NBA Rookie Reports: Top 10

NBA Rookie Reports: Top 10
Nov 23, 2006, 01:56 pm
The first three weeks of the NBA season are now complete, and it’s time to take a look at how the rookies around the league are settling in with their new teams. This new recurring feature here at DraftExpress will track the progress of the best rookies in the NBA, as they adapt to their new environments. Given the relatively small sample size of games thus far, and the fact that many of these players are still establishing their niches with their given teams, a certain deal of subjectivity goes into the rankings past the obvious stand-outs. As players stabilize and begin to get more consistent playing time with their teams, more accurate rankings will be done in the future.

1. Adam Morrison, Charlotte Bobcats
35.8 minutes, 14.7 points, 1.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 38% FG

Joseph Treutlein

Morrison has been pretty inconsistent with his production thus far, specifically with his scoring the ball, but at times he’s looked outstanding, and already has four 20+ point games. Morrison’s shot has been on and off thus far, as his unorthodox style calls for a lot of off-balanced shots from mid-range, but he seems to be gradually, albeit inconsistently, improving. His offensive role is not unlike what it was at Gonzaga, in that he moves constantly without the ball, using screens to get open, and taking most of his shots from long to mid-range. He’s shooting a respectable clip from three-point range at .354, but he’s at his best when he’s inside the arc, being able to get the first step on his man and convert field goal attempts from all angles and in all situations. Many questioned whether Morrison would be able to score with the same efficiency against NBA defenders (despite the fact his best games last season came with Rodney Carney, Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, Maurice Ager, and Shannon Brown defending him – all of whom are currently on NBA rosters), and he’s already showing he can do just that. For example, Morrison scored 27 points on 52% shooting against San Antonio, with his primary defender being Bruce Bowen. Unfortunately, Morrison hasn’t contributed much elsewhere to his team, not contributing much in the rebounds or assists column, and being somewhat of a liability on defense. He’s trying on that end of the court, but is especially showing trouble getting around screens, with Peja Stojakovic’s 42-point outburst against him coming to mind.

The situation that Morrison was drafted into certainly is helping his development, as he’s averaging 35.8 minutes and has started in 6 of his 11 games. This easily gives him the most minutes played of any rookie, and it’s helping in accelerating his adaptation to the NBA game. The fact that the Bobcats staff seems to have confidence in his ability, and is letting him play through some of his struggles, should go a long way in allowing him to make improvements to his game. Morrison’s already making a more than noticeable impact, though, and there’s no reason to suggest he shouldn’t improve from here. Once Morrison establishes more consistency with scoring the ball, he will need to focus on the other areas of his game, a criticism that has frequently been aimed at him. He likely won’t ever be a good defender, but the fact that he’s playing alongside fellow swingman Gerald Wallace will help shield some of those inadequacies, in that Morrison will usually get the easier assignment. Still, Morrison could definitely stand to put in a more concerted effort attacking the glass, and could also do a better job passing the ball when his shot isn’t falling.

2. Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers
27.2 minutes, 11.6 points, 3.4 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 38% FG

Eric Weiss

Three games is a poor sample set to extrapolate from, but there were definitely some flashes of brilliance mixed into his limited outings. Roy shot poorly in two of his three NBA games, though his mechanics were very solid. Roy’s shot selection and a touch of bad luck had more to do with his misses than anything else. Roy tends to start off his game with a more tentative approach, picking his spots early and looking for jumpers within the team flow. As the game progresses, Roy looks to get more aggressive as his drives and overall shooting increase in frequency. As Roy gets more comfortable with his teammates and the level of competition, he’ll put together more effective gameplans that should yield more consistent results. As it is now, Roy is still a tough assignment to handle for most any pro defender.

Roy and Jarret Jack look like they’ll be the leaders of this young and promising Blazer team. Roy’s multidimensional skill set make him a threat all over the court and a perfect complimentary player to Zach Randolph’s interior presence. Assuming injuries don’t keep him sidelined too often this season, Roy should be in the driver’s seat for ROY honors because he’ll put up numbers in many different categories. However, Roy looks more like a 2nd option type of player at this point and will have to become a more consistent shooter to be a primary offensive option. Roy’s past performance and current play to date speak of a player that one can expect to continue improving for quite some time.

3. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
23.4 minutes, 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 34% FG

Joseph Treutlein

Rudy Gay’s had a very inconsistent start to his NBA career, having some very good games and others in which he barely did anything at all. A lot of Gay’s troubles scoring the ball have come when he hasn’t been assertive in taking the ball to the basket, instead pulling up from mid and long-range. But when Gay has taken the ball to the basket, he’s done a good job using his combination of length, athleticism, and creativity to score the ball in different ways. Aside from a few missed jams, Gay’s also looked good in transition, finishing fast breaks like he’d become known for doing in college. Gay’s also been solid on the boards for a small forward, and has done a good job disrupting in the passing lanes and on the weakside, having 11 blocks and 8 steals in his 11 games played. Gay’s had some trouble defending the pick-and-roll, and occasionally loses his man without the ball, but has looked solid in one-on-one situations, where his excellent physical tools give him the potential to become a very good defender in this league.

Eddie Jones recently went down with injury, allowing Gay to move into the starting lineup for the past five games. His production hasn’t improved during this time span, though, struggling in all but one game, a 23 point, 7 rebound outburst against Dallas on November 18th. Gay’s getting the minutes he needs to develop his game, and he should continue to do so on a Memphis team that isn’t very deep on the wing. Gay needs to continue to make the most of his natural gifts, being assertive and not settling for mid-range stuff, but taking it all the way to the rim where he’s at his best. There have always been questions about Gay and his willingness to be “the guy” for a team, and it should be an interesting experience for Gay to play for the next two months on a team lacking a go-to player, until Pau Gasol returns from the injury he suffered this summer. Gay should be much more comfortable once his 7’0 teammate returns, but in the meantime, it’s good for him to be put in a role where his team needs him to be assertive.

4. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
21.4 minutes, 5.5 points, 3.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 39% FG

Eric Weiss

Rondo took a strong preseason performance and ran with it straight into major minutes as the backup point guard for the Celtics. Rondo’s jump shooting woes have continued to hinder his otherwise impressive total floor game, as defenders are still hedging off of him at times. Rondo is at his best in the open court. He has displayed superior court vision and overall awareness for a rookie point guard. Defensively, Rondo has shown tremendous man-to-man skills. He picks up pressure at about ¾ court and forces most opponents to shield the ball. Rondo also likes to mix it up a bit inside and attempts to get offensive rebounds on occasion, though that has at times left his man free to release up court.

Rondo has shown advanced composure playing the hardest position for a rookie to master. As the season progresses, Rondo should continue to increase his aggression and attack more off the dribble. Playing on a young team and learning his teammates’ tendencies will help to speed up his learning curve because it should be easier for him to speak up and take control of situations with peers of a similar age and experience level. He has a chance to be on the All-Rookie First Team by season’s end.

5. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
25.4 minutes, 10.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 59% FG

Eric Weiss

After missing the beginning of the season with injury, Aldridge has really come on strong as of late. Aldridge has been finishing a high percentage of his shots, though he hasn’t asserted himself as much as he’s sure to do in time. Aldridge has been doing most of his damage on face up jumpers and plays off the ball, so his post game still needs some work. Aldridge hasn’t blocked many shots and isn’t grabbing rebounds consistently yet, though it’s too early to cause concern. His agility and good hands have led to a decent amount of offensive rebounds and steals however, which is nice to see.

It’s been great to see Aldridge back on the court, and the sooner he and Roy are playing together the sooner they can start developing the chemistry they’ll need to become a formidable duo for their team. Jamaal Magloire is most likely a short time presence on Portland’s roster, and Zach Randolph may find himself in the hot seat soon if he doesn’t reign in his hoops crew. If the other primary frontcourt players are moved, Aldridge will have himself a starting job. As it stands now, it looks like coach McMillan is willing to give Aldridge the minutes he needs to develop.

