NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Is Michael Carter-Williams Losing Grip on No. 1 Spot?
Nearly two months have elapsed since the last edition of the NBA Rookie Stock Watch, and a lot has changed since Grant Hughes went over how the best first-year players stacked up.
Don't worry, though, because we're here to sort it all out.
As Hughes wrote, "These rankings look at a combination of season-long performance and recent play, with a little extra emphasis on the latter."
In this case, recent play will be defined as what took place in February, both before and after the All-Star break. What happened prior to the second month of the year certainly matters, but a stock can only rise so high or sink so low based on what's gone down lately.
There are plenty of new faces in this edition, especially near the bottom of the rankings. However, while the old guard remains at the top, the Rookie of the Year race is tightening. There are now three horses left in the competition, though a fourth is attempting to insert his name into the proceedings and coming up just shy.
Is Michael Carter-Williams still the league's most productive rookie? Are Trey Burke and Victor Oladipo closing the gap or perhaps passing the Philadelphia 76ers floor general?
What's the latest news on Giannis Antetokounmpo?
For the answers to all those questions and plenty more, you'll have to read on.
10. Archie Goodwin
Team: Phoenix Suns
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 3.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.4 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 7.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 steals
As Sean Sullivan makes perfectly clear for Bright Side of the Sun, Archie Goodwin has always been viewed by the Phoenix Suns organization as a long-term investment:
Archie Goodwin, the 29th draft pick in the 2013 draft, has always been considered an investment for the future since he was first picked by the Suns. The Suns' front office believed that the then 18 year-old Goodwin had blue-chip talent and would have been a lottery pick in the 2014 draft if he had stayed at Kentucky another year.
Knowing that it would take time to develop Archie's skill set and polish his game was part of the plan. The Suns have been bringing him along very slowly this season, without expectations or pressure, giving him mostly spot minutes on the court and sending him to the D-League on a couple of assignments to give him extra playing time.
Lately, though, Goodwin has received quite a bit of action.
He thrived against the Utah Jazz on Feb. 26, recording 16 points, seven rebounds, one assist, one block and two steals on 6-of-10 shooting. The young shooting guard was the beneficiary of an injury-riddled lineup, but the important part is that he took advantage of his opportunity.
Goodwin played in only five of the Suns' 12 games during February, and that was just about in line with what happened the month before.
However, he's looked quite solid whenever he's stepped onto the court. That's enough for him to just barely sneak by Ryan Kelly and Nate Wolters, thereby working his way into the top 10.
Verdict: Stock up
9. Cody Zeller
Team: Charlotte Bobcats
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.5 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.8 steals
Slowly but surely, Cody Zeller is starting to put together the various pieces that made him such an intriguing prospect while he was still dominating at Indiana.
He's playing better defense, for one. Not only are the blocks and steals coming with more frequency, but the young power forward hasn't appeared quite as overmatched when he's squaring off with one of the better big men the Association has to offer.
Additionally, he's playing offense with much more confidence.
Rather than treating the ball like it's a hot potato, Zeller is passing it to advantageous positions, which resulted in him averaging a career-high 1.5 assists per game during February. He's also attacking the basket, drawing more contact by going off the dribble rather than just settling for mid-range jumpers.
Still, Zeller has a lot of work to do.
The 21-year-old rookie's shot has completely deserted him during his first go-round with the Charlotte Bobcats, and that hasn't changed throughout the season. He shot 40.8 percent from the field during February, and that was actually the best monthly mark of his career.
Zeller is trending in the right direction, but the trend can't stop anytime soon.
Verdict: Stock up
8. Tony Snell
Team: Chicago Bulls
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.4 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 steals
Tom Thibodeau has been forced into trusting Tony Snell, but it hasn't backfired for the Chicago Bulls, who remain one of the hottest teams in the NBA thanks to their utter dominance on the defensive end of the court.
With Luol Deng on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Snell, Mike Dunleavy and Jimmy Butler are the only players truly capable of lining up on the wings, and that's resulted in steady playing time for the rookie out of New Mexico.
Fortunately, he hasn't let the team down.
Snell's shooting from beyond the three-point arc has improved throughout his first season in the Association, and he knocked down 37.5 percent of his perimeter looks during February. And even that hasn't been his primary contribution, as the former Lobo has thrived on the defensive end.
According to 82games.com, he's held opposing shooting guards and small forwards to respective player efficiency ratings of 10.4 and 12.1.
Those are elite numbers.
About the only glaring weakness in Snell's game has been his chest-bumping with Joakim Noah.
Verdict: Stock neutral
7. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 6.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals
Giannis Antetokounmpo is still brimming over with potential, even if it hasn't been manifesting itself in his play quite as often during his most recent outings. The Milwaukee Bucks aren't exactly failing to give him plentiful amounts of run during the average game, but it appears as though the rookie wall is starting to affect the Greek Freak.
Basically, Antetokounmpo has been taking advantage of weak defenses.
On Feb. 24, for example, he was granted a juicy matchup against the pitiful Philadelphia 76ers, and he responded accordingly. The 19-year-old swingman finished the blowout victory with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and four blocks, shooting 5-of-8 from the field.
However, he's struggled each of the last two times the Bucks were forced to square off with the Indiana Pacers.
Regardless of the opponent, the Greek phenom has shown plenty of flashes of potential, lately courtesy of his ridiculous blocking skills.
Problem is, they're not coming quite as frequently.
Verdict: Stock down
6. Mason Plumlee
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.6 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 8.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.9 steals
During the last three games of February, Mason Plumlee provided quite the spark for the Brooklyn Nets.
