Re-Writing Top 2014 NBA Rookie Scouting Reports Three-Quarters Through Season
It's amazing how much you can learn about NBA players when you actually get to watch them play in the NBA.
Predicting the careers of top draft prospects is an inexact science. Scouting reports can tell you what type of basketball a certain guy likes to play, but it's hard to figure out which skills will translate and at what level.
Fortunately, we get to look at these top rookies with three-quarters of their first go-rounds in the Association already in the books. That gives us a clearer indication of the players they'll become, as we no longer have to assume that Kelly Olynyk can continue looking good against stiffer competition. No more do we need to wonder about how much of a problem Trey Burke's diminutive stature might be.
The 2013-14 rookie class is a weak one. There's no doubt about that.
Competition for Rookie of the Year honors has turned into a two-man race with two other fringe contenders, and only a few other first-year players have looked like they belong playing major minutes at the sport's highest level.
We could have guessed something like that prior to the selection process that placed them on their current teams, but now we've seen it for ourselves.
The scouting reports have changed.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current through games played on Thursday, March 13.
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 11.2 PER
If Giannis Antetokounmpo were an MLB player, he'd have been one of those prospects who had the "2017 ETA" tag written all over his preseason scouting report, indicating that he wasn't ready to receive even a cup of coffee in the big leagues for years to come.
So much for that.
"The Greek Freak" has shattered the expectations and made it quite clear that he's leaving his expected timetable in the dust, just as he's doing with his draft-day height. Antetokounmpo has already grown well past 6'9", and his basketball instincts have made him a regular contributor for the Milwaukee Bucks.
At this stage of his career, his primary contributions will come on defense, where he can use his lanky arms and athleticism to wreak havoc on the schemes of the opposing team. Not only does he settle into a wonderful defensive stance when guarding a man in isolation, but he has the innate ability to recover quickly and swat shots away.
Offensively, Antetokounmpo has also shown signs of stardom, even if they're fewer and further between.
The 19-year-old has preternatural cutting instincts that allow him to take advantage of the defense in plenty of situations, and occasional flashes of a three-point stroke and ball-handling skills have been popping up with increasing frequency.
Superstardom is still the ceiling for The Greek Freak, but it won't take him too long to become a legitimate NBA starter.
Team: Utah Jazz
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.8 PER
Forget about Trey Burke's height.
The Michigan product may stand 6'0" on a good day, but his vertical challenges aren't going to hold him back on the offensive end. He's a slithery ball-handler who can maneuver through the teeth of the defense without losing control of the rock, and he shows good decision-making when surrounded by enemies.
His shooting touch is a bit more problematic.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, Burke has shot only 35.4 percent when he's driving to the basket. He just doesn't have that knack for finishing quite yet, and that doesn't look good when paired with him shooting only 33.6 percent from downtown.
"(Allen Iverson) was a guy that I watched a lot. I think I did imitate him a lot at a young age," Burke told Jody Genessy of the Deseret News. "He was one of those guys who was just a special player, his size and he was able to score on pretty much anybody."
But as Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin pointed out to Genessy, Burke still has a lot of work to do before he can draw comparisons to AI. Namely, he must get better finishing around the rim and working his way through contact.
The signs are there. Burke plays basketball in an aesthetically pleasing manner and has showcased passing skills that are already better than many expected when he left Michigan behind.
But until the efficiency gets up to speed, he won't be able to steer the Utah Jazz to a winning record.
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.0 PER
Michael Carter-Williams is quite clearly more than a player who's going to rack up points and assists in transition. He's also proven readily able to create offense in the half-court set, even if that was one of his biggest weaknesses at Syracuse.
Unfortunately, the prohibitive favorite for Rookie of the Year hasn't shored up his other notable weakness—a broken shooting stroke.
On the season, he's shooting just 39.5 percent from the field and 27.3 percent beyond the arc, but things have been even worse lately. Fatigue and a distinct lack of offensive help on the Philadelphia 76ers have both factored into these numbers, but MCW has shot only 37.1 percent from the field and 20.4 percent from three-point range over his past 20 games.
Still, if the 2013 draft were held once more, Carter-Williams would be a serious threat to go No. 1. In fact, he'd probably be the favorite—thanks to his scorching start and play when both Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes blessed Philly with actual NBA talent.
He's a leader, an offensive stud capable of contributing with his scoring and passing, an above-average rebounder for a point guard and a player with a knack for peskiness on the defensive end of the court. During a year with a distinctly weak draft class, it's hard to ask for much more than that.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Team: New York Knicks
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.8 PER
Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to be more than just a role player.
First, let's break down his potential to become a "3-and-D" standout.
