NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Can Anthony Davis' Recent Surge Push Him to Top Spot?

Jimmy Spencer@JimmySpencerNBANBA Lead WriterApril 8, 2013

NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Can Anthony Davis' Recent Surge Push Him to Top Spot?

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    The madness of March is about over, so the new focus of college hoops becomes the players heading into the league via this summer’s NBA Draft.

    But before next year’s batch of newbies gets swooped up, there’s a group of rookies about to conclude their first season.

    Unfortunately, their development has been stifled a bit, as two of this year's top-of-the-class guys are finishing with injuries. 

    Meanwhile, our two rookie aces are putting the finishing touches on their respective impressive seasons.

    But will the long strides of Anthony Davis be enough to overtake our season-long rookie headliner, Damian Lillard?

    Check out who's rising and dropping in this week's rookie stock watch.

10. Meyers Leonard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: Not ranked

    The Cinderella story of Brian Roberts couldn't cling to its foothold in the rookie rankings. The New Orleans guard, who tallied 18 assists on March 25, came back to reality in limited minutes and limited production (18.5-minute, one-assist average last week).

    But the fall of one underdog makes way for the entrance of another.

    Welcome Meyers Leonard.

    The 7'1" center for the Portland Trail Blazers has averaged 12.4 points on 51 percent shooting and 6.6 rebounds in his last five games.

    Since the All-Star break, of guys averaging 20 minutes or more, Meyers is the third-best rookie behind just Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas in field-goal percentage at 56.3 percent.

    While that may sound like a specifically unique statistic, it exhibits that Meyers has developed as one of the more efficient inside scorers of all rookies.

    Leonard is playing heavier minutes and his production is a nice bookend alongside Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard.

    The lottery-pick center may just prove ESPN’s Skip Bayless wrong:

    This is WAY too high for Meyers Leonard. Will never live up to 11th overall.

    — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) June 29, 2012

9. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 8

    Harrison Barnes will be an incredibly valued NBA talent—maybe sooner than later.

    He has Jason Richardson legs but he still needs to attack the basket more consistently. His jump shot releases with a flatness that makes it tough to connect on against long wing defenders.

    But the 20-year-old is loaded with talent and may become the greatest steal of the 2012 draft even as a lottery pick.

    Barnes is the only rookie on this list who will play in the playoffs and he's playing regular minutes. Heroes are made in the postseason, and as game plans focus around shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the window may be open for Barnes to become a star.

    He's scored in double figures in six of his last seven games despite seeing his minutes decrease slightly.

    Barnes isn't receiving the freedom of other lottery picks under Mark Jackson's winning formula, but he is being given opportunity and it will make him a more polished player come next season.

    Plus, he still carries this highlight into the stock watch:

    Dunk of the Year? DeAndre Jordan vs. Harrison Barnes

    — Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) April 7, 2013

8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 7

    NBA rookie seasons can be as trendy as a big-city restaurant or the latest social-networking app.

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has floated on up-and-down trends as he continues to find his rhythm in inconsistent production and minutes.

    As the No. 2 pick by the Charlotte Bobcats, Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a concussion in February and told New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Dave D'Alessandro that it affected his play upon return.

    "I wasn’t the same when I came back,” Kidd-Gilchrist said. “I rushed back because I wanted to play, and that’s human nature."

    The irregular play continued this past week, as Kidd-Gilchrist shined in an 18-point, 14-rebound game in 38 minutes against the Miami Heat on April 5.

    But he didn't do so well against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 3 (four points in 17 minutes) and against the Brooklyn Nets on April 6 (six points in 19 minutes).

    Still, he's sixth in rookie scoring at 9.1 points per game and on top in rebounding of all rookie perimeter players at 5.8 per game.

7. Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 9

    It wouldn't be surprising if Jonas Valanciunas ends up among the top-scoring big men in the league in years to come.

    Taken in the 2011 draft, the 20-year-old rookie has become a consistent contributor and his role continues to increase for the Toronto Raptors.

    Valanciunas can score with his back to the basket and when facing up against defenders.

    He is a skillful scorer for his size and he shot 62 percent for 11.4 points per game in March to go with his average of 7.3 rebounds. His work earned him Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors.

    To prove further ability of a versatile game, he connected on 16-of-18 free-throw attempts in a 24-point, 10-rebound performance in a win against the Washington Wizards on April 3.

    Over his last 15 games, Jonas Valanciunas is scoring 1.203 points per-possession, which would rank first in the NBA this season.

    — mySynergySports (@mySynergySports) April 6, 2013

6. Moe Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 6

    Moe Harkless is earning every bit of that rookie salary. He surges ahead in the stock watch for his play of late.

    The Orlando Magic forward is utilizing his 19-year-old legs, as he averaged 42.7 minutes in a seven-game stretch from March 22 to April 3.

    He played just eight minutes Friday in Orlando's loss at the Chicago Bulls due to a day-to-day knee injury.

    Harkless is proving to be a special talent, as the 19-year-old wing with size at 6'8", 210 pounds averaged 18.7 points on 45.9 percent shooting, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals during that seven-game stretch.

    I recently described Maurice Harkless as a "franchise cornerstone" and got blasted. What do you call a 19-year-old who has 25-9-4-4?

    — Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) March 23, 2013

    Harkless has incredible upside, and Orlando is giving him every opportunity to put up numbers.

5. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 5

    It’s a shame to see the rookie season of Bradley Beal come to an end too soon. The teenage guard was beginning to flash the scoring talents that made him a No. 3 pick for the Washington Wizards.

    Beal's productivity and efficiency was coming on strong before his season was ended early due to injury, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski on April 3.

    Bradley Beal will miss the rest of the Washington Wizards season with a "stress injury in his right fibula," the team says.

    — Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 3, 2013

    Before missing these final eight games, the 19-year-old had missed 18 games prior with ankle, wrist and back injuries. He had played in a win on March 31 against the Toronto Raptors in which he scored 24 points and he also played in a win against the Chicago Bulls and scored eight points in that game.

    Beal certainly proved his worth in a heatlhy stretch from Feb. 8 to March 3, when he shot 48.2 from the field and 46.5 from three-point range (2.0-of-4.3 attempts) for 18.3 points per game while adding 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

    Unfortunately, we will never get to see what he could have accomplished alongside John Wall in a full second half.

4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 4

    Dion Waiters’ successful rookie season will likely be cut short, as the Cleveland Cavaliers guard has now missed eight consecutive games with a sore knee.

    His placement in the rookie standings will remain as is.

    Of the more recent updates, Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal wrote: "There is no update on Waiters, incidentally. He continues to receive treatment on his knee, but there is no timeline for when (or more accurately if) he can return this season."

    With just six games remaining for Cleveland, it would be wise to let Waiters recover fully into the offseason.

    Waiters has played in 57 games, averaging 29.3 minutes to score 14.7 points and 3.0 assists per game.

    In other news, knee injuries don't prevent practical jokes and NBA rookies are especially susceptible on April Fool's Day:

    Rookie Dion Waiters Gets His Car Filled With Popcorn

    — Dime Magazine (@DimeMag) April 5, 2013

3. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 3

    Andre Drummond’s return from a back injury that cost him two months continues to reveal the valuable interior abilities of the Detroit Pistons’ 19-year-old center.

    Athletic and enormous, Drummond dropped in the draft as a project with limited basketball skill. Still, his potential out of the University of Connecticut led him to being selected as the No. 9 pick by the Pistons.

    He is still figuring out the fine points of the game, and moments like his back-to-back air balls from the free-throw line prove that.

    Watch Detroit Pistons Rookie Andre Drummond Air-Ball Two Straight Free Throws - Bleacher Report

    — Detroit Newsdaily (@DetroitNewdaily) April 1, 2013

    But he’s also shined as a gifted inside presence while still a teenager.

    Since returning from injury with a bang, 12.5 points on 70.6 percent and 9.0 rebounds in two games at the end of March, Drummond is recently returning near his season averages. In four games since April 1, Drummond is shooting 61.1 percent on 2.8-of.4.5 attempts for 6.0 and he's adding 8.3 rebound in 22.8 minutes per game.

    The Pistons are putting Drummond in a position to succeed.

    In a recent Sports Illustrated article with Ian Thomsen, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said:

    "We're not an overly athletic team so he stands out," said Frank. "It was big picture in terms of his development -- just kind of learning the game, and learning the proper habits, and not being thrust in a situation with all the expectations and pressure. We just want to put him in a position where he can have the most success."

    If Detroit continues to pace Drummond with relaxed development, the success will eventually match the potential.

2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 2

    Anthony Davis has proven to be a complete success through his first year in the league.

    For as safe of a pick as he was as the No. 1 selection in the 2012 NBA Draft, Davis was still a risk.

    He was the most talented player, with the greatest size and a winning resume, but that also placed him into a category of players that hasn’t had long-term success.

    Drafting a big man with the first overall pick in the draft has been chancy in the past dozen years. The expiration date can come suddenly, and there’s as many examples of failures than success stories.

    Here's the list of big men taken in the last 12 years:

    • Blake Griffin (2009 by Los Angeles Clippers, missed rookie season with injury)
    • Greg Oden (2007 by Portland Trail Blazers, missed career with injury)
    • Andrea Bargnani (2006 by Toronto Raptors)
    • Andrew Bogut (2005 by Milwaukee Bucks, injuries led him away)
    • Dwight Howard (2004 by Orlando Magic)
    • Yao Ming (2002 by Houston Rockets)
    • Kwame Brown (2001 by Washington Wizards)

    Whereas when you consider the top picks in that same timeframe who were perimeter players, the percentage of success is perfect: Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Derrick Rose and LeBron James.

    So, yes, there was lingering suspicion around Davis entering the season.

    He’s proving worthy as the top pick despite the great success of Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers are plenty happy with their No. 6 overall pick, but New Orleans wouldn’t change their mind if they could do it over again.

    The reality is that high-scoring guards are easier to find than highly productive, efficient post players. Though he still hasn’t had the season that Lillard has, Davis is proving he is plenty capable as a versatile interior scorer and defender.

    Davis played heavy minutes in March, 31.3 per game, and averaged 16 points on 55.2 percent shooting while adding 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

    He has made a run at top rookie honors, but it’s still far from the brilliance that Lillard has shown this season.

1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Stock Report:

    Last Week's Rank: 1

    With respect to Anthony Davis' recent surge, Damian Lillard is set to go wire-to-wire as the league's best rookie.

    The impressive part of Lillard's game as a rookie has been his ability to perform with a license to control the Portland Trail Blazers' offense.

    At 15.6 shot attempts per game, Lillard is taking the most shots of any rookie. He's hitting at 43 percent, an impressive mark for a rookie guard who's already facing opponents' best wing defenders.

    In wins, Lillard is shooting 46.8 percent and averaging 20.1 points per game. He's shooting 40.1 percent for 18.0 points per game in losses.

    Lillard's impressive rookie season added an exclamation mark in March, when the 22-year-old won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, his fifth consecutive award, by scoring 21.3 points on 47.6 percent shooting and 46.7 three-point shooting on 2.6-of-5.6 attempts.

    On April 1, Lillard set an all-time NBA rookie record when he hit his 166th three-pointer on the season.

    Davis's finish has been impressive, but Lillard's rookie season has been complete end-to-end.