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Weren’t these rookies supposed to suck?

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Weren’t these rookies supposed to suck?

Remember all that talk pre-draft 2011 about the lack of talent coming into the league?  Wasn’t this supposed to be a so-called ‘down year’ for NBA rookies?

NBA Rookie guards Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and Jimmer Fredette pose in anticipation of the 2011-12 NBA Season

Surely you remember all of that utter nonsense, but if not it bears repeating as the overwhelmingly premature generalizations gained momentum like an all-encompassing mid-western tornado this past summer.

Thankfully the early returns are in and with about a third of the 2011-12 season completed; we can confidently claim the 2011 NBA Draft class as a rousing success.

Yeah it’s early, but there’s tremendous hope and promise around NBA cities based on the fine play of a plethora of rookies.

Let’s take a minute and break down the 2011 NBA Draft first round to see just who and why they are standing out.

PG Kyrie Irving – #1 overall Cleveland Cavaliers

Irving is the clear favorite to win Rookie of the Year mainly based on the fact that he has led a team confidently in his first season that really has no premiere talent to speak of.  You’ll find Irving running with the likes of Anderson Varajeao, Omri Casspi, Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison on a nightly basis.  No slouches for sure, but not what one would deem the most talented of groups.

To that point Irving is averaging a team-leading 17.9 points and 4.8 assists in just 28.4 minutes per game.  He has his Cavs at 8-11 on the season after totaling just 19 wins all of last season while showing tremendous leadership skills to go along with quite the efficient skill set for a player who graced the Duke campus for just one season.

PG Brandon Knight – #8 overall Detroit Pistons

Brandon Knight did not look all that excited on draft night.  Maybe it’s because he knew playing in Motown would be a struggle from Day one.  Unfortunately, Knight couldn’t have been more right about Detroit’s losing ways, but with that comes opportunity and Knight’s ability to score and lead the team has allowed the young point guard to start for Detroit in this his first NBA season.

The percentages from the field may not be there (40.8%), but the kid is leading the team with 1.5 three’s per game while coming in second on the squad in assists (3.5) and scoring 12.4 points in 32.6 minutes of action per night.

PG Kemba Walker – #9 overall Charlotte Bobcats

Kemba, Kemba…Kemba be ballin’ y’all.  Sorry for my lack of writing professionalism there, but watching the way Kemba Walker plays the game with a certain visible joy and swagger is what makes you want to go grab a ball and play yourself.  That right there is a skill in itself, albeit in a not so tangible way.

However, the numbers provide proof that he’s not that bad either.  As with the bulk of rookies Walker is suffering through low shooting woes, but when you consider the fact that this Bobcats team lacks a true post presence or perimeter threat for that matter; Kemba’s low shooting numbers are much easier to accept.  With all that being said, being forced into a leading role as a rookie sans Henderson, Augustin and Maggette for varying periods this season, Walker has gotten a unique opportunity to simply play without the usual threat of being yanked.

Last week the New York native became the first rookie of the season to post a triple-double in a game.  A feat which marked just the third time in Bobcats’ history that a player notched a triple-double.  After struggling early to fight through screens and slow himself down in the halfcourt Kemba has bounced back strong and now is posting impressive numbers nightly.

On the early season the 6-1, 172-pound scoring point-guard is averaging 12.2 points, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals per game in 27 minutes of action.  However, since starter D.J. Augustin went down with a toe injury; Walker has put in 16.0 points, 4.6 assists and 7.0 rebounds in 36 minutes per night.  Impressive indeed Kemba.

PF Markieff Morris – #13 overall Phoenix Suns

It was pretty much understood across the board that Phoenix played it safe when they selected power forward Markieff Morris with the 13th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft.  And for the most part that sentiment has proven true through the first third of the season.  However, what has surprised the fans in Phoenix as well as the front office is just how versatile Morris is proving to be in just his first NBA campaign.

A power forward that actually plays with power, Morris also adds a feathery outside touch to his intriguing repertoire of skills.  That outside touch has translated into a team-leading 48.7% three-point shooting mark besting that of well-known three-point marksmen Steve Nash, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley.

Unlike the rookie point guards mentioned above Morris has a much more difficult time carving out significant court time playing behind the likes of Channing Frye and Marcin Gortat.  However, in this his first NBA season he has found a way to leap ahead of veteran Hakim Warrick even starting five games this season in front of three-point happy Frye.  Snatching down 5.2 boards per game in just 21 minutes has definitely helped matters, but what has also helped Morris get in the good graces of the Suns’ coaching staff is his willingness to get his hands dirty on the glass and battle valiantly in the trenches.

SF Kawhi Leonard – #15 San Antonio Spurs via Indiana Pacers

Long arms and heady defensive play have allowed this rookie to start for a coach who demands a tremendous amount from his players.  Most rookies find it difficult to play under veteran Head Coach Gregg Popovich and although Leonard’s transition to the pro game has been slow in many respects what has not been slow is the belief his successful coach has in him.

