack opponents athletically and from the perimeter, while also playing solid defense against their star.
It will be interesting to see how he holds up heading into the playoffs, because he's already played more basketball this year than he ever has.
Updated Grade: B+
Maurice Harkless, Orlando Magic
2012-13 Stats: 25.1 MPG, 8.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 47.0% FG, 31.4% 3PT
Recent Impact: 28 points vs. Houston (April 1)
In his last five games, Orlando Magic forward Moe Harkless has posted at least 17 points. He's become increasingly adept at beating his man and finishing over help defenders.
It's a far cry from the first half of the season when he seldom saw more than 15 minutes of playing time.
The most encouraging part of his development is his outside shot. Harkless is more confident and more accurate from long range, and that will eventually lead to more driving lanes.
In addition to the offensive output, he continues to disrupt passing lanes and create turnovers defensively.
Updated Grade: B+
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Stats: 19.8 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 59.7% FG
Recent Impact: 17 points in 19 minutes vs. Toronto (March 29)
After his back sidelined him for 22 games, Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond was able to return to his rebounding ways.
If opponents aren't prepared or get complacent, he will torch them for second chances on the glass.
In Detroit's loss to the Boston Celtics, Drummond played just 21 minutes but hauled in nine rebounds, seven of which were offensive boards.
Although his offense is nowhere near the likes of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and the rest of the top-tier rookies, Drummond ranks right up there with them due to his paint presence.
Updated Grade: B+
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Stats: 23.5 MPG, 8.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 55.7% FG
Recent Impact: 18.4 points. 9.4 rebounds and 61.5-percent shooting in last five games
Jonas Valanciunas has been an absolute monster on both ends of the floor since mid-March.
Toronto Raptors fans are getting their money's worth, as he's attacking the offensive and defensive glass, protecting the rim and operating in the high post and low block.
We knew he'd be a solid pick-and-roll player as a rookie, but his game is much more extensive. Film shows he's comfortable operating in the high post, where he can pass, shoot or drive. He's also finding gaps in the baseline, ready to catch and finish.
At 20 years old, he's already a strong presence in multiple phases of the game. It's bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Division.
Updated Grade: A-
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets
2012-13 Stats: 28.6 MPG, 13.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 51.4% FG
Recent Impact: 17 points, 13 rebounds vs. Cleveland (March 31)
One of the best aspects of Anthony Davis as a prospect and future star is that he influences the game even when his shot is ice cold.
His mid-range aim was way off the last two games, but he still gave the New Orleans Hornets great performances.
Aside from crashing the boards, defending the low post and forcing steals, Davis stays aggressive and gets to the free-throw line.
His next challenge comes against the strong frontcourt of the Utah Jazz.
Updated Grade: A
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Stats: 38.5 MPG, 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 43.1% FG, 37.1% 3PT
Recent Impact: 24 points, seven assists vs. Utah (March 29)
At this point in the season, it's not what Damian Lillard does that strikes us, but how he does it.
His Portland Trail Blazers lacked the personnel and firepower to stay alive in the Western Conference playoff chase, but that doesn't make Lillard's rookie campaign any less impressive.
Throughout the year, he's taken everything in stride and remained poised and focused. So poised, in fact, that he doesn't seem like a rookie.
If I didn't know any better, I'd laugh in your face if you told me Damian Lillard was a rookie.— NBA Guru (@NBAGuru) April 4, 2013
There have been several rookies in the past who outperformed Lillard, but we rarely see a first-year point guard with this kind of skill and composure.
Updated Grade: A+