NBA Rookie Report Cards: How the Top 10 Shake out at NBA's Quarter-Season Mark

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 9, 2014

NBA Rookie Report Cards: How the Top 10 Shake out at NBA's Quarter-Season Mark

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    USA TODAY Sports

    After a rough first few weeks to start their NBA careers, it hasn't gotten much better for most 2015 rookies. 

    This class as a whole continues to go through ups and downs, though it's important to note the injuries to Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and Marcus Smart (returned).

    On a bright note, we have a new No. 1 rookie after a strong week at the office. There are also two new names who've found their way onto the radar. 

    We rounded up the top 10 rookie performers based on production and impact 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. Dante Exum, Utah Jazz, PG/SG

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    The minutes haven't been there for Dante Exum, who's been unable to find a rhythm over the past couple of weeks. He hasn't scored more than five points in a game since November 18, though he hasn't exactly had much of a chance to produce more. 

    But with Exum, it's not as much about the production as it is about the flashes of two-way upside. In doses, we've seen him connect from outside, pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, score at the rim and lock down defensively. 

    If there's one offensive area where Exum blatantly needs to improve, it's the in-between game; Exum has hit just one mid-range jumper (.1 pull-ups per game) all year.

    Still, you have to assume that as Utah falls further from playoff contention, Exum's playing time and usage should increase, especially if Trey Burke fails to make the sophomore jump. 

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 4/10

    Production Grade: 3/10

    Upside Grade: 8/10

    Total: 22

    Final Grade: C+

9. Tarik Black, Houston Rockets, PF

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    You didn't see Tarik Black on too many draft boards last season, but he's found a way to stick and ultimately contribute to the Rockets' frontcourt. 

    At 6'11", 250 pounds, he's a handful inside, where his job is to bring in boards, finish around the rim, defend the post and pick up a few hard fouls.

    Over Black's last five games, he's averaging 8.2 points and 7.8 rebounds on 60 percent shooting. 

    Used more for his presence than his skill set, Black is nothing more than a reserve meant to bring toughness up front. But that's been enough for the Rockets, who've played him at least 20 minutes on five different occasions since November 17.  

    Eye Test Grade: 6/10

    Efficiency Grade: 8/10

    Production Grade: 4/10

    Upside Grade: 4/10

    Total: 22

    Final Grade: C+

8. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves, PG/SG

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    D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

    Whether Zach LaVine has contributed in garbage time, during blowouts or wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Wolves fans have to be thrilled with what they've gotten from the rookie.

    It all started with the Laker game on November 28, when he dropped 28 points and five assists on 11-of-14 shooting. He flashed exactly what led the Wolves to reach on him in the first place: microwave offensive ability and superhero athleticism.

    LaVine torched the Lakers defense with his pull-up jumper and quickness off the bounce, and he was even finding shooters as a facilitator. He did the same against the San Antonio Spurs December 6, when he piled up 10 assists to go with 22 points. 

    In between then, he's gone for 17 points and four assists against the Rockets and 10 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. 

    With Mo Williams out due to back trouble, look for LaVine to continue generating offense while flashing that can't-miss playmaking potential.

    Eye Test Grade: 8/10

    Efficiency Grade: 5/10

    Production Grade: 3/10

    Upside Grade: 8/10

    Total: 24

    Final Grade: B-

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

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    Allen Einstein/Getty Images

    It's been the same story every week for Nerlens Noel, who consistently reminds us of his athletic ability and offensive limitations 

    He's scored between six and 11 points in each of his last five games played. Noel doesn't quite have the shot-creating ability to take over stretches, but his length and bounce continue to translate to easy above-the-rim buckets (17 dunks).

    Right now, he's more of a finisher than low-post scorer—only he's shooting 58.8 percent at the rim, an average number that doesn't quite scream interior specialist. Developing that jumper needs to remain priority No. 1 so he's not forced to make a living among much stronger players in the paint. 

    Defensively, we haven't quite seen the shot-blocking dominance we saw from him at Kentucky. He's averaging 1.2 blocks a game, .3 fewer than small forward teammate K.J. McDaniels.

    Noel has some major work to do offensively, but he'll continue to threaten for 10 points and a block or two every night.

    Eye Test Grade: 6.5/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6/10

    Production Grade: 5/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 24

    Final Grade: B-

6. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic, PG

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    While Elfrid Payton's scoring attack remains a work in progress, his passing and defense have actually been pretty good. 

    He's picked up at least five assists in five of Orlando's last seven games and 13 total steals during that span. 

    Offensively, Payton is deceptive with the ball, as he uses change of speed and direction to break down defenses and find the open man. 

    Defensively, he's able to pester opposing ball-handlers and get into passing lanes with that size, length and quickness for the position. 

    He continues to struggle putting the ball in the basket, now shooting just 38.1 percent (46.7 percent at the rim, 30.6 percent in the mid-range, 3-of-11 from downtown).

    But Payton's rare blend of playmaking and defense has allowed him to contribute without having to score.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 4.5/10

    Production Grade: 6/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 24

    Final Grade: B-

5. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets, SF

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    For the most part, Bojan Bogdanovic has alternated good weeks with bad ones, but given the lack of production from the field, his good ones hold enough weight. 

