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Old 12-09-2012, 07:14 PM   #97
Not airballing my layups anymore
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Default Re: ESPN Insider - The Official Thread

Rookie Watch: November's best

A month is a long time in the NBA. Guys such as Dion Waiters have already had time not only to explode up the charts but also to fall back down. Anthony Davis has been able to tease us as a "Tim Duncan 2.0," then disappear because of injury. And others, such as Kyle Singler, Andre Drummond and Damian Lillard, have provided a steady stream of strong play.

If the 2012-13 rookie class members can learn anything from their play in November, it's how quickly the NBA landscape, and their personal slice of it, can change for better or for worse. Take a good look at November's top 10 because it's likely to look far different by season's end.

1. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers | Rookie card
He's been the best rookie who has played full time since Day 1. Sure, he was awful in a recent outing in Detroit in which he missed his first 11 shots. But those 11 attempts were mostly good or great looks that he just didn't finish.

Blazers fans and execs have to be smiling after watching him respond to such a poor start in that game. Lillard, who is making 56 percent of his driving shots when he ends up in the paint, kept attacking.

He also poured in a relatively quick seven points in the fourth quarter when the game was still in question. He did not let the bad start affect his future decisions, which is a very veteran thing to do.

Through 14 games, Lillard also has made 53 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, making him one of the top midrange shooters this season. For comparison's sake, look at what some other point guards who were top-five draft picks did from that distance in their rookie seasons:

Derrick Rose made 43 percent, Russell Westbrook 38 percent, Tyreke Evans 32 percent and John Wall 30 percent. And, for good measure, here's what Portland's last All-Star guard, Brandon Roy, shot from this range in his best season, 2008-09: 43 percent.

Lillard is proving to be a very good drive-and-finish guy and an excellent mid- to long-range shooter. A bad game here and there is only par for the course, not something to be alarmed about.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats | Rookie card
Going into the season, there were concerns that MKG could not shoot and therefore his upside was minimal. This November, Kidd-Gilchrist has proved his critics right -- it's true, he can't shoot. But he's also proving that it does not matter, at least not when you have his amazingly unique set of skills in a perfect body for today's NBA.

Ask Thabo Sefolosha about defending MKG in the post. The rookie attacked middle, then curled away from help for an easy 2. Kidd-Gilchrist is very comfortable down in the paint, which is why it is so great to see him grab a rebound and start his own fast break. Unlike a more traditional big such as Al Horford, who can start the break with a hard ball push, MKG can maneuver through traffic and find the perfect angle for a layup, dunk or foul.

Speaking of Horford, one of the league's top defenders, ask him about defending MKG in space at the top of the key. He'll tell you how he was flat whipped off the dribble by Kidd-Gilchrist for an impressive lay-in.

Kidd-Gilchrist can't shoot, but he sure can face-cut; he slashes by his defenders down the lane to draw fouls or get buckets. Even if he never learns to correct his shot, Kidd-Gilchrist will still be a borderline star for the Bobcats. But if his range grows out to 18 feet -- shooting is the one skill almost all players improve on in their careers -- he clearly will be ranked with Lillard and Anthony Davis as the cream of this rookie crop.

3. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors
As November closes, the Raptors have to be pleased with their young big man. Averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block in just 24 minutes per game is a good start, to say the least. And he's been even better than that lately.

Valanciunas showed an excellent offensive arsenal against Tim Duncan on Sunday, pouring in nine made shots in 13 attempts. He displayed baseline hooks with the left hand, baseline counters using a high-release jumper and beautifully soft touch shots from inside 12 feet. He is going to be a solid offensive player for many years, with the potential to be even better than that. Now, if he can just get to work on the backboards, he would be a cinch to be a long-term starter.

4. Anthony Davis, Hornets | Rookie card
At least when Blake Griffin got hurt, he had not played a real game yet, so fans didn't really know what they were missing. Davis, however, has been a revelation in the few games he has played, making NBA fans anxious to see whether he can keep it up.

Do-it-all performers at his age and size are rare. They capture the imagination of a fan base and let them dream of titles.

