NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Which Young Baller Is Rising to the Top of the Pack?
Thanks to Michael Carter-Williams' return from a foot injury, this week's NBA rookie stock watch is no longer tainted by a high-ranking player occupying a top spot while sidelined.
Legitimacy is restored. Order is preserved. Our long national nightmare is over.
MCW picked up where he left off, which is to say he stuffed stat sheets like a Thanksgiving turkey. Victor Oladipo continued to bring plenty to the table, while Ben McLemore showed off an appetizing collection of skills.
OK, enough with the holiday-centric themes.
The rankings remained volatile this week, particularly in the bottom half. As evidence of that fact, you'll note that no fewer than three players hopped into the top 10 after missing out entirely last time around. And one of them is a lock to rocket up the rankings in a hurry.
Excellent. Let's go.
10. Trey Burke
2013-14 Statistics: 6.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.0 blocks
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Hey, it's Trey Burke! Remember him?
The Utah Jazz's point guard of the future finally got his NBA career started, playing in three games this past week after missing the first 15 because of a broken finger.
The results haven't been spectacular yet, but an 11-point debut (in just 12 minutes) against the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 20 certainly provided hope that the Jazz have a prospect with real potential. Burke actually jumped into the starting lineup against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 23, so it's clear that Utah isn't shying away from giving the rookie plenty of responsibility at an early juncture.
Burke had a rough performance in summer league, which should lead to tempered expectations. But remember, he's going to play more minutes than almost every other first-year player from here on out.
The Jazz are beyond desperate for production from the point guard spot, and with the season already a lost cause, Burke is going to get ample opportunity to learn on the job.
Expect him to climb the rankings rapidly.
9. Mason Plumlee
2013-14 Statistics: 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Brooklyn Nets big man Mason Plumlee is the second consecutive first-timer in this week's rookie rankings, though he's long been a favorite of commenters who are tired of seeing Cody Zeller's name popping up in every edition.
Well, Zeller's out this week, which leaves a spot for one of the only positive stories out of Brooklyn.
In fairness, Plumlee's 19-point, six-rebound game on Nov. 16 should have made him a part of last week's rankings. But he's here now, so hopefully the few remaining Nets fans who haven't already sworn off reading anything about the NBA will offer their forgiveness for the oversight.
The 6'10" big man from Duke has been a highly efficient shooter, hitting almost 64 percent of his shots this season. It certainly doesn't hurt that virtually all of his touches come right at the rim. Point-blank looks do wonders for accuracy.
If Plumlee continues to provide good activity and high-percentage play, he'll likely see his minutes continue to pick up. And if Kevin Garnett's precipitous downward slide doesn't reverse course, we might start to see even more opportunities for the rookie.
8. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
2013-14 Statistics: 7.4 points, 1.8 rebounds. 0.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.0 blocks
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope spent the first three weeks in the top 10 of our rankings, but fell off the list for the first time last week.
After playing at least 23 minutes in each of his past four games, though, KCP has done just enough to earn his way back. He tied his season high with 13 points against the New York Knicks on Nov. 19, then snatched four steals in 28 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 22.
There's no getting around it: The shooting percentages are still ugly. Caldwell-Pope is knocking down just 32.6 percent of his attempts from the field and 25 percent of his tries from long distance.
With Chauncey Billups likely to spend the remainder of his career listed as "day-to-day," KCP is going to continue to get chances to improve his numbers in the starting shooting guard spot with the Detroit Pistons.
And if you're counting, his inclusion makes it three consecutive rookies who've made the rankings after missing out last week.
So, yeah, things have been pretty unpredictable for first-year players so far.
7. Steven Adams
2013-14 Statistics: 4.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 6
He's still tied for the lead in blocks per game among rookies, but a zero-point, zero-rebound effort against the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 18 killed an otherwise decent statistical week for Steven Adams.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's future at the center position grabbed seven boards in back-to-back games to close out the week, proving that all he needs to do serious work on the glass is time on the court. As his offensive game becomes more polished, he'll solidify himself as a legitimate two-way threat.
Adams gets major bonus points this week for the way he reacted to Clippers forward Byron Mullens after the veteran snubbed the rookie's offer of a postgame handshake. Unfazed, Adams shook his own hand and calmly walked off the floor.
Well played, sir. Well played indeed.
6. Vitor Faverani
2013-14 Statistics: 5.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 5
Vitor Faverani continued his maddeningly inconsistent season this past week, mixing in solid performances with ones he'd surely rather forget.
Foul trouble limited him to just five points and five rebounds in a 109-85 loss to the Houston Rockets on Nov. 19, an effort he followed up with two straight scoreless games. But as usual, he turned in a tidy 11-point, five-rebound effort in a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 23 to round out his week.
He even knocked down a three-pointer—his seventh of the season—in that contest.
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens seems committed to using Faverani only when matchups are highly favorable and the big man shows good energy in the early proceedings of games. In other words, it looks like we're in for more of the same up-and-down production from the Brazilian big.
