NBA Rookie Report Cards: Stacking the Top 10 in the Inaugural Edition

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterNovember 24, 2014

NBA Rookie Report Cards: Stacking the Top 10 in the Inaugural Edition

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    Jordan Johnson/Getty Images

    It's been a rough start for most of the 2014 NBA rookies. Whether it's due to youth, overcrowding or injuries, there aren't many getting regular minutes.

    Only two of this year's rookies are averaging double digits in scoring.

    On the bright side, there are a few rookies who've surprisingly managed to find the floor and ultimately a spot in their respective rotation. 

    We rounded up the top 10 rookie performers so far and graded each based on four criteria—the eye test, efficiency, production and upside—using a 1-10 scale. 

    The eye test measures how comfortable a player looks and how he seems to fit into the game.

    Efficiency is self-explanatory—field-goal percentage and turnovers are the biggest factors in determining each rookie's efficiency score.

    Production is all about stats.

    And the upside score measures the potential that particular rookie has flashed early on. Scoring a 10 in the upside category would suggest the next coming of Anthony Davis. 

    Each player's final score out of 40 correlates to a letter grade:

    Grading Scale:

    A+: 40-38

    A:   37-35

    A-:  34-32 

    B+: 31-29

    B:   28-26

    B-:  25-23

    C+: 22-20

10. Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets, SF

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    The experience Kostas Papanikolaou has had overseas while being stashed there since the 2012 draft appears to be paying off.

    At 24 years old, he looks like a legitimate NBA contributor—a crafty jack-of-all-trades forward who can knock down shots and pass. 

    Papanikolaou's lack of athleticism shows up at the rim, where he's shooting just 33.3 percent, but he's hit 18 three-pointers in 13 games while averaging 2.8 assists in each. 

    He's gone for at least 14 points and four assists twice in the past two weeks. More importantly, he's playing 25.3 minutes per game for one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

    And that holds value during the top-10 ranking process.

    Eye Test Grade: 6.5/10

    Efficiency Grade: 3/10

    Production Grade: 5.5/10

    Upside Grade: 5/10

    Total: 20

    Final Grade: C+

9. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic, PG

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    It's been a little bit of a struggle for Elfrid Payton, whose inefficiency has overshadowed his five-assists-per-game average.

    Payton has shown a nice feel as a facilitator, whether it's hitting the roll or pop man off ball screens, finding his shooters off drives or whipping an entry pass into Nikola Vucevic down low. 

    But as a scorer, he hasn't quite found a comfort zone given his 37.7 percent field-goal clip.

    He's been pretty inept around the rim, where he's making just 40.7 percent of his shots. And despite having trouble finishing among the trees, a whopping 63.2 percent of his shots are coming within 10 feet of the hoop. 

    That can help explain his ugly field-goal percentage. And it's also a reflection of just how much confidence he lacks on the perimeter, where he's hit nine total jump shots (only one three-pointer) at a 25 percent clip.

    At this stage, he's more comfortable scoring off one foot than playing off two, and that's something he'll need to change as he develops. 

    Payton is actually coming off two of his strongest games of the year—he went for 16 points and five assists in a win over Charlotte and nine points, four assists and five steals against Miami. Maybe he's on the rise, but it's not enough to save his first grade.

    Eye Test Grade: 6/10

    Efficiency Grade: 4.5/10

    Production Grade: 5/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 22 

    Final Grade: C+

8. Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat, PG

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Shabazz Napier has started to find his groove a little bit with Norris Cole and Dwyane Wade out of the lineup. He's now racked up five double-digit scoring games in a row while shooting at least 50 percent from the floor in four of them. 

    His assist average (2.7 a game) isn't overwhelming, but the Heat are looking for offensive firepower in any way they can get it off the bench. 

    And Napier has been hot as of late, torching defenses from the perimeter, where he's eight of 16 in the mid-range and a lights out 41 percent from downtown. 

    However, questionable decision-making has weighed on his efficiency early on. He's averaging 2.2 turnovers in 22.9 minutes a game. 

    Still, through about a month of NBA games, Napier looks just how many projected he would—like a solid backup point guard in training. 

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 5.5/10

    Production Grade: 5/10

    Upside Grade: 5/10

    Total: 22.5

    Final Grade: B-

7. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers, PF/C

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    It hasn't come easy to Nerlens Noel, who's averaging just 7.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting through 11 games. His raw offensive skills and lack of polish have stood out, and without the ability to create, he's struggled to find quality looks in a lineup that lacks playmakers and setup men.

