Landry Fields and Other Unexpected Rookie Breakouts
It's funny how the NBA Draft works. The lottery—well, the players in the lottery—are often so highly coveted that to think an eighth overall pick won't become a major contributor night in and night out is simply ludicrous. After all, why would such a player have such a high draft stock if their most notable NBA contribution turns out to be that formidably frightening four letter word?
Need a hint? It rhymes with lust, but it's significantly less fun.
Conversely, the considerably high expectations that come with a top selection are virtually non-existent in the later stages of draft. Although this mindset is more than understandable (the NBA does have the least amount of employed athletes out of all four major professional sports), it is also somewhat unfounded, as there have been a number of later round picks that have shined infinitely brighter than the likes of Dajuan Wagner, Mouhamed Sene and Rodney White (who?), all of whom were top-10 draft picks within the last 10 years.
Later round draft gems, though generally considered to be the exception rather than the rule, have consistently provided teams with reliability, longevity and in some cases, even star power. Although Manu Ginobili, Dennis Rodman and Carlos Boozer, all second round draft selections, are among this unexpectedly brilliant cast of characters, they are by no means the only players ever to make it out of the boondocks of the NBA draft.
As for this year's draft class, we've all heard about John Wall, his dance and his virtually limitless potential. But what about everyone else? What about those players, despite not having a song dedicated to them, who have been able to tremendously exceed expectations thus far during this young season?
Without further ado, let's take a look at some of the league's most unexpected rookie surprises. Make no mistake about it; these guys are here to stay.
Landry Fields was the 39th pick in this year's draft. Though considering the way he's been playing, you'd be shocked that he made it past the lottery, let alone the first round.
If it wasn't for some dude named Blake Griffin, Fields would likely be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Simply put, the Stanford alum is playing out his mind. And considering the caliber of school he's coming from, that's not the easiest thing to do.
Fields, who has been in the starting lineup all year, has played a major role in the Knicks' resurgence. His stats have certainly been impressive, as he is currently averaging 10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 2.0 apg in just over 32 minutes per contest. His stats alone, however, do not paint the entire picture that is Landry Fields' impact on this team. Mind you, it's quite a work of art.
On a team that is not exactly known for its defense, Fields has provided some. His gaudy rebounding numbers are not notable because they are high. Rather, they are notable because Fields is a small forward. Small forwards aren't supposed to rebound. Hence the "small."
Furthermore, Landry is averaging only 1.4 turnovers a game, which demonstrates that the rookie sensation does not try to play outside the confines of his game, something that rookies often struggle with.
His hustle, work ethic and high basketball IQ have been prevalent in the Knicks' last two games, both which resulted in victories against two high-caliber teams (Oklahoma City and Chicago). Fields, who recorded a double double in both contests, has already made considerable improvements to his game since opening night, and it is certainly showing.
Moreover, Fields has emerged as somewhat of a fan favorite in New York. Off the court, Fields has managed to find time to keep Knicks faithful updated about life as a rookie through his blog.
Additionally, the rookie has made mention of an upcoming project on which he is collaborating with fellow teammate and rookie Andy Rautins. "The Andy and Landry Show," as it has been cleverly titled, will hopefully make its debut sooner rather than later, as the initiative is bound to be surefire entertainment.
Two years ago, Eric Bledsoe, a highly-touted recruit, committed to Kentucky to play point guard. After Calipari bolted to Kentucky however, John Wall ended up joining him in Lexington, and Bledsoe was shunted to the side.
Except he wasn't. Rather, he made sure he wasn't.
Despite playing in the shadow of arguably the most talented point guard on this side of the year 2000, Bledsoe managed to lock down the starting shooting guard spot at Kentucky, even though his skill set was more catered towards the point position. On a team that featured Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson, Bledsoe still managed to average double digits in the points department, totaling 11.3 points per contest.
