12-08-2006, 03:11 PM
Rookie report: Disappointments and a surprise ROY
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<!-- mug url = /i/columnists/hollinger_john_55.jpg -->By John Hollinger
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<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 width="100%" border=0><TBODY><TR><TD style="PADDING-TOP: 10px" vAlign=top><!-- begin leftcol --><!-- template inline -->Earlier this week, our Chris Sheridan wrote (http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/insider/columns/story?columnist=sheridan_chris&id=2686826) about a number of players who were in the NBA last year and aren't this year. Want to know why they're gone? Because a bunch of rookies came in and replaced them. Think of it as the birth and death cycle for NBA careers -- a new generation comes in and, in equal numbers, the old one leaves.
This year's new generation isn't exactly off to an eye-popping start, as many of the top first-round picks were drafted more with an eye toward long-term development than immediate impact. Nonetheless, we've played about a quarter of the season already, so it's time to take stock. Obviously, in a draft like this one with so many players who were picked more for what they can do in 2009 than what they can do in 2006, it's way too early to start pegging guys as busts, steals or anything in between.
But what we can do is come up with some loose groupings to describe their progress so far, especially when compared to the expectations for these players heading into the season.
I've done that below for every first-round pick who's in the league (sorry, Oleksiy Pecherov fans, you'll have to wait 'til next year), as well the second-rounders, Europeans and other hangers-on who are getting regular minutes. (I stress the latter part; you'll see no updates on the Chris McCrays or Robert Hites of the world in this column. Maybe their fans can hold a candlelight vigil with the Pecherov fan club or something.)
Here's one man's analysis of how they stack up so far, including the worst, the best, and my pick for Rookie of the Year (so far):
They all came in with high hopes, but all have seen their PERs in single digits for most of the season:
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4131.jpg Adam Morrison (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4131), Bobcats: Look, we knew he'd be fairly one-dimensional, but lordy. This guy makes Lara Flynn Boyle seem well-rounded.
Morrison is a 6-9 forward playing 35 minutes a night, and yet he's grabbed three offensive rebounds the entire season. While I'd expect the 38.5 percent shooting mark to improve, Morrison's marks of 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists aren't nearly enough to offset his occasional scoring outbursts.
In fact, his 4.5 rebound rate is the worst of any player 6-7 or taller, and only one player bigger than 6-3 (more on him below) is worse.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4150.jpg Marcus Williams (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4150), Nets: The Nets thought they were getting the next Mark Jackson (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=163), not the next World B. Free.
But Williams has shown much more willingness to create shots for himself than for others thus far, which wouldn't be a problem if some of those shots came in the paint or went in the basket. He's hitting 41.5 percent, including 20.0 percent on 3-pointers, and his turnover rate has stayed stubbornly high despite a lack of assists to compensate.
Dude, you've got Vince Carter (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3248) and Richard Jefferson (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3523) on your team -- share the rock.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4149.jpg Rajon Rondo (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4149), Celtics: I put Rondo here only because expectations had been so elevated by his spectacular preseason.
Now that the real games have started, Rondo's limitations have become more apparent -- namely that no matter how impressive the rest of his game is, his inability to score is a huge problem.
Rondo averages only 8.8 points per 40 minutes, on 35.1 percent shooting. He hasn't made a 3-pointer and shoots 56.3 percent from the line, and he has more turnovers than baskets. There aren't enough Tommy Points in the world to overcome that.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4147.jpg Quincy Douby (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4147), Kings: Kings fans will think I'm being harsh because he's played only 21 minutes. But the 21 minutes are a red flag in themselves, because it means he's failed to beat out Ronnie Price (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3990) and Jason Hart (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3448) for minutes; last I checked, neither was contending for an All-Star berth.
Douby was supposed to provide instant offense off the pine, and has been unable to do it.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4153.jpg Shannon Brown (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4153), Cavaliers: Brown is another rookie guard who has failed to make an impact, getting surpassed by second-rounder Daniel Gibson (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4170) in the Cavs' rotation this week.
Despite competing for playing time against a bunch of corpses, Brown has played only 92 minutes and hasn't earned more with his play -- he's shot 10-for-29 from the field in his limited minutes.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4174.jpg Dee Brown (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4174), Jazz: I had to include him since the first Irrational Jerry Sloan Personnel Decision (IJSPD) of the new season happened this week, with Brown -- who is shooting 16.7 percent -- taking Ronnie Brewer (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4142)'s spot in the rotation.
Brown was a second-rounder so it's not like big things were expected, but he shouldn't be playing.