    Noel hasn't been very strong around the rim anyway, where he's shooting just 56 percent. Credit a 228-pound frame and some shaky touch.

    What's troublesome is that finishing around the rim has always been Noel's bread and butter. Considering he's not much of a threat away from it—Noel has only made four shots further than eight feet—he's going to have trouble scoring points unless he develops that low-post game and adds some muscle. 

    Defensively, Noel is blocking 1.3 shots per game, but he's allowing the opposition to shoot 56.8 percent within 10 feet from the rim. 

    His best outing as a pro came on his last one prior to report cards, when he went for 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Knicks. We saw a couple of jump hooks and nice finishes in traffic. A few more of those by the next report card will result in a higher overall grade.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 4/10

    Production Grade: 5/10

    Upside Grade: 7.5/10

    Total: 23.5

    Fina Grade: B-

6. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz, PG

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dante Exum has looked skilled and poised at some points, and at others, he's looked 19 years old.

    But his role in Utah's offense has been far different from anything he's experienced before. After dominating the ball in Australia, Exum now finds himself looking at a lowly 15.1 percent usage rate, which calls for a lot of spotting up and ball-moving as opposed to playmaking.

    Of his 4.6 field-goal attempts per game, 2.4 of them are of the catch-and-shoot variety, where he's connecting at a 33.3 percent clip and making .8 three-pointers a game. These aren't numbers to boast about, but his shot-making range and mechanics certainly look promising.  

    "Dante Exum, consistent 3-point shooter, is a scary proposition. Maybe not this year or next, but I think he'll get there," ESPN's analytics guru Kevin Pelton tweeted

    With the ball in his hands, which is where Exum will eventually pose as the toughest matchup down the road, he's shown a nice feel facilitating as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He has strong passing instincts and a willingness to dish before score.

    On the downside, he's not getting to the basket often in the half court, where his 3.1 points per 48 minutes off drives ranks relatively low for a guard. And Exum's in-between game has essentially been nonexistent—he's yet to hit a mid-range jumper all season.

    We shouldn't have been expecting much coming in, given the presence of Trey Burke and Exum's background and inexperience. I wouldn't be too worried with his lack of production or efficiency. Exum scores high on the eye and upside test.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 5/10

    Production Grade: 5/10

    Upside Grade: 8/10

    Total: 25

    Final Grade: B-

5. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets, SF

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    USA TODAY Sports

    He's been streaky, but Bojan Bogdanovic has emerged as an important member of Brooklyn's rotation. 

    Bogdanovic has had some really impressive moments sandwiched between a few absolute duds. He failed to record a field goal in three of his last five games but combined for 41 points total in the other two. 

    But overall, his 9.9 points per game is actually third among rookies, and he remains the only one playing at least 30 minutes a night.

    In terms of his role, nearly half (48.2 percent) of Bogdanovic's shots come on catch-and-shoot opportunities. And quite frankly, his 35.2 percent conversion rate on these looks isn't very impressive, but he has shown versatile shot-making ability from practically every spot on the floor. Bogdanovic has hit seven left corner threes, four right corner threes, eight above the break and four shots in the mid-range. 

    What's been really impressive is his crafty finishing ability around the rim. Despite lacking much spring or burst, he's managed to shoot 75 percent (21 of 28) within five feet.

    Defensively, he's no stud, but he's held his own for the most part. There's nothing sexy about his game or outlook—Bogdanovic just looks like a good bet to stick as a role player or reserve.  

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6/10

    Production Grade: 6/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 25.5

    Final Grade: B-

4. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic, SF/PF

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    USA TODAY Sports

    A broken foot is expected to keep Aaron Gordon sidelined indefinitely, but he did enough through 11 games to make himself eligible for a grade. 

    He has the highest Player Efficiency Rating of any rookie in the class. We haven't seen him do much creating, but that's not his thing. Gordon is shooting 58.1 percent from the floor while letting his athleticism do most of the talking. He's playing to his strengths as a finisher and slasher, taking only the good shots that find him in the offense.

    On the perimeter, he's even hit four of his first eight three-point attempts.

    Defensively, Gordon has flashed the versatility—power forward size, small forward lift, 2-guard foot speed—that allowed him to finish first in all of college basketball last year in defensive win shares, per 

    It's been a small sample size of action, but it's been a promising one. 