The 6-foot-7 inch Leonard started in 12 of the San Antonio’s first 22 games.  In those 12 starts he is averaging 7.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

Now with the stated hierarchy in Spurs’ country it’s expected that the rook is not going to have equal freedom to do what he wants on offense, but to Leonard’s credit he has taken the opportunity to prove his worth by consistently rebounding the basketball and guarding some of the NBA’s top offensive players.

His length and defensive instincts have made it very difficult for Coach Pop to leave him off the court and has helped the Spurs to a 13-9 early season record despite losing guard Manu Ginobili to a hand injury back in early January.

PG/SG Iman Shumpert – #17 New York Knicks

Knicks rookie combo guard started out the season with a bang showcasing an infectious style of play defensively and offensively.  Although things have really died down of late partly based on the team’s inefficient play, Shumpert has already proven to be one of the best at defending passing lanes and pressuring the ball on the defensive end.

An above-average athlete Shumpert has also proven capable of playing both the point guard and shooting guard position for the Knicks.  He currently leads the team with 2.2 steals per game, a number also good for 4th in the league.

The problem with Shumpert, however, is as sound as he may be at stealing the ball he gambles far too often and takes extremely questionable shots on the offensive end.  Shumpert is shooting just 36.6% from the field and 29.4% from three this early season.

Yet and still the 6-foot-5 inch Illinois-native is a potential threat to fill up the stat sheet every time out.  In 30.4 minutes of action per night the athletic backcourt rookie averages 10.9 points, 3.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and as mentioned earlier 2.2 steals per game.  Shumpert has some serious work to do on his outside shot and his decision making, but we already knew that.  All things considered though his first 20 games in an NBA uniform have been fairly impressive nonetheless.

SG MarShon Brooks – #25 New Jersey Nets

Sure New Jersey Nets rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks thinks he’s Kobe Bryant, but with the way he’s played so confidently in his first year as a pro you can’t hold that against him.

Unafraid or intimidated by the great NBA, Brooks will put up a few shots.  In 17 games this season the 6-5, wir7 200-pound off guard is averaging 14.8 points on 12.3 shots per game.  He’s shooting a very respectable 45.9% from the field, 35.2% from three and 77.4% from the free throw line in 29.4 minutes of action per night.

What you like about Brooks is his ability to take and make difficult shots.  Yes that’s right.  Anybody can take a bad shot, but some players have an uncanny ability to make the tough ones.  Early Brooks appears to fall within the latter of that category.  The Kobe thing probably has something to do with that.

Regardless, Brooks is a skilled offensively player with an extremely long wingspan and a great awareness of how to manufacture points whether that be in transition, in the post, at the free throw line or out on the perimeter.  That, my friends, is the definition of a true scorer.  Which is indeed a skill not many players have.

Unfortunately for Brooks he has been sidelined recently with a reported broken toe and there is no timetable for his return.  Get well soon MarShon.  The Nets need all the help they can get.

PG Norris Cole – #28 Miami Heat via Chicago Bulls

We’ve reached the most exciting 2011 rookie of the bunch – Ricky Rubio doesn’t qualify as he wasn’t drafted in the 2011 NBA Draft, sorry.

There’s just something about the lightning quick Cole that makes people pay attention to the game.  The simple fact that the Heat have been without a speedy point guard for some time may be all there is to the hype, but in Cole’s case there’s more.

Already a regular in the Heat rotation, Cole instantly ups the pace of the game when he’s inserted into the Heat lineup.  In 21 games played this season the 6-2, 170 Cleveland State grad is averaging 8.8 points, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steals in just 21.5 minutes per game.

He gained instant buzz after helping the Heat beat the Celtics back in the second game of the season with a huge 4th quarter to go along with his 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting in a 115-107 victory from Miami.

The opportunities to shoot and score in Miami’s offense will come and go this season with Wade, LeBron, Bosh and pretty much everyone else being above him as scoring options.  However, the Heat know they got a steal in Cole and his Heat teammates figured that out pretty quick as well.  Don’t let the numbers fool you, Cole is a game-changer who could be huge down the stretch this coming post-season.

We have listed just 8 first-round stand out rookies here.  But there are many more first-year players who have had an immediate impact with their respective NBA clubs already this season.  We’ll look at second rounders next and then move on to guys who have looked solid when given minutes in limited roles based on who they play behind every night.  Their time will come.

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One Response to "Weren’t these rookies supposed to suck?"

  1. Peter says:

    When Keef learns to play the NBA game, instead of just relying on hard work and natural talent, he can be a monster. It’s really too bad we’ll probably never get to see him learn to play the Pick N Roll with Nashty.

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