6. Shelden Williams, Atlanta Hawks
22.3 minutes, 5.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 47% FG

Joseph Treutlein

Shelden Williams hasn’t put up many great stat lines yet, but he’s started every game for the Atlanta Hawks, and will continue to do so given their lack of big men outside of himself and teammate Zaza Pachulia. Williams pretty much never has his number called in the Hawks offense, so he has to earn just about everything he does. This is no problem for him, though, as he’s an great rebounder on both ends of the court and has a tireless motor. Williams’ minutes have fluctuated a bit in the early going, but he’s pulled down 13 and 15 rebounds in two of his last three games, so he’ll likely be seeing more time soon. Pretty much all of Williams’ points this season have come off spot-up mid-range jumpers or offensive rebounds, though occasionally he’ll get an easy dump off for a lay-up low off of guard penetration. Williams’ mid-range jumper appears to be a bit more consistent than it was at Duke, and it’s quickly becoming a staple of his game out to 15 feet. Defensively, Williams already is making his man work for everything in the post, and has looked adequate when he’s been forced to step out on the perimeter. He hasn't established himself on the weakside yet, though, blocking only five shots in nine games.

Williams’ offensive role has definitely changed in the NBA, in that he no longer has plays run through him, and rarely has the chance to post his man up. Given the many perimeter-oriented players on Atlanta, and the fact that Zaza Pachulia has a more than potent face-up game from either post, this isn’t likely to change soon. But still, Williams is doing just fine in the role he’s currently playing, and as long as he sticks to what he’s doing, he should get more opportunities to expand his role in the future. In the mean time, Williams should look to focus more on disrupting shots in the lane on the weakside defensively, and continue to do everything else he’s already doing.

7. Craig Smith, Minnesota Timberwolves
18.0 minutes, 8.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 54% FG

Eric Weiss

Smith impressed coach Dwayne Casey in preseason with his work ethic and relentless approach on the court, and it won him a chance at some minutes early on. A 20-point performance in his second game kept Smith getting minutes and he hasn’t looked back. Smith is best as a positional rebounder; he digs himself in under the basket and once he’s got position there’s not much anyone can do about it. Smith has really been hitting the offensive glass and converting a multitude of put-backs by using his body to keep his defender pinned. Smith’s biggest asset has been his ability to face-up and drive the ball, which is something a lot of people didn’t think he could do.

Smith has established himself in the Minnesota rotation by using his smarts and his strength. Smith’s knowledge of the game and pure physicality are a good base in which to build out the rest of his game. As it stands now, Smith’s inside play will keep him in the rotation, but to increase his role he’ll have to continue to refine his face-up game and become more of an offensive weapon.

8. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz
17.1 minutes, 7.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 55% FG

Joseph Treutlein

Millsap hasn’t taken long to show the Utah Jazz why he was one of the best rebounders in the NCAA last season. Despite being drafted in the second round, Millsap is already consistently contributing for one of the best teams in the NBA, constantly attacking the glass and doing a little scoring on the low block. Even though he’s only 6’8, Millsap has no trouble pulling down boards in a crowd, being relentless in going after the ball and showing good instincts in tracking the ball down. With his strong base, he also does a very good job establishing position. In the post, Millsap has used a basic arsenal of spin moves and hook shots at times, and hasn’t looked to be hindered by his size.

It’s yet to be seen if Millsap will ever be more than a solid bench player in the NBA, but he has a role already, and he plays it well. He’s also played really well of late, putting up 11 points and 6.8 rebounds in his last five games. Millsap is already getting consistent minutes, on a good team, with a good coaching staff, and some good big men he gets to go up against in practice. As long as he continues to do what he does best, he should provide himself with ample opportunity to improve the other phases of his game in the future, possibly adding a mid-range jumper to his game and becoming a better perimeter defender.