The Guys Who Should be Starting
These players have seen plenty of action, and have shown they're ready for the next step -- a spot in the starting five.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4154.jpg Jordan Farmar (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4154), Lakers: Farmar's athleticism has won him a steady gig with the second unit, although he's struggled in two respects -- he's a shaky shooter and he takes bad fouls when he tries to pressure the ball.
But with Smush Parker (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3662) struggling and Farmar's penetration skills adding a bit of zip to the Laker attack, it's more a question of when he takes over than if.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4170.jpg Daniel Gibson (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4170), Cavaliers: Well, it's easy to say now. With the Cavs suspending their retread-of-the-week program (sorry Messrs. Wesley and Pavlovic), Gibson finally got to the opportunity to start on Wednesday and shined in the win over Toronto.
The knock on him in the draft was that he was a shoot-first point guard, but with LeBron effectively playing the point it won't be an issue in Cleveland. As long as he knocks down shots he'll play.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4129.jpg Andrea Bargnani (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4129), Raptors: If Chad Ford's podcast with Bryan Colangelo (http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/insider/columns/story?columnist=hollinger_john&id=2690890&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab1pos1&univLogin02=stateChanged#) didn't get Sam Mitchell (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=233)'s attention, perhaps Bargnani's recent play will. After a slow start, the top overall pick has put together six straight double-figure efforts and seems to be getting comfortable with the NBA 3-point distance.
Sure, he can't guard a rock right now, but the Raps aren't getting much from Rasho Nesterovic (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3260) anyway, and the kid's translated European stats suggest he's even better than he's shown thus far.
Several players with years of experience in Europe crossed the pond this summer. The results have been mixed.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4196.jpg Jorge Garbajosa (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4196), Raptors: He's pretty much been exactly what I expected.
On the one hand, he knows how to play and is a solid defender, which is something Toronto really needed.
On the other, his near-total reliance on 20-foot jumpers makes it virtually impossible for him to post decent percentages. He's shooting 43.5 percent with a low free-throw rate, and that's why he's backup material until further notice.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4199.jpg Yakhouba Diawara (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4199), Nuggets: The French swingman was advertised as a defensive specialist, which is a good thing because he's surely no offensive specialist.
Diawara is shooting 36.4 percent and seems intent on shooting 3-pointers despite the fact that he can't make them. He'll lose his spot in the rotation unless more shots start falling.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4155.jpg Sergio Rodriguez (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4155), Trail Blazers: Spanish Chocolate has taken over the Blazers' backup point guard job, and played well enough as a distributor to overcome some seriously shaky shooting.
Rodriguez's assist ratio is 49.2 (percentage of the possessions he uses that end in an assist), which if he kept it up would be the highest mark since I began tracking it. Chances are it won't stay that high, since he's only played 171 minutes, but his passing skills are exceptional.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/3974.jpg Mickael Gelabale (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3974), Sonics: Another French defensive specialist, Gelabale hasn't seen as much action as Diawara and appears even less talented offensively.
We might get a much longer look at him if Ray Allen (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3080)'s injury turns out to be serious.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/3867.jpg Vassilis Spanoulis (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3867), Rockets: Note to Mike Krzyzewski: Spanoulis is shooting 26.7 percent on 3-pointers in the NBA this year. Thought you might want to know.
Because half of Spanoulis' attempts have come from beyond the arc, his wayward shooting has been a problem. This is consistent with his European stats, so his performance won't improve until he spots up less and gets to the rim more.
On a side note, the competition between Spanoulis and Jorge "Eight-Day Shadow" Garbajosa for the league's worst rookie beard should go down right to the wire.
Laker reps are trying to get Vladimir Radmanovic (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3522) involved too, arguing that while Radmanovic isn't a rookie, his beard -- a loaner from Barry Gibb, it appears -- is.
In a draft with several wait-'til-next-year types, these are the most prominent.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4132.jpg Tyrus Thomas (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4132), Bulls: Broke his nose opening night. Welcome to the NBA, kid.
Since then he's had trouble cracking the Bulls' rotation, mixing intriguing athleticism with several moments when his inexperience (just one year of college) has become apparent. A lack of offensive polish is the biggest shortcoming.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4141.jpg Thabo Sefolosha (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4141), Bulls: A future defensive ace, the Swiss Mister already has Chicago's brass beaming over his long-term future.
But for the immediate future, Sefolosha's offense pales in comparison to his defense, so he's not useful for more than spot duty on a team hoping to win the East.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4137.jpg Patrick O'Bryant (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4137), Warriors: The 7-foot lottery pick has only played 68 minutes, limited by Andris Biedrins (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3828)' development, Don Nelson's taste for small lineups, and his own ineffectiveness.