5. Andre Drummond, Pistons
Drummond continues to impress. The key, though, is for him to understand why he has been able to do what he is doing, with a PER just shy of 20, one of the best offensive rebound rates in the league and a high field goal percentage thanks to his getting so many paint touches.

So how is he getting those touches? Just look at his play late in the third quarter against the Blazers on Monday. As Rodney Stuckey worked in the midpost, Drummond was running down the baseline when Stuckey suddenly settled for a step-back jumper (and answered the question "Why is Stuckey's PER south of 10?). Drummond was literally out of bounds as the shot was taken.

With Drummond matched with much stronger LaMarcus Aldridge and his team up by nine points, Lawrence Frank would have understood if Drummond had simply ignored the bad shot and run back on defense. That's what most players would have done. Instead, Drummond quickly used his feet to jump back into the paint and his arms to gain a space advantage against Aldridge.

As a rebounder, the goal is to put yourself in the best position possible for the ball -- if the ball bounces the wrong way, you still have done your job. In this case, the ball caromed high and agile and long Drummond was able to come down with it. It does not matter that he went right back up (also the right play) and Aldridge stripped him. Drummond is going to get stronger and craftier with the ball, that much we know. If he continues to make the high-motor plays he is making now, his ceiling is going to be very high.

6. Kyle Singler, Pistons | Rookie card
Yes, Detroit is bad. Consider that Rodney Stuckey, who has played 57 percent of the minutes available for the Pistons, was a combined minus-80 points in raw plus/minus entering the week. Meanwhile, the team's other core guys -- Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Tayshaun Prince -- all played more than 65 percent of the time and were minus-37 to minus-41.

Singler, who has played in a little more than half of the overall minutes on his team, was minus-1 for the season. It's early, and adjusted plus/minus over time will tell us more than just the raw numbers, but it is not a stat to be ignored. He is quickly becoming recognized as a sweet-shooting glue guy.

7. Brian Roberts, Hornets
Roberts continues to impress despite his team's struggles. He was by far the Hornets' best guard in their blowout loss in Denver on Sunday. The Nuggets force guards to match their pace, but Roberts refused to run his team off its rails. Instead, he smartly probed the defense and took what was there at the right times. His teammate Austin Rivers, a fellow rookie, was not as adept at reading this game.

You can tell Roberts had a good deal of strong coaching overseas, and, as with Singler, the experience in Europe has eased his transition into the NBA. He's reading the game instead of merely playing it.

8. John Henson, Bucks
Being tall, long and coordinated is obviously a great place to start for an NBA player. Basketball IQ, though, is what carries a player with good physical measurements into becoming a strong rotation player. Henson is that and possibly more.

Henson flows into the game with ease and very often is in the right place at the right time. His upper body is clearly weak, but so is his lower body. And when he strengthens that area, his game is going to improve rapidly, as he'll be able to hold the space he's flowing to much bett

9. Moe Harkless, Magic
The season is just a month old, but we shouldn't be surprised if Harkless ends up being the top wing defender of this class by year's end. He's already effective for an underrated defensive team that is rebuilding its identity on that side of the floor sans Dwight Howard.

Harkless extends his long arms fully when contesting jumpers. He leaves a hand in the passing lane to the rim when helping dribble drives up the floor. And he's been sharp so far in understanding his responsibilities in the Magic's full pick-and-roll defensive schemes, sagging on the post diver before recovering quickly to his man on the perimeter. This alertness, in terms of executing their schemes and when he occasionally has to scramble and find someone to check, is not often found in young players.

10. Alexey Shved, Timberwolves
Shved has managed his team well when he has had the chance and, now that Roy is out with knee problems, will have a strong chance to make himself a permanent part of the rotation. To do that, though, he'll need to be able to knock down shots. Or better yet, not take them from the perimeter until he can make more of them. He has been dynamite in the paint and solid from midrange, but woeful beyond 16 feet.

Using his 6-6 frame to score over smaller guards off drives or cuts in Minnesota's offense is preferable to clanging long jumpers. However, if he puts a lot of time into shooting better each day now, he won't be the first guy to see his shooting percentages improve during the
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