Rookie Watch: Let's be real
Why Harrison Barnes, Dion Waiters haven't been as good as they may seem
Harrison Barnes and Dion Waiters fit the old star mold, but the advanced stats tell a different story.
Some readers have questioned why Harrison Barnes and Dion Waiters aren't higher in my rankings. So let me take this time to explain how I evaluate the rookie class and talent overall.
In the past, we would look at raw numbers and proclaim with some confidence that a particular player was playing effectively. If the player was putting up double-digit points and his team was not successful, then the blame was cast on his lower-scoring teammates, bad defense, poor rebounding, turnovers, etc.
But thanks to John Hollinger, Dean Oliver, Roland Beech and the huge assortment of advanced metrics they and others have made available online, we now have little excuse when it comes to evaluating a player's contributions on the court. For instance, we shouldn't rush to call Waiters and Barnes successes simply because they are high-scoring dynamic players.
We're keeping track of every NBA rook. Here are the latest Top 50 rankings.
Are these two rookies talented? Do they have a lot of upside? Are they capable of playing great for a game here and there? Yes, absolutely. But, while it's understandable to get excited about those things, it's not accurate to think that a few good games surrounded by a lot of poor ones is superior to playing more efficiently and consistently in fewer minutes. Just because a player scores more points does not mean he is playing well.
I've used Adam Morrison as an example before, but his story bears repeating. He exploded out of the blocks as a rookie, averaging over 15 points per game in November on 37.5 percent shooting from 3. This sounds promising, considering how well he had played in college -- he was no project. He then earned a spot in the Rookie Challenge at the All-Star break and started almost a third of his 77 games played, finishing the season with an impressive 11 points per game average while shooting better than 33 percent from 3.
But look closer and you'll find his advanced stats were scary bad, as was his overall field goal percentage (37.6 percent). So while fans were excited and the general consensus was that he was doing exactly what was expected of him, deeper analysis showed red flags everywhere. The truth was he was awful as a rookie, despite his solid raw stats. Then he got hurt, before basically losing his confidence that he could help an NBA team win games. And now he is out of the league and considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.
Make no mistake, Barnes and Waiters are playing far better than how Morrison did in his rookie season, but their seasons thus far are similar. They have elite physical skills, so their margin for error is much greater than Morrison's was, but if they don't learn how to play with their minds, they won't be important pieces of solid winning teams.
Waiters' problems start with -- you guessed it -- shot selection. A true shooting percentage south of 47, which ranks very low on any scale you measure it with, drives down his player efficiency rating to 12.59. Too many step-back jumpers, too many contested long 2s with 10 seconds on the shot clock, and too many over-penetrations into the teeth of the defense, which forces difficult shots -- a big reason why he's making just over 40 percent of his shots at the rim. I worry about the latter problem the least, because players like Waiters often figure out how to finish once they become better at reading defenses. But the shot selection stuff can linger for years; that's a problem Waiters must address now.
Barnes has an issue with assertiveness, though in his defense, playing alongside quick triggers like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson does not give him ample opportunities to shine. His team is not strong at moving the ball. The Warriors like to isolate players (Barnes included sometimes) more than a lot of teams, which does not give Barnes the green light to attack his defender unless he's the one in isolation. Still, the bottom line for Barnes is that he looks special at times during games, yet ranks nowhere near the top 10 rookies in PER (11.33) and other metrics.
In many respects, analyzing a player requires the understanding of a basic principle -- if one player shoots, then no other player can shoot on that possession. So every time a player takes a poor shot, his team is less likely to score than when any player takes a good shot (no player makes a respectable percentage of bad shots). A good shot is defined as one that a player has a good chance of making within the constraints of time, score and rebounding/defensive balance.
It sounds simple, but if the goal is to help your team win -- and yes, that is the ultimate goal evaluators have to keep in mind -- then players who take bad shots often can be considered less valuable than other players who may be producing less in terms of raw numbers. Because the numbers those other players are producing are more conducive to winning plays.
When analyzing a player, we also have to use care when using plus-minus, especially this early in the season (the same could be said about adjusted plus-minus, too). One player might have a far more impressive plus-minus than another, but only because one replacement player is much worse than the other.
So a trick evaluators use is to imagine how players would do if they were to simply switch teams. How would Hornets rookie Brian Roberts do in Cleveland? Would he help the Cavs win more? And would Waiters do more in New Orleans than Roberts? This is not based on projections, but strictly a subjective look at how each one is playing at this time.
No one would argue that Roberts will be better than Waiters once the latter matures -- which is likely but not assured. But right now, it's hard to argue that the already mature and crafty Roberts would not help Cleveland more today, while the Hornets would suffer with Waiters.(Thinking about Waiters and Austin Rivers playing together is a painful exercise.)
