NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Can Anyone Topple an Injured Michael Carter-Williams?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 18, 2013

NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Can Anyone Topple an Injured Michael Carter-Williams?

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    A foot injury limited Philadelphia 76ers rookie Michael Carter-Williams to just one game this past week, and it wasn't anything to write home about. That means the rest of the NBA's top rookies had a perfect opportunity to make a run at the king.

    Victor Oladipo's ongoing learning experience with the Orlando Magic produced mixed results, while a pair of Boston Celtics rookies swapped positions this week. Could any of those three players have done enough to knock MCW from his pedestal?

    Elsewhere in the rankings, a physical freak makes his debut, Anthony Bennett is still nowhere to be seen and Steven Adams insists on making me regret elevating him to the No. 3 spot last week.

    Let's check out the movers and shakers in this week's rookie stock watch.


    *All stats accurate through games played Nov. 17.

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    2013-14 Statistics: 4.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Previous Ranking: Unranked 

    Stock: Up


    I don't care if he only averages 14.6 minutes per game for the Milwaukee Bucks; it's time Giannis Antetokounmpo cracked the top 10.

    Maybe his inclusion is a little premature. Maybe it's just an excuse to show the clip above that gives a sense of his otherworldly length and speed. So what?

    But Caron Butler's shoulder sprain will lead to more playing time for the Greek rookie in the near future. And keep in mind that Antetokounmpo currently ranks 12th among rookies in scoring while shooting 50 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from long range.

    So, he's got some decent credentials to go along with his off-the-charts potential.

    If he takes advantage of the minutes that are suddenly available to him, it's possible Antetokounmpo will carve out a more permanent position here.

9. Tim Hardaway Jr.

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    2013-14 Statistics: 7.9 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.0 blocks

    Previous Ranking: Unranked

    Stock: Up


    Last week, Tim Hardaway Jr. slipped out of the rankings for the first time all season. And while his return to the top 10 is at least partially owed to the underwhelming performances of guys like Gal Mekel and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (both of whom dropped out of the top 10), Hardaway's solid scoring numbers also helped him reclaim a position.

    In the three games since last week's rankings, Hardaway has averaged 10 points per contest on 10-of-18 shooting from the field. He also knocked down 5-of-7 from long range.

    It's difficult for the Knicks to play Hardaway at the 3 because they're generally giving up size at other positions. With J.R. Smith back in the guard rotation, the rookie might see his minutes dip in the near future. Then again, Smith has been abysmal so far, which could eventually cause Mike Woodson to lean more heavily on the rookie.

    And if James Dolan takes out his frustrations with the team by trading Iman Shumpert, even more playing time could become available.

    Hardaway's productivity will be tied to his opportunities. So, his future ranking is very much up in the air. For now, he's back in the top 10 where he belongs.

8. Cody Zeller

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    2013-14 Statistics: 5.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 9

    Stock: Up


    Credit Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford for limiting Cody Zeller to just seven minutes against the Miami Heat on Nov. 16.

    The rookie had just put together two solid games in a row against the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, so it was probably wise to spare him the confidence-sapping task of playing heavy minutes against the defending champs.

    Zeller moves up one spot from last week largely on the strength of his eight-point, nine-rebound effort against the Celtics on Nov. 13. In that game, he struggled from the field but worked his way to the line four times, hitting all of his attempts.

    He was similarly active on the defensive end, snatching two steals and blocking one shot.

    These are all modest numbers in the grand scheme of NBA statistics, but given the generally underwhelming contributions of this year's rookies, they're actually not so bad.

    Zeller will continue to struggle against stronger bigs, but if he utilizes his quickness and stays active, he'll remain a solid first-year option. And if he manages to log more than seven minutes the next time the Bobcats face the Heat, we'll know he's taken a step forward in the eyes of his coach.

7. Ben McLemore

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    2013-14 Statistics: 7.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 7

    Stock: Steady


    Sacramento Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore holds steady at No. 7 this week despite a three-game sample that only accelerated the downward trajectory of his shooting numbers.

    McLemore made just 5-of-20 shots this past week, a result that just doesn't seem possible when watching his picture-perfect jumper. Yet here he is, nine games into his NBA career and boasting a 37.9 percent accuracy rate from the field.

    On the bright side, the Kansas product handed out a pair of assists in all three games he played and continued to show better commitment on the boards.

    Head coach Mike Malone has injected McLemore into the first unit in each of the Kings' last two games, a role that should help his production going forward. We'll see if he takes advantage.

6. Steven Adams

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    2013-14 Statistics: 5.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.2 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 3

    Stock: Down


    I'll admit it: I'm a firm believer in Steven Adams' potential to become the best rookie in this class. It's a crazy thing to think, I know, but this guy has the motor and physical skills to someday become a high-impact force on the defensive end.

    And if he learns to play with a bit more patience on the other end, he can become a devastating pick-and-roll big man who wreaks havoc on the offensive glass. Suffice it to say, there's a lot to like here.

