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NBA Rookie Report Cards, Preseason Edition

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterOctober 14, 2013

NBA Rookie Report Cards, Preseason Edition

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Now around midway through the NBA preseason, the 2013-14 rookies have just gotten their first taste of live pro action. 

    And that's enough for us. 

    With some rookies getting in up to four games already, it's time to start dishing out grades and picking apart early performances. 

    The rookies who've been left out are either on the shelf with an injury (Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter, C.J. McCollum) or haven't been given a fair shot to earn a grade yet (Sergey Karasev, Solomon Hill, Mason Plumlee). 

    The grades are based on each rookie's performance relative to their opportunity. And in certain cases, summer league factored in.

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B+

    Through seven quarters, Anthony Bennett had totaled just four NBA points. And then he got hot. 

    Bennett went for 14 points in the fourth quarter against Orlando, putting on an offensive clinic that highlighted his skill level and range. 

    He knocked down various mid-range jumpers—some fading away in the post, one stepping back from 18 feet, another one off balance in the lane. Bennett also nailed two beautiful catch-and-release three-pointers, looking awfully smooth in the process. 

    The explosion was significant, given he had shot just 2-of-12 from the floor in his debut. 

    Bennett still managed to salvage a rough opener with 10 rebounds, a number you can probably expect to see more of, assuming he gets the opportunity. 

    Though most of his damage was done in just one quarter, Bennett certainly looked the part of a No. 1 pick. And at this point, that's all you can really ask for. 

    If I were a Cavs fan, I'd be hoping coach Mike Brown gives him minutes regardless of what position they're at.

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: A

    Big shocker—Victor Oladipo has been money in the preseason. He dropped nine dimes in his debut, along with 10 points, five boards and four steals—in 25 minutes. 

    He was just as effective in Game 2, scoring 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Picking up points the old-fashioned Oladipo way, he was attacking the rim in space and getting putback finishes at the rim. 

    But we also saw some new-school Oladipo, who knocked down a pull-up three off the dribble and one off the catch. 

    He continues to make strides without any setbacks, just cruising down the stream that trips up so many NBA rookies. 

    I'm not sure Oladipo could have asked for a better start to a career that's likely to blow up at any moment.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B-

    He's made a few plays here and there, but Cody Zeller hasn't had that standout stretch just yet. At least not through three preseason games. 

    Zeller has regressed a bit from the opener, when he finished 4-of-7 for nine points and five boards in a quiet yet efficient debut. 

    He followed with another nine-point, five-rebound line on 3-of-8 shooting in Game 2 and bottomed out in Game 3, finishing 0-of-5 from the floor. 

    Despite little scoring production and average rebounding numbers, his athleticism and IQ have both been easy to pick up on. He's made a few nice finishes at the rim and passes to teammates, dishing out six assists so far. 

    Overall, Zeller has been a little underwhelming, considering Al Jefferson hasn't been in the lineup. You'd expect a few more scoring opportunities and ultimately a few more conversions. 

    He's coming off a monster summer league where he averaged 16 points and nine boards, so his grade does get a small boost at the end.

Alex Len, Phoenix Suns

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    Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

    Grade: B-

    Alex Len hasn't had any real "wow" moments just yet, with a preseason high of seven points coming during his debut. 

    He did grab nine boards and block two shots against the Spurs, but credit that to his size and frame. Len's awareness level is still a bit low in terms of how he should position himself for scoring opportunities. 

    He's clearly going to need minutes to build up his confidence. It will take time, likely years, for Len to find his sweet spots and refine his moves. 

    So far, he's taken a backseat offensively. But don't put too much stock in Len's quiet start—he missed all of summer league and needs to get familiar with the size and speed of the game.

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: A-

    Ben McLemore has really looked sharp through his first two preseason games, where he's shot a combined 9-of-19 from the floor and 5-of-10 behind the arc. 

    He's putting up points in signature fashion—spotting up off the ball, pulling up off the dribble and exploding in the open floor for easy fast-break buckets. 

    We know how lethal he is as a shooter, but McLemore doesn't get enough credit for his off-ball movement. Through both games, he's consistently used screens to free himself up for open jumpers. And shooters who can score without requiring the dribble are awfully valuable to an offense. 

    He's been efficient and productive, and he appears to be a solid Rookie of the Year contender moving forward.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: D

    After a rocky summer league, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's preseason hasn't been much better. In fact, it got worse. 

    He put up a stinker in the opener, finishing 1-of-12 from the floor against Maccabi Haifa. Through three games, Caldwell-Pope has shot a combined 7-of-31 from the floor for a disastrous 23 percent. 

    His 1-of-16 start from downtown might have also disappointed those who've been under the impression he's a three-point sniper. 

