NBA Rookie Report: Positional Rankings
By Sam Littman
Two weeks ago we ranked the rookies in keeping with the All-Star events ensuing that weekend. Now, as we head into the final third of the 2010-11 campaign, with little to go on from the last week with very few games played, it seems only fitting that we should rank the positions. The 2010 draft was very big man heavy, with eight players 6-9 or taller selected in the lottery, so it should come as no surprise that power forwards and centers top the list.
5. Shooting Guards
It probably would have been foolish to predict that shooting guards would be differently, with only two taken in the lottery (Evan Turner and Xavier Henry), and just one more in the first round (James Anderson). The top off guard, Landry Fields, was taken 39th overall, but has proven to be a solid starter for a team that is quietly hoping to contend. Aside from Fields’ success story, shooting guards have been uniformly disappointing. Projected by nearly everyone to be a top rookie, second overall pick Evan Turner is averaging just 7.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game, and his last two months have been worse than the first two. Xavier Henry initially looked to carve out a niche as a defensive stopper for Memphis but is barely getting any playing time due to abysmal shooting, and James Anderson hasn’t played in three months.
4. Small Forwards
This class of wingmen boasts a great deal of awesome talent and upside, but we’re not yet seeing laudable results. Wesley Johnson has produced for the Timberwolves but has still been a disappointment, averaging 9 points in 26 minutes while failing to demonstrate the versatility on the defensive end that made him so valuable in his lone year at Syracuse. The eighth, ninth and ten picks promised results within a couple years, and the players look to be on course. Al Farouq Aminu was terrific in the first month of the season but has struggled since in very limited minutes, Gordon Hayward has been impressive when he asserts himself, and Paul George’s excellent numbers with little playing time have Pacers fan excited.
3. Point Guards
Only two point guards were taken in the first round but they have been extremely impressive. John Wall has lived up to his billing as a cant-miss prospect; he could very well finish with the second most assists of any rookie in league history. His Kentucky teammate Eric Bledsoe wowed in the first quarter of the season despite being called arguably the least NBA-ready rookie. It is hard to categorize San Antonio rookie Gary Neal, whose 3-point shooting has reenergized the Spurs, but if should be categorized as a point guard he could elevate this group even higher.
It has been so hard to differentiate centers from power forwards in this year’s class, but even you were to give power forwards the benefit of the doubt in each case, this year’s center class would still be quite impressive. DeMarcus Cousins has the makings of a future superstar and is on a tear; the 6-11 20-year old is averaging 15.2 points and 10.6 rebounds in February and thoroughly dominated the Rookies vs. Sophomores game. Greg Monroe has been extremely impressive after a very underwhelming first half of the season, averaging 12.4 points and 8.2 rebounds in February. Like Cousins, Monroe is 6-11 and still just 20 years old, and should become a star if he keeps up his play.
1. Power Forwards
Even without great numbers from lottery picks Ekpe Udoh and Patrick Patterson, the power forward crop is far and away the best. Earlier this month Blake Griffin became the first rookie to be voted into the All-Star game by the coaches since Tim Duncan. He won the dunk contest and enjoyed a double-double streak that put him in very elite company. He’s averaging 22.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. Raptors rookie Ed Davis has been awesome despite playing just 22 minutes per game; he’s averaging 10.6 points (59.4% FG), 10.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 48 minutes. Meanwhile, the top power forward drafted last June, Derrick Favors, has been similarly strong in limited minutes and now has a new home in which to thrive.