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December 12, 2012
Rookie Check-Up
The Lottery

by Kevin Pelton

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A month and a half into the season is a good time to take a first look at the performance of the NBA's rookie class. It's obviously much too early to draw definitive conclusions about what these players will contribute the rest of this season, let alone the rest of their careers, but consider this a progress report that can show warning signs or positive indicators. I'll look at the 2012 Draft in three groups. Today, the focus is on the lottery. Next, we'll continue with the rest of the first round before wrapping up with notable second-round selections. All stats are through Monday's games.

1. Anthony Davis, New Orleans (.735 Win%, 1.4 WARP)
The No. 1 overall pick has missed 13 games due to a concussion and a stress reaction in his left ankle. When on the court, Davis has been every bit as good as advertised. The surprise is that so far Davis has been better as a scorer than a defender. Per 82games.com, the Hornets have allowed 13.7 more points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor. While that surely won't last, New Orleans has to hope Davis continues to use more than a quarter of the team's plays with a league-average True Shooting Percentage. Davis has proven a skilled shot maker against bigger defenders while creating plenty of his own offense. In combination with his defensive potential, that's a scary proposition for the rest of the league.

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (.513 Win%, 1.3 WARP)
Like his team, Kidd-Gilchrist has faded a bit after an impressive start, though he's still far ahead of schedule at age 19. Right now, Kidd-Gilchrist's most notable statistical contribution might be his shot blocking from the wing. He's swatting 4.2 percent of opponents' two-point attempts, which makes him above average for a center. Kidd-Gilchrist has offset his limited range (he's made just one three in two attempts) by generating easy looks for himself in transition. In time, his offensive game should expand to go along with his impact defense.

3. Bradley Beal, Washington (.434 Win%, 0.2 WARP)
I get the sense Beal's rookie season is considered disappointing, and it certainly doesn't look good in comparison to the two players who went ahead of him (or a couple who went later). Relative to the entire lottery, however, Beal looks pretty good, and he's about on the pace his college translations projected. Keep in mind that, accounting for age, said translation still made Beal the No. 2 prospect available last June after Davis. At 19, Beal has plenty of development still ahead of him. For the most part, he's been solid as a rookie. He just needs to start making shots, and there his qualitative indicators (a smooth release and demonstrated range) have always looked much better than the numbers (31.9 percent from three and an ugly 36.8 percent inside the arc).

4. Dion Waiters, Cleveland (.408 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
Before a sprained ankle sidelined him, Waiters was putting points on the board--his 15.2 ppg rank second among rookies--in an inefficient fashion. After a hot start, Waiters shot 30.2 percent from the field between Nov. 13 and Dec. 1. Obviously his shot selection must improve. Still, the talent to create shots is there, and at times Waiters has been borderline unstoppable when he's on. The return of backcourt-mate Kyrie Irving to the lineup should help.

5. Thomas Robinson, Sacramento (.371 Win%, -0.3 WARP)
The most disappointing of Robinson's statistics is the 15.9 in the minutes per game category. Keith Smart has relegated Robinson to the role of fourth big behind holdover starters DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson and veteran Chuck Hayes. In truth, that makes the rotation sound a bit more predictable than it is. Robinson went from finishing Friday's win to playing just spot minutes a night later. As a rebounder and defender, Robinson has held his own. The concern is the same thing that plagued Robinson during the summer--and should have been evident to anyone paying attention to his stat line from his junior year at Kansas--making shots against bigger defenders. He's made just 55 percent of his attempts at the rim according to Hoopdata.com and has seen nearly 11 percent of his shots rejected. Robinson can use shot fakes and better timing to help neutralize shot blockers, but his lack of explosiveness in the paint could limit his upside.

6. Damian Lillard, Portland (.544 Win%, 2.5 WARP)
As expected, Lillard has cooled somewhat after one of the league's most surprising starts. He made 40.4 percent of his threes in November, a figure that's down to 26.7 percent so far this month. One encouraging sign is that Lillard has pumped up his December scoring average by getting to the free throw line more frequently, and he's also increased his assist rate dramatically to compensate. While Lillard probably isn't the immediate All-Star he looked like much of his first month, he remains the most productive rookie in this year's class.

7. Harrison Barnes, Golden State (.384 Win%, -0.5 WARP)
Barnes' numbers as a rookie fall generally in line with what his performance at North Carolina indicated. His rep as a sharpshooter was overblown, which makes the spot-up role in which the Warriors have cast him a poor fit. Barnes is making just 32.5 percent of his threes. He's been decent inside the arc and average on the glass, both of which represent an improvement over his college numbers. Overall, Barnes is holding his own in a larger role than he would have if not for Brandon Rush's ACL injury. Stardom doesn't appear to be in the cards, but that could translate to a long carer.