    Even Adams' bad games are impressive. He went 0-of-4 from the field against the Bucks on Nov. 16, but he grabbed seven boards and blocked a pair of shots in just 14 minutes.

    Still, in the interest of objectivity, Adams has to slip a few notches this week because he couldn't get off the bench against the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 14 and turned in a ho-hum performance against the Los Angeles Clippers the night before that.

    Rest assured, though; Kendrick Perkins is on borrowed time as the Oklahoma City Thunder center.

5. Vitor Faverani

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    2013-14 Statistics: 6.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 5

    Stock: Steady


    Vitor Faverani found himself back in the starting lineup against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 16, and although the Boston Celtics suffered a blowout loss, the Brazilian big man did plenty to justify a more permanent position with the first unit.

    Starting ahead of fellow rookie Kelly Olynyk, Faverani totaled nine points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, three steals, an assist and made a pair of threes in 27 minutes. If these rankings reflected fantasy values, that stat line would have rocketed Faverani toward the No. 1 spot.

    As it is, Faverani has been good enough to complicate the Celtics' center position. Coach Brad Stevens doesn't seem interested in starting Olynyk and Faverani together, so the two rookies might be in for a platoon situation in the future.

    Neither is established enough to complain about such an arrangement, but it's going to be difficult for them to develop as quickly if their roles remain unpredictable.

4. Kelly Olynyk

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    2013-14 Statistics: 7.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 6

    Stock: Up


    We just spent a few hundred words chronicling Vitor Faverani's usurpation of Kelly Olynyk's starting spot. So, how is it that the latter checks in above the former in this week's rankings?

    Well, some of it has to do with the fluid situation in Boston. Just because Faverani started the Celtics' last game doesn't mean he'll start their next one. More importantly, though, Olynyk put together a performance on Nov. 11 that showcased the kind of all-around threat he might someday become.

    In a 120-105 drubbing of the Orlando Magic, Olynyk piled up 16 points, seven boards and five assists on 7-of-9 shooting in just 26 minutes. He even hit a couple of threes, finally rediscovering the perimeter stroke that made him so dangerous in the summer league.

    If it weren't for the hair, he'd probably be No. 3 on this week's rankings. That 'do is just inexcusable.

3. Nate Wolters

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    2013-14 Statistics: 8.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 4

    Stock: Up


    So, this whole "Nate Wolters plays major minutes in the NBA" thing is for real, huh?

    The Bucks have lost five games in a row, which partly explains why there hasn't been much buzz surrounding Wolters' improbable run of solid play. But his teammates appreciate his work.

    According to Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, teammate O.J. Mayo has been quick to credit the rookie point guard for his own hot shooting:

    "Open shots," Mayo said of his success so far this season. "Created by him (point guard Nate Wolters). Passes have been on time, on target, and it's my job to knock them down."

    Wolters has shot the ball horribly himself, knocking down just 2-of-18 attempts from long range. But as a low-mistake game manager, what he's done in the early going this year has been impressive.

    Luke Ridnour is back in the rotation, and Brandon Knight will eventually feel confident enough in his bad hamstring to take back a few minutes at the point. Over the next few weeks, the rookie should see his playing time begin to vanish.

    He's been excellent since being pressed into duty, though. His reward is the No. 3 spot.

2. Victor Oladipo

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    2013-14 Statistics: 11.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 2

    Stock: Steady


    Victor Oladipo is learning on the job, which will probably serve him well in the long run. Right now, though, he's having a rough go of things.

    In each of his three games this past week, the Magic rookie scored in double figures. But he made just 14-of-39 shots in the process. And against the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 16, he committed nine turnovers, offsetting an otherwise decent 10-point, six-assist effort.

    For his part, Oladipo is starting to feel some of the weight of the long season ahead of him. After his rough finish against the Mavs, his comments belied shaken confidence and a firm resolve.

    Per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Oladipo said:

    It's just tough sometimes, because at the end of the day, you just want to win, and you want the best for your team and yourself. So, it's just tough. I've just got to keep learning, keep grinding.

    There's almost no question that Oladipo has been the second-best rookie all season long. His resiliency and determination will help him hold onto that position.

    But the fact that he couldn't take advantage of a golden opportunity to catch the guy ahead of him has to be disappointing...assuming he's an avid reader of the rookie rankings.

1. Michael Carter-Williams

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    2013-14 Statistics: 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 2.6 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Previous Ranking: 1

    Stock: Steady


    Because he's missed three straight games with a foot injury, there's actually a decent argument to be made for MCW to slip in this week's rankings. After all, the only game he played after last week's list was a 2-of-11 disaster against the San Antonio Spurs.

    But consider this: Carter-Williams has still played more total minutes than any other rookie. His per-game statistics remain leaps and bounds ahead of the field, and combined with the fact that he has also contributed the most production from a volume standpoint, it's just too difficult to drop him.

    If his foot injury were more serious, maybe the case to demote him from the No. 1 spot would be stronger. But it's going to take much more than a few missed games to justify giving the top position to another player.

    MCW has been the NBA's best rookie by an enormous margin. He still deserves to sit atop the rankings this week.