The NBA Rookie Report
By Sam Littman
Entering the season, it appeared that John Wall had only Blake Griffin to contend with in his mission to win Rookie of the Year. Now one wonders if he is even the best rookie in a 400-mile radius, facing fierce competition from Knicks second round pick Landry Fields.
Injuries, combined with the Wizards’ endless string of woes as a team, have hurt Wall’s stature, though he’s still one of the most impressive – make that show stopping – rookies to come along in years. He’s one of the most exciting players in the league on the fast break, he’s shown that when healthy he’s already good enough to finish among the top five in the league in assists and blocks, and he hasn’t disappointed as a scorer.
As the Wizards have floundered, however, the Knicks have played their best ball in a decade, with Landry Fields averaging 31.6 minutes and playing a key role in the New York’s success. He doesn’t put on a show night in and night out, but he’s the most efficient rebounding (7.4) guard in the league and is a remarkably efficient shooter, connecting on 59% of his shots from inside the arc. Yet much of what he does goes unrecognized in the box score; as one might expect from a 4-year Stanford product (who happened to average 22 points and 9 rebounds his senior year), Fields is great at moving without the ball, knows how to set teammates up from anywhere on the court, hardly ever makes bad decisions and is a very solid defender whose great size (6-7/210) for the shooting guard position can make him a menace.
The rivalry commenced earlier this month when Fields, and not Wall, was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, the first full month of the 2009-10 season. Considering what has transpired since, the first overall pick might be snubbed for the second month in a row, something that every basketball fan would have deemed inconceivable the moment Wall became a Wizard.
With many of the formerly elite rookie guards and swingmen seeing their roles diminished lately, big men have taken center stage in debates and discussion concerning this year’s rookie crop, which should have been expected given how many giants were taken early in the June draft.
While Derrick Favors continues to make things hard for the Melo-mongering Nets management with his stellar play in spare minutes, DeMarcus Cousins was the best rookie big man over the course of a week for the first time this year. Though his shot selection hasn’t necessarily improved, his increased comfort level on the floor is becoming increasingly apparent. Greg Monroe is finally starting to find his groove, which could not come at a better time for Pistons fans who are all but ready to give up. Monroe was supposed to solve the big man woes they’ve endured since the glory days of the Wallaces earlier this decade, and he’s started to demonstrate why he deserved the opportunity to restore some dignity to the center position in Motown. Monroe has started to rebound like he should, but the scoring hasn’t quite caught up yet. When it does, the Pistons may be set down low, as Jonas Jerebko (injured for quite a bit longer) would make an excellent foil to him in the frontcourt.
Meanwhile, two power forwards who did not become relevant until late November have proven to be terrific in however much time they’re given. Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders has already established himself as a top-notch shot blocker, somehow averaging 2.7 blocks per game in December. Raptors power forward Ed Davis has been similarly impressive, posting his first career double-double on Wednesday while continuing to block shots and shoot a high percentage from the floor. In two weeks, when he’s gotten a sufficient amount of run, he’ll be qualified to figure into the biweekly rookie rankings.
Rookie Rankings 12/20:
1. Blake Griffin
Retaining his stranglehold on the top spot, Griffin has recorded 13 straight double-doubles and is even averaging 4.3 assists over his last 10 games.
2. John Wall
His play has been inconsistent of late, but he’s still putting up the best numbers of any rookie point guard since Chris Paul, which is saying something in today’s league. His shooting numbers are noticeably down but he’s moving the rock as efficiently as ever, averaging 10.6 assists in his last three.
3. Landry Fields
Still leading all guards in rebounding, Spike Lee has now taken to wearing Fields’ jersey during games. Disappointing performances in huge home games against Boston (6 and 6) and Miami (5 and 5) prevent him from leapfrogging Wall.
4. Derrick Favors
The Nets’ management must be perversely rooting, deep down, for Favors to falter in some way, because his tremendous talent would be hard to give up if they were to work out a deal for Carmelo Anthony. He isn’t putting up huge numbers, but he’s been very consistent, a solid week highlighted by a double-double (10 and 13) against Philly. He’s shot .500 or better from the field in 12 of his last 13.
5. Gary Neal
Props to the rookie for not taking himself out mentally after getting posterized by J.R. Smith. Neal ended up getting the last laugh, pulling down 7 boards and contributing 6 points as the Spurs beat the Nuggets 113-112.
6. DeMarcus Cousins
Due to very weak play from former top-10 staples Bledsoe, Aminu and Turner, “Boogie” finally makes his first appearance on the list. He continues to foul like the Kings are down by one with seconds left, and his turnover numbers are through the roof, but his scoring and rebounding numbers are now impossible to ignore. Cousins is averaging 16.3 and 10 in three games this week, gaudy numbers we had only previously seen from the likes of Griffin and Wall thus far.
7. Eric Bledsoe
He has become very erratic since Baron’s return, but in this rookie climate, averages of 8 points (45%FG/84%FT), 5 assists and 1 steal assure him a spot in the top 10.
8. Wesley Johnson
He’s been one of the most frustrating rookies for the most part, mainly because he keeps threatening to find his groove, only to revert back to his mediocre ways. His 17-point, 5-assist, 4-rebound, 2-block showing against Phoenix served as a good reminder of what he’s capable of.
9. Larry Sanders
The “Best rookie shot blocker” label doesn’t do Sanders justice. He’s averaging 1.4 blocks in just 15.2 minutes. Elite post defender Joakim Noah is averaging 1.6 blocks in 37 minutes.
10. Pooh Jeter
Who has the highest PER after Griffin? That would be the 5-foot-11, 27-year old Eugene “Pooh” Jeter, who’s averaging 5.2 points (45%FG/93%FT) and 3 assists in just 13.1 minutes.
- Greg Monroe
After a very rough start to his rookie campaign, Monroe is the rookie with the best chance to make a big splash in the coming weeks. His 15-rebound performance against Minnesota was very impressive, and he looks to be getting more comfortable in the post.
- Xavier Henry
His tenacity on the defensive end is still very impressive, but he has to pick it up on the offensive end soon, simply because the Grizzlies need him there.
- Tiago Splitter
The Spurs are 22-3, which makes Splitter’s numbers pop like they otherwise wouldn’t. His production of late has been incredibly underwhelming however; it doesn’t matter how well your team is playing when you play just 9 minutes in a four game span, even if that lack of playing time is due in part to injuries.
- Gary Forbes
The 25-year old rookie from UMASS continues to shoot remarkably well from the field, but he’s only reached double figures twice in his last 14 games.
- Al Farouq Aminu
After a surprisingly strong start, Aminu has all but fallen off the face of the earth, failing to reach double-figures in December after hitting that mark eight times in November.