Had John Wall been healthy the entire season to date, this year's Rookie of the Year competition might just be shaping up as one of the best ever. The unique nature of this year's ROY battle is that it features a pair of No. 1 overall picks. Because Blake Griffin's NBA debut was delayed by a season, he's competing with Wall in a case of two top selections who have entirely lived up to the advance billing. As it is, Griffin is the odds-on favorite to claim the hardware at this point, though Wall has played well enough to get back into the race the rest of the season.
Here is a trickier question: A quarter of the way through the schedule, who would join Wall and Griffin on the All-Rookie Team? Landry Fields, the steal of the draft thus far and the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, is an easy selection. After Fields? The field thins out considerably. In terms of Wins Above Replacement Player, Fields (1.3) is 0.9 WARP ahead of the next best rookie, San Antonio's Gary Neal. If you prefer John Hollinger's value statistic, EWA, a similar margin puts Fields before Denver's Gary Forbes. Forbes and Neal are both free agents who went undrafted years ago. To find someone else from the 2010 Draft in WARP, you have to go all the way down to Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, who has played well lately but totaled less than 250 minutes for a below-.500 team.
Certainly, there are a handful of rookies meeting expectations thus far or awaiting an opportunity. Derrick Favors has flashed plenty of the promise that made him the No. 3 overall pick, while Eric Bledsoe is ahead of schedule and has held his own as the Clippers' starting point guard. Lottery picks like Cole Aldrich and Paul George are behind veterans in the rotation, while Ekpe Udoh would simply love the chance to play basketball after summer wrist surgery.
Still, there have been more disappointments than pleasant surprises, especially in the lottery. Let's take a look at five players--and one group--underperforming expectations thus far.
Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
Nothing substantial has changed since we checked in on Turner and Wall during the season's second week. It remains painful to see Turner deployed primarily on the weak side, but he's yet to be efficient enough as a creator to justify having the ball in his hands more frequently. When he has gotten opportunities, Turner has been tentative and ineffective. The role of spot-up shooter won't work for Turner, who is 1-of-11 beyond the arc last year. So what exactly is he contributing right now? Not much. He has the most negative WARP (-1.1) of any player in the league and has ceded playing time to the hot-shooting Jodie Meeks.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
That Cousins has been in constant foul trouble (8.5 per 48 minutes) and clashed at times with the coaching staff in Sacramento is hardly surprising. The problem is that Cousins has yet to provide the prodigious production that was supposed to make up for his warts. They've become a lot more difficult to overlook with Cousins making just 41.0 percent of his two-point attempts. He's spending too much time away from the basket, attempting 2.4 shots a game from 16 to 23 feet, and has been dreadful away from the basket, making just 25.8 percent of his shots beyond the rim but closer than 10 feet. Give credit to Hoopdata.com's Joe Treutlein for noticing this worrisome trend in the preseason. Cousins could learn a lot from Zach Randolph, who became an All-Star last season when he shifted his game to the interior after years of drifting away from the basket. I've always thought of Cousins as a taller Randolph.
Wesley Johnson, Minnesota Timberwolves
Johnson was supposed to be the polished alternative to projects like Cousins and Favors as a redshirt junior. More than a month into his NBA career, however, Johnson remains mired below replacement level. He deserves a bit of a break because he's playing much of the time out of position at shooting guard to make room for Michael Beasley in the starting lineup. That's limited Johnson to the perimeter, hampering his rebounding. Still, Johnson has yet to flash much in the way of a special skill at the NBA level. His numbers are ordinary at best across the board, and Johnson needs to be much more efficient if he's going to use just 15.3 percent of Minnesota's plays. Given he's already 23, Johnson doesn't have the same luxury of time to develop like some of his peers.
Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
It's early, but so far the critics who questioned how Hayward's game would translate from the Horizon League to the NBA have the upper hand. Hayward has struggled to make shots, which in turn has left him hanging his head. "He hasn't shot real well," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan told the Indianapolis Star. "He shot it well for a while, but now he's kind of lost his confidence. I think that hurt him some and then the wheels started turning. He has to learn how to work out of that." Hayward has held his own athletically, but to justify playing time he's going to have to be an efficient scorer, and right now he's anything but that (his True Shooting Percentage is 45.6 percent).
Xavier Henry, Memphis Grizzlies
This might be unfair, since nobody expected Henry to be starting after a single season at Kansas. With O.J. Mayo demoted to the role of sixth man and Tony Allen a free-agent bust, Henry has gotten the nod lately. While the Grizzlies have been happy with his defense, Henry has been woefully unproductive on the offensive end. He's been unable to connect from NBA three-point range (14.3 percent) and has also struggled from the line (64.3 percent). It is mystifying how Henry, a 6'6" wing who was better than average on the glass in college, is grabbing just 4.4 percent of available rebounds. That puts him among the league's worst rebounders. Henry should be fine in the long term. For now, however, his performance doesn't merit the minutes he's getting.
For whatever reason, this was the year of the young European center. No fewer than four of them made the trip stateside--Chicago's Omer Asik, Boston's Semih Erden, New York's Timofey Mozgov and Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic. Thus far, none of the four has reached replacement level. Asik is the closest to offering positive minutes. All he needs to do is improve his finishing at the rim to become a useful reserve. Pekovic has been the biggest disappointment. One of the Euroleague's top big men, Pekovic was unable to provide his usual efficient scoring before severely spraining his ankle. He was, however, as poor as advertised on the glass. Erden and Mozgov have both been hacktastic (they rank first and third, respectively, in foul rate among players with at least 200 minutes) and below average on the glass. Mozgov can't buy a bucket, shooting below 40 percent from the field, while Erden's decent shooting has been unable to offset his poor defensive numbers.
Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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