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December 13, 2012
Rookie Check-Up
The First Round

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. Yesterday, the focus was on the lottery. Today, 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.

15. Maurice Harkless, Orlando (.415 Win%, 0.0 WARP)
The only first-round pick who was involved in a trade that was agreed to since draft night, Harkless landed in an ideal situation with a rebuilding Magic team. He's started for an extended period in place of the injured Hedo Turkoglu and has held his own. Harkless has been an excellent rebounder and has contributed blocks and steals. His college stat line was surprisingly similar to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's, and that's held up in the NBA. One problem? Harkless is 6 of 15 on free throws.

16. Royce White, Houston (-)
White hasn't yet played a minute as a professional, and that doesn't appear likely to change in the near future. I can't add anything to the discussion of White's situation except to say that I hope he and the Rockets are able to find a mutually positive solution.

17. Tyler Zeller, Cleveland (.352 Win%, -0.6 WARP)
Because he blocks few shots for a center, Zeller is unlikely to ever rate well. Besides that, middling shooting (44.2 percent on twos) has limited his value. Zeller has been slightly better in the month of December, parlaying offensive rebounds into easy buckets. He's shot the ball well from the perimeter (39 percent from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata.com) but has struggled inside (55.3 percent at the rim), frequently getting his shot blocked.

18. Terrence Jones, Houston (.561 Win%, 0.3 WARP)
The downside of Marcus Morris' sophomore breakout is that there has been little playing time for Jones, who has seen just 81 minutes of action. During a two-game stint in the D-League, Jones dominated the glass, pulling down 35 rebounds in 72 minutes.

19. Andrew Nicholson, Orlando (.474 Win%, 0.4 WARP)
As one of the most polished players taken in the second half of the first round, Nicholson has been able to contribute right away as a pick-and-pop big man off the bench. He's been a major part of the Magic's offense while on the floor, using 23.5 percent of the team's plays, and has hit 56.5 percent of his two-point tries. Nicholson has made the midrange work by making 44 percent of his tries, according to Hoopdata.com, though eventually it would be nice to see him develop three-point range.

20. Evan Fournier, Denver (.320 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
The lone international selection in this year's first round has seen but 58 minutes of action on a deep Nuggets team. Ideally, he would have grabbed more than three rebounds in that span, but this is all small sample size theatre. The offensive skill Fournier has flashed when he has been on the floor is the most important thing at this point.

21. Jared Sullinger, Boston (.441 Win%, 0.2 WARP)
A strong preseason confirmed the notion, based initially on Sullinger's college stardom, that he would be a steal for the Celtics. The regular season has proven a bit more challenging. In part, Boston is asking Sullinger to play out of position without a shot-blocking center on the second unit. Beyond that, Sullinger is having a tough time with longer defenders. 15.6 percent of his shots have been blocked per Hoopdata.com, a figure that puts him just outside of the league's top 10. Sullinger is actually shooting quite well at the rim; it's anything a little bit further away that's been a problem, as he's hit two of his 16 shot attempts from 3-9 feet. Let's not overstate the case against Sullinger; he's been terrific on the glass and is already a heady decision maker. He's just not as ready to contribute as his elite numbers at Ohio State suggested.

22. Fab Melo, Boston (-)
For that matter, Sullinger has at least cracked the rotation on the veteran Celtics. Fellow first-rounder Melo has yet to get on the court in Boston. He's played five games in the D-League, where his stat line is distinguished only by 11 blocks in 117 minutes. The Celtics need more size off the bench, but Melo is unlikely to fill that void this season.

23. John Jenkins, Atlanta (.315 Win%, 0.0 WARP)
Melo starts a run of players who have seen sparing action. None of the rookies selected between 22 and 29 have even played 100 minutes. Jenkins got buried when the Hawks subsequently acquired Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow, who combine more experience with the same skill (outside shooting) that is Jenkins' calling card. Perhaps he's decided to reinvent himself as a rebounder*; in 14 minutes, this year, Jenkins has pulled down four boards, which is more than he averaged per 40 minutes (3.4) as a senior at Vanderbilt.

* This is almost certainly not the case.

24. Jared Cunningham, Dallas (.371 Win%, 0.0 WARP)
While the Mavericks cycled through point guards before settling on Derek Fisher, Cunningham was never in the mix. He will finally get his opportunity in the D-League after being sent down to the Texas Legends on Tuesday.

25. Tony Wroten, Memphis (.076 Win%, -0.1 WARP)
In eight minutes of action with the Grizzlies, Wroten missed all four of his shot attempts, which explains the preposterously low win percentage. He's spent the last couple weeks in the D-League shooting predictably low percentages (35.3 percent on twos, 33.3 percent on threes and 53.3 percent from the free throw line). Wroten is what we thought he was.

26. Miles Plumlee, Indiana (.617 Win%, 0.1 WARP)

27. Arnett Moultrie, Philadelphia (.442 Win%, 0.0 WARP)
After playing 26 minutes in the month of November, Moultrie has carved out a small but consistent role in the Sixers' rotation this month. Thus far, he's rebounded well--especially at the offensive end--and shot poorly.

28. Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City (.117 Win%, -0.6 WARP)
An encouraging preseason has yet to carry over for Jones, who has seen spot minutes at best since the games started to count. He's had more turnovers and personal fouls (nine apiece) than field goals (six), giving Scott Brooks little reason to shake up the rotation on a winning team.

29. Marquis Teague, Chicago (.222 Win%, -0.2 WARP)
When Kirk Hinrich has been unavailable, Tom Thibodeau has not hesitated to use Teague as his backup point guard. The rookie even closed out a loss to the Boston Celtics at the point. So far, Teague has done a nice job of distributing the ball while struggling with his shot.

30. Festus Ezeli (.384 Win%, -0.3 WARP)
The last pick of the first round ranks 11th so far in minutes played. Surely Ezeli's role would not be so large if Andrew Bogut was healthy, but he's earned the trust of Mark Jackson as a starter with his solid defense. The Warriors allow 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with Ezeli on the floor, per 82games.com. He's been a solid shot blocker and terrific on the offensive glass, so Golden State will overlook that Ezeli is not an offensive threat away from the rim.

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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