Don't plan on seeing much of him until next fall at the earliest.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4138.jpg Mouhamed Sene (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4138), Sonics: Here's another 7-foot lottery project, albeit much less far along in his development.
Remember, there are different levels of "project." If O'Bryant is a project in a "He needs to refine his skills" kind of way, Sene is a project more in a "He needs to learn the rules" kind of way.
Right now he's a poor man's D.J. Mbenga, but with his long arms and athleticism, Sene could be a ridiculously good defensive player down the road. The D-League was made for guys like this, so hopefully Seattle sends him down for a while.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4145.jpg Shawne Williams (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4145), Pacers: He was supposed to be a project after leaving Memphis following his freshman year, so the fact he hasn't played a minute shouldn't shock anyone. I'd expect him to get some D-League time except that the Pacers' affiliate is in Albuquerque, which doesn't make it real convenient.
Solid but not spectacular
These guys haven't made many highlight reels, but they've proven helpful right off the bat.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4135.jpg Randy Foye (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4135), Timberwolves: He defends and he makes some plays, but the Rookie of the Year talk might have been overblown.
While Foye has settled in as a solid reserve in the Minnesota backcourt, he's shooting 39.6 percent with a high turnover rate. It's going to be hard for him to increase his role unless there's an injury, because Mike James (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3577) and Ricky Davis (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3264) have been productive scorers and Trenton Hassell (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3539) is defending like crazy.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4133.jpg Shelden Williams (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4133), Hawks: Williams earned Atlanta's starting power forward job despite some severe offensive limitations, because his muscle and defense were exactly what this team needed up front.
If the offense ever comes around he'll be a pretty good player, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. Right now his only "weapon," if you can call it that, is a shaky 15-footer.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4140.jpg Hilton Armstrong (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4140), Hornets: Armstrong seems to have fallen behind Cedric Simmons (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4143) in the Hornets' big-man rotation, which is strange because he's played much better. In the two games he's played more than five minutes, he put up 17 and 9 in a win at Detroit, and went 3-for-3 with eight boards in 12 minutes against Dallas.
But by all means, keep playing the guy who can't score.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4177.jpg Leon Powe (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4177): Boston's frontcourt injuries have forced it to use the second-rounder and he's proven competent, continuing Danny Ainge's strong track record with second-round picks. I'm not sure Powe's defense will ever be up to snuff, but he knows his way around the basket. The other concern with Powe is his knees -- that's why he went in Round 2 -- but so far they've held up.
Spectacular but not solid
They look great on "SportsCenter," but have giant holes in their games:
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4144.jpg Rodney Carney (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4144), 76ers: So if you're 6-6 and everyone talks about how athletic you are and how you can jump out of the gym, shouldn't you grab a rebound every once in a while?
Remember above when I said that only one player over 6-3 had a rebound rate worse than Adam Morrison's? This is the guy. Yes, the super-athletic Carney is the worst rebounder of any forward, and of any player over 6-3. At least he's beating Earl Boykins (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3311).
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4148.jpg Renaldo Balkman (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4148), Knicks: He's been an electric performer off the bench because of his rebounding and shot-blocking. Yes, you read that right. He's a reserve small forward playing 12 minutes a game, but he leads the Knicks in blocks.
However, Balkman is held back by poor ball-handling and a complete lack of an outside shot. He's good enough now to be a decent rotation player, but he won't be anything more unless he picks up some new tricks.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4143.jpg Cedric Simmons (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4143), Hornets: Simmons is the kind of long, athletic guy that gets scouts salivating, especially with his shot-blocking ability. But his offense is putrid -- he's shooting 40 percent and scoring 8.3 points per 40 minutes. Wednesday against the Lakers he turned the ball over twice when he was just trying to unload a defensive rebound.
I'm not saying he won't be good eventually, but he's got work to do.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4136.jpg Rudy Gay (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4136), Grizzlies I had high hopes for Gay, but so far I'm underwhelmed, despite his Western Conference Rookie of the Month award.
The key is his shooting -- at 37.7 percent from the floor, 32.0 percent on 3s, and 62.2 percent from the line, he's been much less accurate than expected based on his results at Connecticut.
He also hasn't done much to dispel the doubts about his motor, as he's tended to settle for jumpers rather than attacking the rim. He's done a nice job on the boards, though.
