2012-13 Top 10 NBA Rookies Making the Biggest Impac

2012-13 Top 10 NBA Rookies Making the Biggest Impac

By
Jimmy Spencer
(Featured Columnist) on November 10, 2012
Hi-res-154037750_crop_650x440 Rookie guard Damian Lillard has impressed early, but is it for real?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We’re a nation dedicated to the next great thing.

We are a society destined for endless lines for that latest iPhone, the next Batman blockbuster or the hottest downtown restaurant.

So for hoops fans, it’s no surprise that the spotlight shines on the NBA’s rookie class, especially early in the season. It’s a blend of hype and hope; disappointment and dejection; boom and bust.

Early this season, there’s already a collection of rookies stepping into the league’s limelight, leaving early footprints that may lead to the glow of historic greatness, or perhaps a less lit road.

This is not a list about potential. These are the top 10 rookies making the greatest impact thus far in the infant stage of this season.

Jonas Valanciunas is still working out kinks, but his upside is impressive.
Jonas Valanciunas is still working out kinks, but his upside is impressive.
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Jonas Valanciunas, 20, got off to a hot start for the Toronto Raptors. The center had to wait a year after being selected with the No. 5 overall pick in 2011 because of a contract buyout situation.

The 6’11” Lithuanian has tremendous upside. As expected of most young big men, Valanciunas has been inconsistent. He began the season with a double-double in 23 minutes in a loss to the Pacers, and responded with two disappointing games against the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves.

However, against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the rookie flashed early signs of success with 18 points and six rebounds on 6-of-8 from the field in 32 minutes. But the following night in Dallas, he played just 10 minutes and scored four points.

Playing time will be inconsistent and so will productivity, especially early on as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey determines how to utilize matchups with reasonable minutes for the rookie.

Early on, Valanciunas has shown an ability to move at the NBA pace with confidence. He is poised and aggressive, and he doesn’t shy away from contact. He is long, and if he can learn to play defense without fouling, he will control the paint defensively.

Of course, his game still features missteps, but they are all fixable and his potential remains outstanding.

Andre Drummond will continue to have a great impact as his opportunities grow.
Andre Drummond will continue to have a great impact as his opportunities grow.
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Andre Drummond was a top 10 pick for his extreme athleticism matched with incredible size. With a wingspan of 7’6″ and a weight of 275 pounds, he has the ability to be an unmatched center in the league.

Thus far with his Detroit Pistons, Drummond hasn’t had huge opportunity, averaging just 3.8 field-goal attempts in 15.3 minutes per game. However, he’s a poster child for the per-48-minutes stats.

In those 15.3 minutes per game, the rookie big man is shooting 69.6 percent and grabbing an incredible 4.7 rebounds. Now, translate that, and Drummond has the highest per-48 rebounding numbers of any rookie at 14.6.

As Drummond grows (probably not more physically), he will continue to earn more opportunity and will turn into one of the biggest impact rookies of the season.

Bradley Beal struggled in his first two games, but has since identified himself as a scorer.
Bradley Beal struggled in his first two games, but has since identified himself as a scorer.
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Bradley Beal, the scorer out of Florida, came through on Friday with 22 points—his biggest scoring output of his four-game career.

Beal shot 50 percent from the floor that night and was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, despite missing each of his four three-point attempts in the loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Beal has proven himself in the last two games, which also included 16 points in a loss to Boston. The guard began his career with totals of eight points and two points on a combined 2-of-13 shooting through his first two games.

The Washington Wizards didn’t draft Beal to be John Wall; they drafted him to play alongside Wall. So while Beal is shooting 27 percent from behind the arc, it’s important to remember it’s early and that more open looks will develop with the return of Wall near the end of the month.

7. Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

The role of Harrison Barnes in Golden State will continue to grow.
The role of Harrison Barnes in Golden State will continue to grow.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Harrison Barnes has slipped into a starting spot for the Warriors, and his role will grow even greater, as Brandon Rush is out for the season with an ACL tear.

Barnes has flashed the talents of that long, athletic frame and has shown an ability to crash the basket. He has started at forward in each of the Warriors’ (3-3) first six games, averaging 24.3 minutes and scoring 8.5 points and two rebounds per game.

Barnes has played satisfactory thus far, but he will be given more responsibility as the season goes on. He learned on Friday night how difficult it is to guard guys like Kobe Bryant, and the tough learning curve will continue as he carves out a role.

While Barnes has had a limited impact for Golden State, his role will only grow from here.

6. Kyle Singler (Detroit Pistons)

Kyle Singler is having a solid impact for the winless Detroit Pistons.
Kyle Singler is having a solid impact for the winless Detroit Pistons.
Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

The Medford, Oregon kid is shooting an incredible 56 percent for nine points per game in his first six games for the Detroit Pistons.

He’s fitting that “solid” role early on with limited shot attempts and displaying that knack of being around the ball as he was with Duke. His plus-minus rating of minus-eight is the best of any player on the winless Pistons.

The 24-year-old seems confident in his role; he seems fine with NBA spacing and understands playing within the team’s offense.

5. Jae Crowder (Dallas Mavericks)

Jae Crowder has found a role in Dallas, having a great impact for a winning team.
Jae Crowder has found a role in Dallas, having a great impact for a winning team.
Elsa/Getty Images

Jae Crowder is having the greatest impact as a rookie for a team that will actually be in the mix.