Highlights and exciting players are also obstacles for fans. Remember when everyone just knew that Kobe Bryant was the king of clutch? A deeper study of the data proved otherwise, for both him and the Lakers.
Similarly, a player who can grab 10 rebounds, all below the rim, in 30 minutes a game is still more valuable than the guy who flies all over the place for his seven rebounds in 36 minutes. It may not look as pretty, but the first player is obviously having a greater impact.
Waiters does indeed have some Dwyane Wade in him and a little Eric Gordon, too. And that screams DYNAMIC! Meanwhile, Barnes looks like the elite prep player he was -- he's longer, taller, smoother and more skilled and athletic than most small forwards we'll ever see. Those aspects of their games will sell tickets, sure, but they only matter to talent evaluators when they are used to administer efficient and productive punishments on their opponents.
Jarvis Hayes, a former lottery pick in 2003, was a big and strong wing player from an athletic college conference who stormed out of the gates for the Wizards as a rookie. He averaged better than 11 ppg his first two months and earned a spot next to the likes of LeBron, Melo, Bosh and Wade in the rookie-soph game. But Hayes was never even an average NBA player during his career because of poor shooting percentages and a lack of understanding of how to best utilize his strengths.
There is a stark difference between perception and reality, which objective stats show us more clearly. I believe that guys like Waiters and Barnes are fully capable of becoming long-term starters, and possibly stars -- something I have always projected for Barnes -- but it is not yet written in stone.
Until then, they will be highly marketed rookies, for sure, but only average in terms of production. Meanwhile, there will be other rookies (and veterans) helping their teams play better, only with less attention.
This week's rookie observations
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats -- Dec. 6: There is a lot to love about MKG's consistent efforts every night. But there is one glaring consistency that he needs to improve over time to begin to reach his vast potential: his inability to get to the free throw line. Since Thanksgiving, he has played more than 175 minutes and has shot just four free throws.
More shot fakes, better attacking angles and simply just valuing the act of getting fouled will help him a great deal. This is not something to worry about, as rookies have such a steep learning curve, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Jared Sullinger, Celtics -- Dec. 6: The Celtics are not playing as well as they hoped to be, but as a veteran group, there is little sense of panic. For a youngster like Sullinger, it is important to develop some trust from his coach, a place where he can be counted on to produce most nights. Sullinger has quietly done that by dominating the defensive boards during his minutes.
If he can maintain this level on just this one part of the game, he will ensure more minutes for himself because Boston takes great pride in cleaning up missed shots. And more minutes will give him the chance to develop other parts of his game.
Tony Wroten, Grizzlies -- Dec. 6: The Grizzlies are possibly the top story in the West, maybe the whole league. But down the road, they could need a third point guard. Enter Wroten, who was recently sent to the D-League. Playing time is what he needs most right now if he's going to fill in when necessary for the contenders in Tennessee.
Andre Drummond, Pistons -- Dec. 5: I can hear the criticism now. All he does is dunk! But it is never an opposing coach who utters that silly phrase, because they know a dunk is the highest percentage shot in basketball. Sure, Drummond has a few nifty moves in his still-in-training-wheels offensive game, as he showed against Golden State with a nice spin to the rim and 1. But his dunks are what make his coaches smile and his opponents sweat, because he is getting them the right way by hanging around the paint with his hands up, ready to catch and explode.
So many young athletes enter the NBA and don't play that way, instead choosing to show off their perimeter skills or finesse game in the paint. For example, DeMarcus Cousins took four shots per game inside (making 64 percent) and three per game from 16 to 23 feet (making 37 percent) as a rookie. Drummond, on the hand, takes almost four shots a game inside and less than a half a shot per game from the perimeter. With his size and agility, he won't need a perimeter game for years.
Will Barton, Trail Blazers -- Dec. 3: It hasn't been a good beginning for Barton, in part because few rooks are prepared for spot duty. But on Monday, Barton made 3 of 5 shots, nailing a corner 3 and racing the floor for two easy buckets. This is significant because it meant he had played solidly, scoring wise, in two consecutive games for the first time this season. (He scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting on Saturday.)
His quickness and length are intriguing, but a few rookies have gone to Portland and disappeared the past few seasons, so Barton has his work cut out for him. The good news is that he made his first 3 in the first quarter of Monday's contest as his team was getting drilled, and it helped spark them back into the game. Coaches remember that kind of stuff.