Injuries and/or numbers games have conspired to keep these players off the court, so the jury's still out:
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4134.jpg Brandon Roy (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4134), Trail Blazers: Roy was the leading Rookie of the Year contender after a solid start in the first five games, but a heel problem has him on the shelf indefinitely.
Kyle Lowry (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4152), Grizzlies: Lowry played the first 10 games and was so good that it's shocking he didn't get more playing time. He can't shoot, but his other numbers were attention-getters -- he rebounded like a forward, constantly got to the rim and drew fouls, and had a phenomenally high steals rate. Unfortunately, a wrist injury will keep him sidelined much of the season.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4139.jpg J.J. Redick (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4139), Magic: A back problem, the Magic's fast start, and the unexpected health of Grant Hill (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=2626) have conspired to keep the college player of the year bench-ridden for all but 12 minutes.
Smart-aleck comment: Orlando's lottery picks from 2005 and 2006 have combined to score six NBA points.
Maurice Ager (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4156), Mavericks: Ager won't get many chances in the Mavs' deep backcourt, and that 5-for-22 start from the floor isn't doing him many favors. He could be headed to the D-League.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4157.jpg Mardy Collins (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4157), Knicks: Another late first-rounder stuck in a deep backcourt, Collins is the fifth man in a four-guard rotation and has played just 34 minutes.
Josh Boone (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4151), Nets: New Jersey's other first-rounder was on the shelf with a shoulder injury until being activated earlier this week. In Nets' fans wildest dreams, he emerges as the answer in the middle and replaces Jason Collins (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3530). We'll see.
The under-the-radar studs
I'm saving the best for last here, so there's a little reward for both of you who read this far. These guys haven't received the hype of players like Morrison and Bargnani, but they've been excellent:
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4142.jpg Ronnie Brewer (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4142), Jazz: A shooting guard who can't shoot from the outside, Brewer has been good enough in other areas to offset the shaky stroke.
He takes almost 60 percent of his shots on the inside (according to 82games.com), so his field-goal percentage is 52.1. And he averages better than a steal every 20 minutes.
But he fell out of the Jazz rotation this week because of the aforementioned IJSPD -- coming on the heels of another indignity when he served as C.J. Miles (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3960)' backup for the first seven games.
Brewer will get more chances, though, and one presumes he'll keep producing.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4130.jpg LaMarcus Aldridge (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4130), Trail Blazers: The Blazers spent the whole summer sandbagging us, saying that Aldridge was a project and might not play much. Fuggedaboutit -- this guy is good.
He just reaches his arms way up and launches that 15-footer, and there's no way anybody can get near it. He's shooting 53.9 percent and put together his first career double-double on Tuesday to help Portland steal a win in Detroit.
Once he adds some muscle he'll be unstoppable.
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4164.jpg Craig Smith (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4164), Timberwolves: Since I'm giving Sloan such a hard time, let's not give Minnesota coach Dwane Casey a free pass.
Here's a guy who is shooting 55.1 percent, has a high rebound rate and a prolific rate of steals for a big man, and is second among all rookies in PER -- and the T-Wolves are limiting him to 19 minutes a game so Mark Blount (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=3222) can stay in the starting lineup? Seriously? It's not like there's a question of untapped potential here -- we know Blount is a stiff.
Look, I realize Smith is only 6-7 and it's a tough hurdle mentally to think of your starting center conceding half a foot every night, but how obvious does it have to be that this is their best option before Casey makes a move?
The Rookie of the Year
http://espn.go.com/i/nba/profiles/players/65x90/4175.jpg Paul Millsap (http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/players/profile?statsId=4175), Jazz: Who knows if he'll eventually win the trophy? A lot of guys are getting more minutes and will exceed him hype-wise, while Utah's deep frontcourt is going to limit him to 20 minutes a game or so. But to date Millsap has been the best rookie, hands down.
He's managed to earn steady playing time even though the Jazz didn't have a rotation spot for him when the year opened, and has been so good that the IJSPD factor (see above) hasn't been an issue. He's shooting 58 percent and has one of the highest rebound rates at his position, and despite a short, wide build he's a good shot-blocker. Overall, he's leading all rookies in PER, and he's done it for a team that sports the league's best record.
Speaking of which, perhaps it's time for the league's scouts to reevaluate their position on short power forwards. The two best rookies so far were second-rounders who lasted that long based largely on their stature -- even though both racked up huge numbers in college.
There's a historical basis in this, as 6-7 and 6-8 power forwards don't have a great track record of success. But one has to wonder if the shift to smaller lineups in recent seasons has made it possible for these guys to thrive again, and if scouting has to adjust to the NBA's new realities. Just food for thought as we close out the rookie report.
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