Helping his team beat the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets with a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers sandwiched in between, he averaged 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting a scorching 57.9 percent from the field.
It's his energy that has just been absolutely contagious.
Plumlee knows he's an athlete, and he acts accordingly. The former Duke standout is never afraid to showcase his athleticism, and the reverse throwdown seems to be becoming his trademark slam.
"We don't have a crystal ball," head coach Jason Kidd told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News earlier in the same month, "but he brings youth, athletic ability, fresh legs, the ability to catch and finish, and you can see the hard work he’s put in since the summer."
Apparently, he just keeps putting in the necessary work.
Verdict: Stock up
5. Kelly Olynyk
Team: Boston Celtics
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 blocks, 0.5 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 8.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.2 blocks, 0.5 steals
It's too late for Kelly Olynyk to insert his name into the Rookie of the Year race, but there's plenty of time left for him to showcase his skills and prove that he'll be a major part of the Boston Celtics frontcourt for the foreseeable future.
He has his own explanation, as relayed to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett:
Yeah, I mean, he's such a good passer, such a good playmaker. And he's really a dual threat. He can score the ball way better than I think people realize. I didn't know he could score that well. Defenses have to respect him, and he sees everything and everybody on the floor.
It's unbelievable. He sees where you should be, and if you go there, he's going to get you the ball, you know?
He sees plays before they happen, so if you see the same play before it happens, you can be really good with him.
The antecedent of all those third-person pronouns? That would be Rajon Rondo, who has done wonders for Olynyk's development ever since returning from his torn ACL.
Even while he was at Gonzaga, Olynyk showed a preternatural ability for understanding floor spacing. He knew exactly where to go when the ball wasn't in his hands, and it's helped tremendously to play alongside a point guard who thinks the same way.
Verdict: Stock up
4. Tim Hardaway Jr.
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.5 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.0 blocks, 0.5 steals
Extra playing time hasn't treated Tim Hardaway Jr. too kindly.
On one hand, he's posting better per-game numbers than ever before. Hardaway even got a chance to start one game, and he's responded to the extra playing time by posting monthly highs in points and rebounds.
However, his efficiency has plummeted.
During February, the Michigan product has done what every member of the New York Knicks other than Carmelo Anthony has done throughout the 2013-14 season—he's struggled. Hardaway shot only 37 percent from the field last month, and just 30.1 percent of his three-point attempts managed to find the bottom of the net.
Part of the problem is that he stopped attacking the basket. Despite playing nearly 13 more minutes per game than he did in January, Hardaway actually spent less time at the charity stripe.
It's time for him to stop looking to J.R. Smith for advice. Don't rely solely on jump shooting, and get back in the habit of trying to get to the rim.
Verdict: Stock down
3. Trey Burke
Team: Utah Jazz
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.6 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 0.1 blocks, 0.4 steals
The Utah Jazz continue to win games at a higher rate than expected, but Trey Burke has had trouble maintaining his individual numbers.
In fact, the difference between his January and February per-game stats is pretty striking:
Two factors have contributed to his decline.
First, Burke's jumper has completely deserted him. Coming into the NBA, the former Michigan standout's height (6'1") and its possible effect on his scoring numbers was considered one of his biggest weaknesses. And when he can't scare defenses with his outside shot, there's a severe trickle-down effect throughout the rest of his offensive game.
Secondly, he's just not as involved.
Both his assists and turnovers are down as other members of the Jazz are increasing their own responsibilities.
Here's one more chart, this time courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
The turnover percentage is positive, but everything else pales in comparison to what he did during the first month of 2014.
This, just in case you were curious, is what the rookie wall looks like.
Verdict: Stock down
2. Victor Oladipo
Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.6 blocks, 1.7 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.9 steals
"The big surprise and change for Oladipo has been the increased threat he now poses off the dribble—primary a finisher in college, Oladipo has evolved into a legitimate playmaker," writes B/R's Jonathan Wasserman. "With a more refined handle, he's facilitating pick-and-rolls, driving and dishing to shooters and picking up assists within the offense."
Victor Oladipo's confidence as a playmaker is absolutely shocking, but we also can't overlook the improvements he's made when shooting jumpers. It's a major part of the reason that his three-point percentage skyrocketed to 40.0 percent during February.
To put that in perspective, the first-year combo guard's previous monthly high came in November, when he shot 33.3 percent beyond the arc.
On top of that, he also recently put together one of the more memorable performances by a rookie. Granted, it came against the New York Knicks, but Oladipo did record 30 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists during a double-overtime victory.
As ESPN pointed out, he joined Penny Hardaway as one of only two rookies in Orlando Magic history to record multiple games with at least 20 points and 10 assists.
Verdict: Stock up
1. Michael Carter-Williams
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.7 blocks, 2.0 steals
February Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.9 blocks, 1.0 steals
When you fly as high as Michael Carter-Williams did at the beginning of his first go-round in the Association, you're bound to come crashing back to the ground at some point.
"Some point" would be arriving for MCW.
Despite spending slightly more time on the court than he did in January, Carter-Williams didn't exactly thrive during February. He shot only 38.4 percent from the field, 18.5 percent beyond the arc and 69.7 percent at the charity stripe.
On top of that, he averaged a career-worst 4.6 turnovers per game while recording fewer rebounds and assists than ever before.
MCW has enough of a cushion that he remains in the leading spot, but his grip on No. 1 is tenuous at best. Only a narrow margin now separates him and Oladipo.
Verdict: Stock down