    And he's been on point as of late, having scored in double figures in three of his last five games, most notably a 14-point effort in a win over the San Antonio Spurs. 

    Bogdanovic does just about all of his work off the ball, considering 69.4 percent of his shot attempts have been taken without the use of a dribble beforehand. 

    At this point, he's been more efficient as a finisher than he has been consistent as a shooter. Bogdanovic is shooting 68.8 percent at the rim and only 33.8 percent on spot-up jumpers outside 10 feet. 

    He's been a nice addition for Brooklyn, but he'd pack even more value as a role player if he could just start knocking down outside shots with a little more consistency.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6/10

    Production Grade: 6/10

    Upside Grade: 5.5/10

    Total: 24.5

    Final Grade: B-

4. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls, PF

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    After Nikola Mirotic's seasoning abroad over the past three seasons, we can officially confirm the talent of the rookie, who's taken advantage of a Taj Gibson injury by contributing with purpose and efficiency. 

    Mirotic gives the Bulls a stretch 6'10" big man who can knock down outside shots (38.6 percent three-point shooter), attack closeouts and finish on the move, adding a different dimension of offense to their frontcourt. 

    He's played at least 27 minutes a game in six of Chicago's last eight games, and in those six games, he's averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds on 52 percent shooting. Mirotic now leads all rookies with a 15.99 player efficiency rating.

    With that dark, heavy beard, Mirotic sometimes make you forget he's only 23 years old. It's just a matter of time before he emerges as a rotational forward, whether it's later this year or next. 

    Unfortunately, he only received eight minutes in Gibson's first game back on the floor, so his playing time will be something to monitor. Otherwise, he's looked liked one of the better 2015 rookies when given time. 

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 8/10

    Production Grade: 4/10

    Upside Grade: 7/10

    Total: 26

    Final Grade: B

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

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    Allen Einstein/Getty Images

    Don't look now, but K.J. McDaniels has emerged as a 30-minute player in Philadelphia's empty lineup. And he's put up some big numbers recently as a result, including a 21-point, 13-rebound, two-block line against the Dallas Mavericks and a 12-point, nine-rebound, four-block performance in a win over the Timberwolves. 

    Over his last six, McDaniels is averaging 13 points, eight rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game. 

    Offensively, he's struggling a bit in terms of creating his own scoring opportunities, which can explain why he's taken 31 three-pointers over his last six games (made only eight).

    But he continues to make plays fueled by explosive athleticism, mostly on defense, where he leads all rookies in shot blocking as a 6'6" wing. 

    McDaniels has his flaws, and despite his No. 3 spot on the ladder, he projects more as a role or bench player down the road. But he's taken full advantage of a banged-up field and an increased role in Philadelphia.

    Eye Test Grade: 7/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6/10

    Production Grade: 6.5/10

    Upside Grade: 6.5/10

    Total: 26

    Final Grade: B

2. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves, SG/SF

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    Chris Covatta/Getty Images

    Andrew Wiggins has fallen off a bit since his 29-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings on November 22. He's averaging just 10.4 points on an ugly 34.6 percent shooting over his last seven games. 

    He's shown the ability to separate—Wiggins just isn't converting with any consistency, as his mid-range shooting percentage has plummeted to 29.8 percent from 34.4 percent two weeks ago the last time we checked in.

    Still, maybe the biggest red flag or cause for Wiggins' inefficiency is his struggles getting to the basket. He's averaging just 1.1 points per game off drives, which is tied with below-average athletes like Richard Jefferson.

    But he's been more aggressive with Kevin Martin out of the lineup, something that seemed like half the battle for him as a prospect at Kansas. And despite the ups and downs, nothing has changed with regard to his massive two-way ceiling. 

    Still, with K.J. McDaniels on the rise in Philadelphia, Wiggins' rear view mirror isn't exactly clear at No. 2 on the ladder.  

    Eye Test Grade: 8/10

    Efficiency Grade: 6/10

    Production Grade: 6.5/10

    Upside Grade: 9.5/10

    Total: 30

    Final Grade: B+ 

1. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks, SF/PF

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    Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

    Jabari Parker is really the only 2015 rookie who's found an offensive groove so far. 

    He's scored at least 14 points in four of his last five games, bringing his average up to 12.5 points to lead all rookies. 

    But it's been the efficiency—not necessarily the production—that's been so impressive. Over his last four games, he's 23-of-40 from the floor.

    Parker's mid-range shooting accuracy continues to climb, as he's now at 38.0 percent, yet he continues finishing at the rim at a terrific 67.5 percent clip.

    It looks like Parker has given up on his three-ball altogether—he hasn't attempted one in nine games, although you'd imagine that's a result of Jason Kidd coaching him to play to his strengths. 

    Regardless, with Andrew Wiggins struggling to maintain any consistency, Parker has moved from No. 2 to No. 1 on our rookie ladder.

    Eye Test Grade: 8/10

    Efficiency Grade: 8/10

    Production Grade: 7.5/10

    Upside Grade: 8.5/10

    Total: 32

    Final Grade: A-

    Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and RealGM.com.

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