Bradley Beal, Wizards -- Dec. 3: Unlike many rookies, Beal is not having a big problem with shot selection; he is just missing shot after shot. Remember, he did not shoot well for most of the college season, surprising everyone who had pegged him as the next Ray Allen. But he found his shot as the Gators ran to the Elite Eight, and Wizards fans hope that he can pull off something similar this season. Hopefully before March, of course.
The list of All-Star players who didn't look anything close to an All-Star early in their careers is very long. No one could have projected Dirk Nowitzki's legendary talent when he first plodded up and down the courts in Dallas. Remember how lost Kevin Durant was as a rookie, jacking up shots and forgetting how to rebound after dominating the boards in college? Even great players struggle through the grind of NBA defenses before they figure things out.
With that in mind, let's examine a couple of players who have started out slowly, but could ultimately become solid players or more by the time their season ends.
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Beal leads all rookies in free throw percentage and is shooting a decent percentage from 3 ( .333). But those are about the only good things coming from the No. 3 overall pick thus far.
Measuring him against other rookies, however, can be a tricky thing. Imagine two guys rowing separate boats, both equal in their abilities. One guy is in a fast-moving stream, rowing his boat in the same direction as the current. Meanwhile, the other is rowing in a stream moving in the opposite direction of the rower. Who's the faster rower?
In other words, part of the reason Beal is struggling is because the Wizards, for reasons beyond their control and under their control, have been moving downward since day one this season. And while players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are so good that they can elevate a franchise almost on their own, Beal is not at their level.
Nonetheless, Beal is ultimately responsible for his game results, which include him taking four shots a game from 16 to 23 feet and making only 23 percent of them (long 2s are the lowest-percentage shots in the game). Many of these shots are coming off screens, which are difficult shots to make without being balanced on the release; Beal is working hard to get open but is not staying balanced on most of these shots.
His transition game is good, maybe even very good, where he can navigate the court and find open creases. But he's not having that same success in the halfcourt, appearing overwhelmed most of the time as he searches for open looks. The game is just too fast for him right now. It looks as though he thinks there are seven defenders on the court, especially when he's the primary ball handler in ball screen situations. He is not attacking angles properly and is making it easy for defenders to defend him and his teammates.
If John Wall, who is out with a knee injury, were playing next to Beal in the backcourt, things would surely get easier for Beal. It's a great thing to look forward to. Just as the game slows down for Beal, Wall should return, and that combination suggests Beal will have a big second half of the season.
Austin Rivers, Hornets
It's going to sound cold, but the one word to describe Rivers' start is "brick." As in, he's really struggling to make shots. Bad shots, good shots, any shots.
Rivers plays with a ton of confidence, which is typically a good thing, except when it isn't. Such as when the player keeps taking shots expecting them to fall. Unlike Beal, Rivers appears more comfortable moving around with the ball on offense -- he's actually finding some excellent looks. He's just not converting them.
The "short middle" of the court, the area between 3 to 9 feet from the rim, is really the place for guards to make their living. Last season, Tony Parker made 45.7 percent of such shots (in a down year for him), Derrick Rose made 43.7 percent and Chris Paul knocked in 49.7 percent of them. To date, Rivers has made only 12.5 percent -- basically just a few all season -- and that has impacted the rest of his game.
He has to be careful not to overpenetrate (he already gets a quarter of his drives blocked), so converting those short-middle drives is key to having some success as anything but a distance shooter. It also will help him get to the free throw line more. Making short shots and free throws will then likely help him convert more 3-point shots, where he's making less than one per game now.
General confidence in his game is one thing, but believing in himself to make shots consistently has to be earned with results, more or less.
On a positive note, Rivers has been better on offense in the past two weeks than he was at the start of the season. It would not be surprising to see him put together a strong month, as his craftiness and toughness with the ball is impressive. And if he'd start thinking defensive thoughts more often (he has been one of the weaker defenders on the team), he'd probably make his coach happier and earn even more minutes.
This week's rookie observations
John Henson, Bucks -- Nov. 21: Forget about his 17-point, 18-rebound effort against the world champs as being some kind of lucky game. A lucky game is when a guy makes a bunch of shots that he normally misses. Sure, Henson made a few pick-and-pop jumpers, but he looked good making them and should only improve that aspect of his game year after year.
Instead, focus on this: He may very well be the weakest player, pound for pound, in the NBA. But do you think this will always be the case? Of course not. We know he's going to only get stronger. Imagine the same long guy, in a stronger body, with a better jumper. Yep, this Miami game, where Henson dominated the paint for much of the night, was likely a glimpse at what's ahead for Henson in the coming months and years. He's going to be a problem for a lot of opponents.
Terrence Jones, Rockets -- Nov. 19: Jones finally got some run the past few days and looks sharp. I like how he is hanging around the rim waiting for the pass off a dribble-drive for a dunk; a lot of young power forwards tend to drift away from the paint and, thus, from contact.