9. Marcus Williams, New Jersey Nets
19.4 minutes, 6.5 points, 2.7 assists, 2.0 turnovers, 35% FG

Eric Weiss

Williams has been somewhat inconsistent on the court, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting significant minutes in the backcourt behind Jason Kidd and along side him as well. It’s pretty normal for a rookie point guard to have trouble running the offense, but Williams has looked very strong working the pick and roll. His shooting touch hasn’t been there, but that is probably the element of his game that needed the most work coming in, so there is no surprise there. Williams has really been passing the ball well though, and is much more effective defensively when playing alongside Kidd and taking the easier assignment.

Williams just needs to keep on working and listening to Kidd. The more he plays alongside the future Hall of Famer, the faster he’ll be able to emulate Kidd’s rhythm and decision-making. Williams’ teammates have been very positive about his ability and potential and with age and depth being a concern for New Jersey, Williams should have an opportunity to really solidify a significant role for himself.

10. Jorge Garbajosa, Toronto Raptors
24.3 minutes, 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 36% FG

Joseph Treutlein

Jorge Garbajosa, the unconventional 29-year-old rookie, has had an up-and-down beginning to his career in American professional basketball. Garbajosa looked like he forgot his shooting touch in Europe to start the season, but has come on strong of late, putting up 10 points and 8 rebounds on 43% field-goal shooting in 33 minutes per game over his last five. He’s also moved into the starting lineup in Toronto, replacing Rasho Nesterovic at center. His three-point shooting has yet to come around, as he boasts an ugly .194 percentage from behind the arc, on 31 attempts. Garbajosa’s been solid playing the pick-and-pop game, though, and should become even better as he gets more settled into the NBA. He’s taking most of his shots from just inside the arc, around the international three-point range, so he’s obviously still getting adjusted. As he gets more comfortable behind the NBA arc, that should become a more consistent aspect of his game. Defensively, he’s decent on the perimeter and down low, not being the most physically gifted player, but playing pretty smart defense. Like many European veterans, he’s also very solid defending the pick-and-roll, something many domestic big men struggle with.

Garbajosa has had a bit of trouble adapting to the NBA, and he’s definitely been inconsistent in all regards, but he should be a decent role player for Toronto for the duration of his three-year deal. His game is obviously fully developed at this age, and now it’s just a matter of him growing more comfortable with the NBA three-point line and some of the rule differences in the game. He may not be their starting center for the rest of his time in Toronto, but Garbajosa should be contributing rotational minutes for awhile at the very least.

Honorable Mentions
Joseph Treutlein

Outside of the top five, things started to get real subjective with this list, and a case could certainly be made for a handful of others to have made the list. Atop of that group is definitely Kyle Lowry, someone who it hurts to keep off. Lowry’s done a good job providing energy for the Memphis Grizzlies in a reserve role, playing his patented pitbull-like defense, providing excellent energy hustling for loose balls and rebounds, and also doing a pretty good job running the team. Unfortunately, Lowry broke his wrist in his November 21st game against Cleveland, and is currently out indefinitely, so it could be awhile before he finally graces this list.

Ronnie Brewer of the Utah Jazz is another player on the outside looking in, starting in place of the injured Andrei Kirilenko for the past five games. He’s averaged 9 points in 22 minutes on 61% shooting over that stretch, and when Kirilenko returns from his ankle sprain, Brewer has a chance of keeping his spot in the lineup, moving over to shooting guard and sending C.J. Miles to the bench.

With Brandon Roy out injured in Portland, some backup point guard minutes opened up, and Sergio Rodriguez stepped in for the last six games, quickly making his mark. Rodriguez put up back-to-back 8 assist nights against Minnesota and Cleveland respectively, with the first outburst coming in just 12 minutes played, albeit most of it garbage time. Rodriguez’s play tailed off a bit after that, though put up 5 assists last night against New Jersey. His minutes will likely reduce or even disappear when Roy returns, but as the season goes on, he could play himself back into the rotation.

Hilton Armstrong has only played more than five minutes once this season, when he started against the Pistons on November 15th in place of the injured Tyson Chandler. On that night, he played 29 minutes, scored 17 points on 11 field-goal attempts, grabbed nine rebounds, and helped lead New Orleans to a 100-99 victory. Since then, he’s been back on the bench.

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