Sunday, November 23, 2008

Above the Rim: Rookies Ahead of the Learning Curve

One month into the season, the impact rookies are starting to separate themselves from the projects. While there is nothing wrong with letting a rookie develop for a season or two, some fans prefer instant returns. The following list is made up of the most productive rookies of the young season, including a few surprises.

Derrick Rose, Bulls
When you are drafted first overall, you are supposed to perform in your rookie season, but Rose has exceeded expectations in the early going. Rose is averaging 18.3 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. He also adds 1 steal and shoots 46.7% from the floor and 84.6% from the free throw line. From 3-point range, Rose is still shooting fairly well at a 35.5% clip.

O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Mayo has immediately become the go to guy for a young Grizzlies team. Averaging 20.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game to go with 44.6% from the floor and outstanding shooting from downtown (40.7%) and the free throw line (89.2%), Mayo looks the leader of a team that includes Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur, and Marc Gasol. This team could be scary in a few seasons with Mayo leading the way. Mayo also chips in with over 1 steal per game on the defensive end.

Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley was a beast at Kansas State last season and has shown promise to be the same player in the NBA. While I expected his FG% (44.5%) and rebounding (5.5) to be higher, he is contributing 14.7 points per game and shooting very well from the free throw line at 85%.

Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
Fernandez has been shooting lights out this season from 3-point range (43.8%) and the free throw line (94.4%). That translates to 12.8 points per game off the bench for a very deep and young Blazers team. Fernandez also adds 1 steal, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds per game as well.

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
I love Gasol’s game. He is a bruiser, unlike older brother Pau. Marc’s game is efficiency as shown by his 12.4 points per game on 58.3% shooting. Gasol also shoots 77.6% from the free throw line and averages 7.2 rebounds per game. While I would like to see Gasol average more blocks (only 0.9 per game), his career has started well and should improve as the season progresses.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Bucks
Mbah a Moute was a second round pick for the picks and came in under the radar after the Bucks drafted Joe Alexander and traded for Richard Jefferson. However, Mbah a Moute is quietly averaging 10.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and shooting almost 45% from the floor and 75% from the free throw line. While his numbers do not reflect it (0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks), Mbah a Moute is an excellent defender for the Bucks, who generally resemble a sieve on defense.

Jason Thompson, Kings
The Kings’ pick of Thompson at #12 in the first round led to some headscratching on draft night, but Thompson has proven himself. Thompson, a natural power forward, is averaging 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while playing out of position at small forward. Thompson is shooting 53% from the floor, but could improve his free throw shooting which is only 60%.

Mario Chalmers, Heat
Chalmers has not disappointed since winning the championship at Kansas. In addition to a 9 steal game earlier this season, Chalmers is averaging 7.3 points and 4.8 assists per game and is the beast pure point guard in this rookie class. Chalmers is also averaging 1.8 steals per game. The weakness in Mario’s game is his low shooting percentages across the board (FG- 39.7%, 3-point %- 32.5%, FT- 59.1%).

JaVale McGee, Nets
McGee has taken advantage of an opportunity to play for Washington with Brendan Haywood out averaging 8.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game to go with 1 block per game in only 21 minutes. At only 20 years old, McGee should continue to improve this season. One are in where he should focus is free throw shooting where he is shooting a Shaqtastic 50%.

Anthony Morrow, Warriors
If anyone tells you they knew Morrow was going to be good, feel free to laugh in their face for me. Morrow was all but guaranteed to play overseas this season when he earned a contract with the Warriors and since then his production has been outstanding. Morrow is averaging 17 points and 4 rebounds per game (31 and 7.5 as a starter) in 5 games. Even better, Morrow is shooting 62.8% from the floor, 64.7% from 3-point range (that is not a typo), and is a perfect 100% (10 attempts) from the free throw line. I know it’s early, but I don’t know how this kid went undrafted. Maybe scouts should focus a little more on skill and less on potential in the future.

Greg Oden, Blazers
Since returning from his ankle injury, Oden has lived up to the expectations that led him to be drafted first overall last season. He is averaging 12 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in only 22 minutes off the bench. Oden has also shot an efficient 57.6% from the floor and 73.3% from the charity stripe. Oden has 3 double-doubles in his last 4 games, missing the fourth by only 2 rebounds. I would expect this type of production from Oden for the rest of the season.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder
While many wondered if Westbrook was drafted to high in June, he has performed solidly so far this season. On a bad Thunder team, Westbrook is averaging 11.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while chipping in with 1.3 steals. Westbrook could improve his shooting (31.7% from the floor and 26.1% from 3), but his free throw shooting, 83.6%, has been great. With a core of Durant, Jeff Green, and Westbrook, the Thunder appear to be heading in the right direction.

Ryan Anderson, Nets
Anderson’s Player Efficiency Rating is 22.35, third on this list behind Morrow (28.25) and Oden (23.9). This means that Anderson is productive relative to the number of shots he takes and the minutes he plays. This shows up on the stat sheet as Anderson is averaging 8.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in only 16 minutes per game while shooting 52.9% from the floor, 62.5% on threes, and 90.9% on free throws. Anderson is the only other rookie that can give Morrow any competition as best shooter in this class, and both have been outstanding. I can almost see them playing horse- “Off the cheap seats, through the rafters, off the scoreboard, nothing but net.”

Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Love has been somewhat disappointing to me thus far this season. While his averages of 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds are respectable in 23 minutes per game, his FG% is only 37.8%. Also, Love’s passing ability was highly touted coming out of college, but he is averaging only 1.3 assists per game. I know he is a PF, but I thought he would contribute 3-4 assists per game out of the post this year. His free throw percentage is 86.1% which is very impressive for a post player (most post players on this list exceed my expectations here).

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