    Caldwell-Pope is going to have to find easier ways to pick up points when the game is slowed down. He's a terrific athlete with a live motor, but his style of play as a perimeter scorer is a low-percentage brand of ball. 

    On the bright side, he has collected 19 boards so far, confirming the notion that he's above average for a guard in this department. 

    But otherwise, there isn't much else to praise just yet.

Trey Burke, Utah Jazz

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: C-

    Trey Burke has shown flashes, but he's yet to put together a full game of solid point-guard play. To make matters worse, his next chance won't be coming for a while. 

    Burke fractured a finger during Game 3, and he's expected to miss eight-to-12 weeks of action. It's slightly troubling news given how important these preseason reps are for a player who struggled so mightily in summer league. 

    He made his debut against Golden State, finishing 5-of-14 from the floor for 12 points to go along with three assists. Burke did knock down two three-pointers but ultimately had his difficulty finishing plays in the half court. 

    He combined to shoot just 4-of-16 and totaled nine assists the rest of the way. 

    For what it's worth, Burke looks confident and comfortable despite the pedestrian numbers. But 30 percent from the floor and a 12-5 assist-to-turnover ratio aren't going to reflect well on his preseason report card. Compound that with an injury, and Burke is officially off to a rough NBA start.

Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B+

    His numbers won't blow you away, but Michael Carter-Williams has been steady.

    He finished the 2012-13 college season leading the country in turnovers, though you wouldn't know it through three preseason games. Carter-Williams has only coughed it up once so far, sporting an awesome 16-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

    He's been a heads-up passer in the half court and transition, getting to spots on the floor and hitting his teammates in rhythm. 

    As a scorer, Carter-Williams hasn't been much of a threat, though he did come out of nowhere to knock down three three-pointers against the Thunder. 

    He's only made eight shots in three games, but his efficiency and effectiveness as a facilitator can't go unnoticed. 

    Based on the opportunity he'll get and his playmaking instincts, Carter-Williams is nearly a lock to lead all rookies in assists. I'd be pleased with my first-round pick so far if I were a 76ers fan.

Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B

    Not a bad start for Steven Adams, who's made the most of his limited action through two preseason games. 

    His presence was felt in Oklahoma City's opener when he shot 3-of-4 from the field for seven points and grabbed six boards in only 15 minutes.

    Adams was equally as active in Game 2, totaling six points, four boards and two blocks in 17 minutes. 

    At this point, his production is all driven by his top-flight physical tools, which include a 7'4.5'' wingspan, a strong 7'0'' frame and effortless athleticism. 

    It's always a good sign when a raw player like Adams can make an impact despite lacking a refined set of skills. They might take a few years to develop, but in the meantime, Adams looks like he can still bring something to the table.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B

    Kelly Olynyk got off to a slow preseason start after sizzling in summer league, combining for only three made baskets and three total rebounds through his first two games.

    But Olynyk bounced back in Games 3 and 4 after coach Brad Stevens gave him a significant bump in minutes. 

    He scored 13 points on 6-of-16 shooting against Philadelphia and 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting against the Knicks. Olynyk's offensive versatility is his standout quality, as he's proved capable of picking up buckets from nearly every spot on the floor. 

    With deceptive mobility, he's gotten himself a few easy points in transition by beating the defense down the floor. He's also stepped out behind the arc for a pair of threes and scored down low in the post. 

    Olynyk's lack of athleticism limits him as a rebounder, as he's only racked up 11 boards in four games despite his 7'0'' size. He projects more as an offensive specialist than an anchor in the middle, so don't expect his rebounding or shot-blocking numbers to ever jump off the page. 

    But overall, it's been a good start for Olynyk, who appears to be on the right track with a shot to land a spot in the rotation.

Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Grade: C+

    It's tough to fairly grade Shabazz Muhammad's preseason thus far after a six-minute debut, a DNP in Game 2 and only nine minutes of action in Game 4. 

    However, he was effective against the Bucks, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting while going 5-of-6 from the stripe. Muhammad has the ability to finish plays set up for him, but creating them is another story. 

    To no surprise, Muhammad hasn't registered an assist in 36 total preseason minutes after averaging less than one a game at UCLA. 

    Even with Chase Budinger out, it would be hard to imagine Muhammad making much of an impact this season. An ugly summer league makes it tough for his 11-point game to boost his grade much.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B+

    I'm not sure he knows what he's doing yet, but Giannis Antetokounmpo managed to flash his towering upside in a couple of preseason games. 

    The basketball community was already buzzing after his debut, when he went for 14 points, four boards, three blocks, two steals and a three. 

    His ridiculous physical tools were consistently on display at both ends of the floor. Offensively, he got to the line 10 times, attacking defenders in the open floor or slicing through the lane. Defensively, he was a constant disruption. 