Following his freshman season, Bledsoe declared for the draft. Despite his considerable talents, teams were a bit hesitant to select the former Wildcat, as he did not necessarily gain boatloads of experience at the point guard in college, the position he was expected to play in the pros. Thus, he fell out of the lottery and was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder at number 18 before being traded to the Clippers.
The Clippers haven't had the most successful of seasons in terms of wins and losses, but Bledsoe has proven to be instrumental in what appears to be the development of a very good young core, a core that has all the potential to make the Clippers matter someday.
We all know about Blake Griffin, and former Indiana standout Eric Gordon is well on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star. The third wheel in this young cog is Bledsoe, who has even started in some games this year. He is currently averaging an admirable 7.7 ppg and 4.6 apg, and it's likely that he'll take over the starting job sooner rather than later. After all, Baron Davis isn't getting any younger.
The Spurs have a knack for nailing late draft gems. The phenomenon began with the selection of Manu Ginobili in 1999. Manu was the 57th pick in the draft, and is considered one of the best steals in NBA draft history. The trend continued with Tony Parker, who was the 28th selection of the 2002 draft. Last year, the Spurs used their second round pick on DeJuan Blair, who despite not having any ACL's, became a solid contributor off the bench and now finds himself in the starting lineup.
This year, the trend continues. Given San Antonio's post-lottery expertise, it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that Anderson is not the only Spur who made this list.
Following a solid campaign at Oklahoma State, Anderson was widely regarded as one of the draft's better shooters. Unfortunately, while in the midst of pre-draft workouts, Anderson suffered a hamstring injury, causing his stock to fall. He tumbled all the way down to number 20, right in San Antonio's lap.
Anderson's appearance on this list comes a little bit premature, as he has only played in six games thus far due a stress fracture in his right foot. In the games he has played in however, Anderson demonstrated his ability to put points on the board in a hurry, averaging 7.0 ppg in a little under 20 minutes per contest. Additionally, he is shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, something that is not exactly common even among the league's best shooters.
Expected to return in early January, Anderson should bolster an already strong bench. While his fellow teammates may start to feel the wear and tear of the lengthy NBA season, the young Anderson's time out should also help to revitalize him, and will perhaps help him garner increased minutes as the season wears on.
Henry's appearance on this list may be a little bit questionable, as his 12th overall selection falls within the confines of the NBA lottery. Notwithstanding, Henry was both a late lottery selection and has exceeded expectations thus far.
In less than two months, Henry has already usurped OJ Mayo in the Grizzlies' starting lineup. And just for the record, usurping OJ Mayo, the third overall selection only two years ago, is not the easiest of tasks to accomplish.
Henry is proving why he was touted as a top-10 prospect in the Rivals.com 2009 college recruiting class, using his considerable size and shooting touch to his advantage. The still-developing Henry is averaging 5.7 points per contest in 17.4 mpg, both of which are likely to gradually improve as the season wears on. He also demonstrated considerable decision-making skills while on the court, as Henry is averaging only .5 turnovers per contest.
At age 26, Gary Neal is not your prototypical rookie.
After going undrafted in the 2007 NBA draft, Neal played a few years overseas, evidently never losing sight of living the NBA dream. Three years later, Neal was able to accomplish what he had failed to do a few years prior—land an NBA contract.
After an impressive summer league campaign, the Spurs decided to offer Neal a three-year contract. Needless to say, the Spurs are getting their money's worth.
The Towson College alum is averaging 8.1 points in over 17.7 minutes per game. Nowadays however, these statistics are a bit deceiving, especially when taking into account his performance over the past week or so.
In the Spurs' last three games, Neal put up back-to-back 22-point performances, followed by a 16-point outing. His minutes have increased by 10 per game over San Antonio's last five contests, as it appears that Neal has finally found his place in the National Basketball Association. Although this augmented production is in large part due to George Hill's absence, it'd be tough for the Spurs to renege on Neal's increased playing time, especially considering the "What have you done for me lately?" nature of the NBA.