    Gordon won't be eligible for the next round of report cards while injured, so we'll keep this one on the fridge until then.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 7.5/10

    Production Grade: 4.5/10

    Upside Grade: 7/10

    Total: 26

    Final Grade: B

3. K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers, SF

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    Glenn James/Getty Images

    For a guy who struggles to create, you have to credit K.J. McDaniels for his efficiency in a lineup that offers minimal talent to play off. 

    Shooting 46.2 percent and 39.5 percent from downtown, his 9.1 points per game are good for fourth among rookies.

    McDaniels' jumper has essentially acted as his life preserver early on. He'd sink without it—he isn't generating many points off drives (3.6 per 48 minutes), and he's not finishing at a very strong rate at the rim (56.4 percent).

    He's stood out defensively, though, where his playmaking instincts and top-flight athleticism have translated to 1.2 blocks and .8 steals in 22.4 minutes a game.

    If you can knock down threes and defend, you'll find a spot in an NBA rotation. McDaniels has done that so far—the only question is whether he'll sustain his hot shooting considering he wasn't much of a long-range threat through three years at Clemson. 

    Eye Test Grade: 6.5/10

    Efficiency Grade: 7/10

    Production Grade: 6/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 26 

    Final Grade: B

2. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks, SF/PF

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's no surprise Jabari Parker has come out looking sharp. It is, however, a little shocking to see the Milwaukee Bucks winning games. 

    And Parker has played a role in Milwaukee's early relative success without trying to do too much. 

    He's giving the Bucks double-figures in scoring three out of every four games, averaging 11.6 points on 44.4 percent shooting. 

    Offensively, we've seen the polish and versatility—a 6'8", 235-pounder who can face up and attack or stick a jumper off the bounce. 

    Most of Parker's offense so far has come at the rim or on the way toward it (2.6 points per game off drives). With 48 buckets in the paint compared to 16 in the mid-range and four from behind the arc, his strengths and weaknesses are pretty well defined. 

    Parker's perimeter game hasn't been overly efficient—he's shooting 23 percent on 2.5 pull-ups a game and 30.4 percent on 1.6 spot-ups. 

    But with 60.5 percent of his offense coming from within 10 feet from the hole, his head is in right place.

    He hasn't flashed the same level of upside as Wiggins in Minnesota, and he'll need to extend his shooting range eventually, but Parker has been the most consistent rookie in the class.  

    Eye Test Grade: 8/10

    Efficiency Grade: 7/10

    Production Grade: 7/10

    Upside Grade: 8.5/10

    Total: 30.5

    Final Grade: B+

1. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves, SG/SF

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Andrew Wiggins started heating up at just the right time—just before report cards were due. This early, a 29-point effort like the one he had against Sacramento on November 22 can move the needle during the grading process. 

    So far, he's flashed the same skill set shared by the game's top scoring wings. Step-backs, pull-ups, jab steps into jumpers—consistent execution will take time, but Wiggins has shown the ability to separate one-on-one into balanced scoring opportunities. 

    Shooting 34.4 percent in the mid-range and 8-of-16 from beyond the arc, Wiggins' perimeter game has been better than expected. He's connecting on jumpers in general at a solid 43.1 percent rate.

    But he's not particularly threatening as a ball-handler navigating through traffic looking to create or set someone up—Wiggins has just 10 assists in 12 games while averaging 2.4 points per 48 minutes off drives.

    His handle still isn't the tightest. With the ball, the less dribbles the better for Wiggins, who's scoring at a 53.3 percent clip off the catch, 42.4 percent off one dribble, 34.5 percent off two dribbles and 33.3 percent off three or more.

    Wiggins is ultimately at his best out of triple-threat position when he can face his man up and explode off that quick first step without having to change direction. And he's just so silky smooth in the open floor, where he takes those long steps before effortlessly bouncing above the rim.

    Defensively, he's showcased his versatility and eye-opening potential as a result of that suffocating blend of size, length and lateral foot speed. 

    Between Ricky Rubio's injury, a logjam at the 3 and Wiggins' lack of pro experience, he's mixed some promising, aggressive stretches of play with a few passive ones, and it's resulted in statistical inconsistency. 

    But if you were all in on Wiggins before the season, there's no reason for you to feel any differently now.

    Eye Test Grade: 8/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6.5/10

    Production Grade: 7/10

    Upside Grade: 9.5/10

    Total: 31

    Final Grade: B+

    All stats courtesy of


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