    Antetokounmpo followed with a bizarre four-block, seven-rebound, seven-turnover stat line, though he was only able to hit one shot from the floor. 

    Considering the circumstances (moving from Greece's second division to the NBA in just a matter of months), Antetokounmpo has exceeded initial expectations. If it turns out the Bucks aren't a threat to make the playoffs, fans will at least get the opportunity to watch a bright young star in the making. 

    His role for the regular season is unclear, but it's fairly evident that Milwaukee has got itself one of the most unique and promising prospects in recent memory. 

Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    After a quiet debut, Dennis Schroeder went into attack mode in Game 2, finishing 4-of-15 from the floor, along with a game-winner in the closing seconds. 

    Schroeder went for nine points and seven assists, doing an exceptional job of facilitating in the half court and finding his shooters in rhythm. He worked the pick-and-pop to perfection, showing excellent instincts and a willingness to give it up. 

    Tied up on the final possession against Charlotte, Atlanta ran a high ball screen out for Schroeder, which he used to get to the rack and hit a floater in the lane. 

    He still has a ways to go as a scorer, but you have to be impressed with his ability to move the ball and set up teammates for buckets. 

Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls

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    Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images

    Grade: D

    Tony Snell hasn't had much success through three preseason games. He's only made two shots, and despite coming in with a three-point-specialist label, he's yet to hit one from behind the arc. 

    He lacks the ability to create his own shot and therefore relies on ball movement and passing for open looks. It results in stretches where he becomes invisible. He's gotten minutes; Snell just hasn't done much with them. 

    He's only taken 13 shots so far, looking a bit overwhelmed and unsure of himself on the offensive end. 

    The Bulls don't have much depth at the wing, so they might be relying on Snell to find a way to make an impact. He just needs to hit a few shots to get his confidence back up. 

Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Gorgui Dieng really only got one shot so far at making a preseason impact after receiving two DNPs and limited minutes in one other game. 

    But against the Bucks, Dieng was active and productive for 25 minutes. He finished with six points, two of which came on a running hook shot in the lane. Dieng also collected nine rebounds and blocked four shots, showing precise timing as a rim-protector on more than one occasion. 

    Dieng also made a couple of nice passes, something he often did at Louisville. 

    It's only a tiny sample size, but it's nice to know Dieng did something with his one opportunity. 

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B+

    Tim Hardaway Jr. looked awfully good through his first two preseason games after his summer league ended early following a freak wrist injury.

    He went for 16 points in his debut on 3-of-5 shooting from downtown, knocking down the game-winning jumper with under 10 seconds remaining. 

    His ability to play off the ball and free himself up enhances his value as a shot-maker. Hardaway was constantly getting open on the perimeter, where he can catch, gather, rise and fire in one balanced motion. 

    Hardaway knocked down three more three-pointers in his second game and showcased his above-the-rim athleticism in the open floor. 

    He slipped up a bit in Game 3, finishing just 3-of-16 from the floor. Given how perimeter-oriented he is, Hardaway is always vulnerable to having one of these types of nights. He's only taken five free throws so far and averaged less than three per game as a junior at Michigan. 

    But Hardaway did enough good to override the bad through his first preseason action. With J.R. Smith suspended for the first five games of the year, don't be surprised to see Hardaway sneak in some early regular-season minutes.

Archie Goodwin, Phoenix Suns

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    Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

    Grade: B-

    Archie Goodwin opened up strong with 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting against Maccabi Haifa. There's a lot to like about Goodwin, from his size and athleticism to his attacking style of play. 

    He's shown off the mid-range game and his ability to finish inside and on the break. The key for Goodwin will be creating. He's more of a straight-line driver than a guard who can change direction off the dribble, meaning his scoring opportunities will be limited if lanes to the rack get overcrowded. 

    Goodwin didn't do much in Games 2 and 3, but he kept his shot selection conservative and didn't turn the ball over. 

    He's going to need minutes and reps to improve, and with the Suns fighting for lottery position, there's no reason not to give them to him right away. 

Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

    Grade: B-

    Two bad games and a good one? It's enough to earn a grade, as we're only looking for promise in preseason—not consistency. 

    Allen Crabbe shot just 2-of-7 in his first outing, but followed it up strong with a 14-point night on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor. 

    He knocked down two three-pointers, something the Blazers will need him to do if he wants to earn a spot in the rotation right away. 

    Crabbe struggled again in Game 3, as he still lacks the ability to create offense for himself off the dribble. 

    With C.J. McCollum out after breaking his foot, Crabbe could have an unexpected role early on for Portland. And knocking down open shots from outside will be his only true responsibility.

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