Still, in a relatively weak rookie class, he's done enough to stick around the top 10 much longer than most would have expected when the Celtics picked up the undrafted 25-year-old.
5. Ben McLemore
2013-14 Statistics: 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks
Previous Ranking: 7
Third among all rookies in points per game and finally starting to turn his athleticism into easier scoring chances, Ben McLemore is continuing to tantalize with glimpses of serious talent.
We talk about the perfect form on his jumper all the time, but the shooting guard actually did some good work in the lane this past week. After getting to the line just eight times in this first three weeks in the NBA, McLemore attempted 10 foul shots in his past four games.
In the Kings' 100-86 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 24, McLemore scored 15 points, hitting three triples and putting together a pair of impressive plays on consecutive possessions. In the first sequence, he took advantage of a snoozing Lakers defense, attacking with two quick dribbles from the right elbow, swooping to the hole and slamming down a righty jam.
He covered the distance in the blink of an eye, hinting at the untapped potential he has as an attacking scorer.
The next time down, he sidestepped through the lane, drew contact and finished a layup on the left side while being fouled.
Glimpses, people. These are glimpses. Here's hoping there are more to come.
4. Kelly Olynyk
2013-14 Statistics: 7.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 4
Kelly Olynyk's week had been going pretty darn well. He tossed up nine points and eight rebounds against the Rockets to kick things off on Nov. 19, then played a season-high 37 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 20. He tallied eight points and grabbed eight more rebounds in that one.
But then a collision with Luis Scola in the first half of the Celtics' 97-82 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Nov. 22 resulted in a sprained ankle, which will likely shelve the rookie just as he was starting to look comfortable.
Per Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, head coach Brad Stevens said:
The last I heard was it will be whatever a typical sprained ankle recovery is, a couple of weeks. Maybe there is [an upside] down the road.
He had a little bit of a hamstring that he was dealing with, too. That scares me more because that can become a lingering thing. So sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise when you roll an ankle. Let’s hope that’s the case in Kelly’s situation.
It's a little surprising that Stevens isn't concerned about the effect of Olynyk's injury on his standing in the rookie rankings. You'd think that would be more of an issue.
If Olynyk can't get back in a hurry, he's in for some slippage.
3. Nate Wolters
2013-14 Statistics: 7.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks
Previous Ranking: 3
Nate Wolters has lost some steam since his out-of-nowhere start, but the Milwaukee Bucks point guard still ranks second among rookies in assists and minutes, fifth in steals and fourth in points.
With McLemore starting to show signs of really going on a run, it's possible that Wolters' grip on a top-three spot could be loosening. If the Bucks don't start playing like a respectable NBA team, there's a chance that Larry Drew will continue to shift many of Wolters' minutes over to veteran Luke Ridnour. It may not seem fair to pin the team's struggles on a rookie, but Wolters will have to deal with the consequences.
Plus, with Brandon Knight finally easing back into the rotation as he recovers from a hamstring injury, playing time might become even more scarce for the rookie.
So basically, don't get used to Wolters holding down this position for much longer.
2. Victor Oladipo
2013-14 Statistics: 12.3. points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks
Previous Ranking: 2
On the whole, Victor Oladipo has been an exciting, generally impressive rookie so far. But there are three things preventing him from climbing into the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
First, the turnovers. Keep in mind, Oladipo's profound struggles in the field of ball security aren't surprising. The Magic knew it would be tough for him to adjust to increased responsibilities as a facilitator after playing mostly off the ball in college.
Second, Oladipo's shooting numbers are just hard to look at. He's hitting just 38.6 percent of his shots from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. This past week alone, he had a 5-of-12 effort (with eight turnovers, by the way) against the Miami Heat and a 3-of-12 night against the Suns.
And the third reason Oladipo is stuck at No. 2? Easy: The next guy on the list.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
2013-14 Statistics: 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.9 blocks
Previous Ranking: 1
It was difficult to leave MCW in the top position last week. I mean, the guy only played one game before going down for four straight with a foot injury. He'd earned the position by outplaying his other first-year peers by leaps and bounds, but it was a little sketchy to let him stay on top on the strength of reputation alone.
Fortunately, Carter-Williams went right back to his stat-stuffing ways upon his return on Nov. 20, which makes it much easier to justify his free pass last week.
The Philadelphia 76ers point guard averaged 17 points, 6.7 boards, 6.7 assists and four steals over three games this past week, totally confirming his dominant position as the NBA's best rookie. He even topped it off with a line of 29 points, six rebounds, three assists and seven steals against the mighty Indiana Pacers on Nov. 23.
I'd say he's back.
At this point, it's probably time to stop wondering whether he'll be the top talent from the 2013 draft. That seems like a foregone conclusion at this point. Instead, we might want to devote our attention to figuring out how many All-Star games he's going to make in his career.
I'll set the over-under at five, just to get the discussion started.