8. Terrence Ross, Toronto (.336 Win%, -0.6 WARP)
Ross has had his moments as a rookie, including a 19-point effort at Houston that sparked a Raptors comeback. Overall, though, the numbers support the limited playing time Ross has gotten from Dwane Casey. Poor three-point shooting (26.9 percent) has held back Ross' efficiency numbers, and he's not yet a consistent contributor in any other facet of the game. At some point Toronto's collapsing season might mean throwing Ross out there for 25 minutes a night no matter what. We're not there yet.

9. Andre Drummond, Detroit (.672 Win%, 2.6 WARP)
Surprise! The NBA's leader in WARP among rookies is one of this year's biggest projects. Drummond continues to shoot a high percentage from the field (58.7 percent) and dominate the glass (he's grabbing nearly 20 percent of all available rebounds while on the floor) in addition to making defensive plays. Lawrence Frank has gradually fed Drummond more minutes to the point where he rates as more valuable than players like Lillard in much bigger roles. They're being asked to do more, so it's certainly fair to downgrade Drummond's value to some extent. Still, at this point his future is as promising as anyone in this class not named Anthony Davis.

10. Austin Rivers, New Orleans (.267 Win%, -1.9 WARP)
By contrast, Rivers has had a rough go of things as a rookie. SCHOENE projected that he would have the most negative WARP of any player in the league--just ahead of Barnes and Ross--and so far that has been completely accurate. With Eric Gordon sidelined, Rivers has kept playing heavy minutes despite terrible performance. He can't buy a shot, particularly in the paint (Hoopdata.com shows him shooting 42 percent at the rim, and 19 percent on long twos) and has been a non-factor defensively. Rivers has shown more playmaking skill than his Duke stats indicated, which hasn't been enough to buoy his overall performance. A quarter of the way through the season, Rivers is on pace to finish more than eight wins below replacement level. That mark, while it's sure to improve, would be the worst in NBA history (Jason Collins currently holds that dubious distinction at -6.5 in 2006-07). Finishing with a terrible WARP as a rookie isn't necessarily a death knell; players like Jeff Green (-4.1), Allan Houston (-3.9), Corey Brewer (-3.6) and Antonio Daniels (-3.3) have gone on to have long careers after terrible first-year efforts. Given his age, Rivers has a better shot at overcoming a poor start than someone like Adam Morrison (-5.8, previously the worst mark for a rookie). At best, such a performance does suggest that Rivers is unlikely to ever rate well statistically.

11. Meyers Leonard, Portland (.411 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
What makes Leonard such an interesting rookie is that he's got the size and he's got the skill (53.5 percent on twos and a sparkling 85.2 percent from the line so far). What's holding him back is lack of strength and, frankly, toughness. Leonard has gotten pushed around on the glass--the Blazers have been abysmal on the glass when they pair Leonard with LaMarcus Aldridge--and has only been average as a shot blocker. Those tend to be young-player skills, not ones that are developed in the NBA. Portland has to hope that, as was the case at Illinois, Leonard is a late bloomer.

12. Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City(.317 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
I figured that after trading both James Harden and Daequan Cook to Houston, the Thunder would need to get minutes from Lamb this season. Instead, Scott Brooks has cut his rotation to nine players and Lamb has barely seen any action. He's currently in the D-League with the Tulsa 66ers, where he's averaged 22.2 points per game despite poor shooting beyond the arc (25.0 percent). I'm not sure there's much to be gleaned from Lamb's D-League stint as of yet.

13. Kendall Marshall, Phoenix (.241 Win%, -0.2 WARP)
By contrast, Marshall has had a more difficult time in the D-League. With Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair capably handling point guard duties in Phoenix, Marshall has spent the last five games with the Bakersfield Jam. He's shooting poorly (20 percent on threes and 36.6 percent on threes) and averaging 3.8 turnovers per game, which is hardly damning but won't convince the Suns to get him in the rotation any time soon.

14. John Henson, Milwaukee (.459 Win%, 0.2 WARP)
Since getting healthy, Henson has started five games as part of the Bucks' three-headed young, lanky frontcourt. His stats in the small sample size have tended toward the extreme. Henson has grabbed more than half of his rebounds on the offensive glass and is shooting better from the field (47.6 percent on twos) than the line (42.1 percent). He's also using plays at a high rate, but isn't blocking as many shots as expected. Basically, Henson is an athlete at this point, and a couple of years behind fellow athlete Larry Sanders in his development.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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