According to 82games.com, the rookie swingman has spent the majority of his time guarding shooting guards and small forwards, and he's held those positions to respective player efficiency ratings of 15.5 and 12.6. However, Basketball-Reference shows that the New York Knicks are allowing an additional 6.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court, indicating that he still has a lot of work to do on his team defense.
There's potential for great play on that side of the court, but it's a process.
As for his perimeter shooting, that's already there. Hardaway is taking 4.4 three-point attempts per game, and he's making 37.7 percent of his looks. To put that into perspective, only 20 players (including Hardaway) have ever taken at least four triples per contest as rookies and connected on more than 37 percent of them.
"3 and D?" Check.
But Hardaway can be more than that, as he's shown an ability to create a few shots off the bounce, and he thrives when using his athleticism to attack the basket.
Twenty-three players may have been selected before this particular Michigan product, but that looks foolish at this stage of Hardaway's young career.
Team: Orlando Magic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.6 PER
Victor Oladipo was never much of a point guard during his time at Indiana.
He thrived as an off-ball shooting guard who crashed to the hoop constantly and loved hitting outside shots with his vastly improved jumper. However, the Orlando Magic seemed intent on playing him as a combo guard when they selected him in the 2014 NBA draft.
The jumper has disappeared, but Oladipo's passing skills are far more advanced than most thought when he was entering the Association.
During his final season with the Hoosiers, Oladipo reached five assists on only five separate occasions, topping out at 60 cents worth of dimes against Coppin State on Dec. 1, 2012. This season, he's averaging four assists per game, and he's done far more damage with his passing skills than ever before.
Not only has 'Dipo already reached the five-assist benchmark 21 times in his rookie season for the Magic, he's hit double figures five times. Hell, he's even recorded a triple-double and come remarkably close on a second occasion, finishing with 30 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists in a double-overtime victory over the New York Knicks on Feb. 21.
This speaks volumes about his development, and it's quite clear that playing him as a combo guard is not a mistake.
Now, if only that jumper would develop and help complement his immense defensive potential.
Team: Boston Celtics
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 13.6 PER
If you had watched Kelly Olynyk play earlier this season, you surely expected something a little quieter. Maybe a silent layup or a peaceful pull-up jumper. But when he caught the basketball on the right wing, this time, he increased the volume. He took off from about two feet outside of the no-charge zone and finished an and-one finger roll over Pistons forward Jonas Jerebko.
That was Jay King of MassLive.com describing a recent highlight from Kelly Olynyk, one that underscored the improved nature of his game.
Forget about the transition from Gonzaga to the ranks of the Association. Olynyk has spent his rookie season developing at a turtle's pace, but at least he's been steadily improving. And in the proverbial race, the turtle is supposed to beat the hare.
Confidence now defines the rookie's game just as much as his finesse. He's incredibly gifted with the ball in his hands, which allows the Boston Celtics to run things through him with increasing frequency. Not only is he able to connect on jumpers or confuse opponents around the basket, but his passing stands out in a positive way.
Additionally, the long-haired center has been a much better rebounder than expected.
He's averaging 4.9 rebounds per game, which translates to 9.3 boards per 36 minutes. Compare that to his numbers with the Bulldogs, when he grabbed 10 per 36 minutes during his final season in the weak WCC.
Defense is still a work in progress, but perfection was never expected from this surging rookie.
Non-Elite Rookie Quick Hits
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
A tough, bruising big man, Adams has received more playing time than anyone expected him to earn during his rookie season. He's been a solid physical presence, but it's still going to take a few years before he becomes a quality contributor for extended stretches.
Pero Antic, Atlanta Hawks
The 31-year-old rookie has made Macedonia proud during his first go-round with the Atlanta Hawks. Especially during a season in which big men have dropped like flies in the ATL, Antic's court-stretching abilities have been a pleasant surprise.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Is it too soon to call him a bust? McLemore's picture-perfect shooting form and jaw-dropping feats of athleticism haven't translated into quality play for the Kings, and it's not like they've kept him away from opportunities to thrive.
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
A tremendous energy guy with a flair for the no-look reverse dunk, the younger of the two Plumlees in the Association has shown solid upside during his first season in the Barclays Center. It's tough to envision him becoming more than a low-level starter, but his floor is also higher than most rookie big men.
Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
The cerebral and sneaky-athletic second-round pick continues to prove that he was a draft-day steal. Although part of his success stems from the Milwaukee Bucks needing a healthy, NBA-caliber body at point guard, Wolters is proving that he could turn into one of the gems of a weak draft class.
Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
The confidence is coming for Zeller, who has only been able to show brief spurts of athleticism and offensive prowess. Adjusting to the speed of the NBA has proved difficult for this young member of the Charlotte frontcourt, but signs of rapid improvement have been starting to pop up with increasing frequency.