Crowder, a second-round pick drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks, is finding a role for his new team.

Crowder was valuable off the bench, averaging 8.8 points and 2.8 rebounds in 19.3 minutes in his first four games. Following the MCL sprain of veteran Shawn Marion, Crowder has started the last two games, shooting 50 percent on limited shot attempts for 7.5 points per game.

A utility guy for the Mavericks, 4-2 without Dirk Nowitzki, Crowder is a valuable defender who can oppose big guards and power forwards. A type of player like Crowder will always find valuable minutes to have an impact in the NBA, and the 22-year-old Marquette star is making his mark early.

4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Bobcats)

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist found himself in the mix on Friday night.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist found himself in the mix on Friday night.
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist proved Friday night that he isn’t afraid to be the “I’m here for you” teammate.

Kidd-Gilchrist was there for teammate Byron Mullens after a minor scuffle with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis. MKG quickly sprinted over to the scene of the bravado, exhibiting a loyal heart for his teammate. Even the exposed body of a referee wasn’t going to stop him.

He was going to be there for current teammate Mullens, and there in some form or another for former teammate Davis.

It’s a small moment emblematic of the No. 2 overall pick’s intangible qualities. Known as the glue guy coming out of the draft, Kidd-Gilchrist can be an on-court bully in the best way. He is proving to be an all-around guy with scrap for the Bobcats, a franchise in need of that.

In the first four games, Kidd-Gilchrist is spreading numbers around the box score, putting up 9.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.8 steals per game.

3. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets)

Anthony Davis is showing that he is ready to have early impact as a post player.
Anthony Davis is showing that he is ready to have early impact as a post player.
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The learning curve is a bit slower at the post position, so the fact that Anthony Davis is having such an early impact speaks highly of his abilities.

The No. 1 overall pick is scoring 17.3 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field through three games for the New Orleans Hornets. Back from a concussion, Davis showed he’s not afraid to scrap when he went toe-to-toe against Charlotte’s Byron Mullens after a minor pushing situation.

The anger seemingly fueled intensity, and that passion led to Davis’s first double-double, as he scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots against Charlotte on Friday.

In the three full games Davis has played, he has scored 20-plus points and averaged 2.7 blocks per game. But more than the numbers, it’s the intensity of Davis that shows he’s truly primed to be one of the highest impact rookies this season.

2. Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Dion Waiters is making an early impact alongside last year's top rookie, Kyrie Irving.
Dion Waiters is making an early impact alongside last year’s top rookie, Kyrie Irving.
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Nothing wipes away a reputation of poor attitude and a lack of work ethic more than a week that includes a 28-point game and a 23-point game.

Waiters is looking settled in aside Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sharing the backcourt with last year’s Rookie of the Year will provide plenty of opportunities for Waiters, who early on is proving that he was one of the most NBA-ready draft picks of 2012.

Waiters is shooting a fantastic 48.7 percent from the floor and 53 percent from three-point range, enhanced by the seven three-pointers he drilled in Cleveland’s win at the Los Angeles Clippers last week.

Waiters will have to improve his defense—an element of Irving’s game that is strongly lacking—if the Cavaliers can battle against opposing top-scoring backcourts.

For now, Waiters is already breaking down defenses and is being given plenty of opportunity in Cleveland.

1. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

Damian Lillard is the most impactful rookie thus far this season, but he might be fool's gold.
Damian Lillard is the most impactful rookie thus far this season, but he might be fool’s gold.
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Damian Lillard is currently the top ranked rookie.

While there’s only so long that you can doubt a guy before giving in, the doubt will actually continue in a different form here.

It’s important to discuss the fool’s gold theory.

If an NBA team wants to make a star, it can. The Sacramento Kings did it with Tyreke Evans, the Minnesota Timberwolves did it with Jonny Flynn, and now the Portland Trail Blazers are doing it with Lillard.

The league is all about opportunities to have the ball in a player’s hands, and the amount of shots allowed to be taken. But what happens when a team yanks away that opportunity?

The 6’3″ guard out of the Big Sky Conference’s Weber State is averaging 18.6 points and 7.2 assists per game through the first five games of his career. That’s impressive.

But it’s also proof that the NBA can pick and choose the league’s scorers, especially when shot selection isn’t demanded.

There’s a chance that NBA fans and analysts are kidding themselves a bit when indulging in Lillard’s rookie excitement.

Here’s the best illustration of reality: Lillard is not a superstar like Kevin Durant or even Russell Westbrook. The better comparison is Marcus Thornton.

In six games this season, the 25-year-old Thornton is averaging 16.7 points per game, shooting 40.9 percent on 15.5 shots in 31.2 minutes per game. His assists numbers are lower at 2.3, but that’s a direct reflection of his role on the team—helping exemplify the point.

Lillard is being given the opportunity to be that exciting young scorer in Portland. The 22-year-old is averaging his 18.6 points by shooting 41.6 percent on 15.4 shots in 37.8 minutes per game.

Look familiar? The point is that a guy like Lillard isn’t proving himself to be any greater of a player than a Thornton type, who isn’t even starting for one of the league’s worst teams.

Lillard might not be the next superstar scorer, he might be fool’s gold—but he’s still the most impactful rookie thus far in an early 2012-13 season.

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