Jones made a terrific catch on a low pass as he slid along the baseline at the closing of a quarter, and then finished it. He also looked comfortable beating Jazz defenders in isolations with a nice jab series that ended up in free throws.
Harrison Barnes, Warriors -- Nov. 19: Barnes continued his strong play with a 20-point, 12-rebound game that included a dagger 3 in overtime to help the Warriors pull off a big road win in Dallas. He started the game with a rebound and push-and-pull from 3 that swished, and just played locked-in all game.
Watching him and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist makes me think that the argument over who should have gone No. 2 in the draft could be a long one. Each guy has the potential to be special, but Barnes is likely to always be the superior perimeter shooter.
John Jenkins, Hawks -- Nov. 19: Jenkins got a five-minute run in the Hawks' blowout win, missing both shots he took. But they were good shots. He is someone who is used to shooting his way into a groove, and that is unlikely to happen for him this season as a reserve player.
But as long as he takes smart shots and plays the game the right way, he will still get chances here and there. Being aggressive but patient, like he was on this night, is the answer.
Jeffery Taylor, Bobcats -- Nov. 19: Taylor showed off a few solid talents on Monday. I liked how he was able to drive middle from the wing to create shots for himself or a teammate. He also crashed the glass from the corner and made plays, something most wings either can't or won't do. And his strong body and big hands help him to curl tight off the pinch post and not get knocked off line -- though he did get loose with the ball once and turned it over.
Taylor's shot is a bit flat right now. It's why he's been shooting so poorly this season. But it's something he can work on now and not have to wait until the offseason.
Bernard James, Mavericks -- Nov. 19: After blocking five shots in his previous two games combined, I wanted to watch James in his next game to see if opponents were going to pay attention to where he was, considering he's not a household name in the league. Stephen Curry will now remember him, as James cleanly blocked his floater -- a shot that was developed to help avoid blocks by bigs loitering inside.
Jarrett Jack was his next victim, as James came from the help side to block Jack after the point guard used a ball screen to get to the rim. Jack never saw him coming, which is when a shot-blocker is most dangerous.
James added one more block -- an impressive rejection of David Lee in transition, where James was able to get to the shot despite Lee reversing it to the other side of the rim. James looks to be a legit shot-blocking specialist.
Moe Harkless, Magic -- Nov. 19: Harkless did what he needs to do in blowout losses -- play the right way, as if the game was on the line. He has been excellent at slashing to the rim and not floating to the perimeter to shoot, which is a weakness in most young players.
But in blowouts, rookies tend to try to do too much. In this case, Harkless looked to cut to the rim or drive when he had the ball, and he made all four of his paint shots. His only miss was a weak attempt at a stepback jumper from 20 feet. For the most part, he looked to make plays inside of 15 feet on both ends of the court, and for that he is likely to be rewarded with more playing time.
Jared Sullinger, Celtics -- Nov. 18: The Pistons blew out the Celtics, but Sullinger can learn a lot from his 16-point outing. He started out firing, and missing, from 18 feet. Later, as he slashed and flowed more to the paint, he started getting buckets inside and established a good rhythm. So when he took a 15-footer and an 18-footer at the end of the game, it was not surprising that he made both.
He has the body and the craft to get inside buckets. Now he has to have the mindset to do so nightly.
John Henson, Bucks -- Nov. 18: Henson is still recovering from a knee injury and thus is not able to play as athletically as he did in the past. On Sunday, he ran the floor fine but didn't bang for space and angles inside nearly as much as he could have. He also settled for a jumper and, unfortunately, a 3-pointer with 12 seconds on the shot clock. Perhaps he'll be a good shooter one day, but that day is not today, so knowing his role and his limitations is a wise move to earn more minutes.
Evan Fournier, Nuggets -- Nov. 17: Fournier does not play much at all thanks to Denver's deep bench of perimeter players. But he came in against the Spurs on Saturday and looked comfortable -- he hunted good shots and took them when he should have.
He has a smooth and compact shooting stroke and a feel for how to find open creases. Of course, that part of the game isn't hard when no defender is worried about him getting open. But being aggressive when you get your chances is a good place to start for a young player.
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
'Note: I'll be prettying it up sooner or later. But it works for now. Just make sure that http://insider.espn.go.com is the first bit of the URL. I don't think there will be any www action going on in there.
If there are any errors you come across or articles not showing up, PM me the article you're trying to browse and I'll take a look at it.
Another note: I'll be making it so that you can browse ESPN insider from within this script sometime in the future. But I just wanted a quick and dirty proof of concept before I went to that point.'