Long before it was actually held, pundits deemed the 2013 NBA Draft one of the worst in recent memory. Since then, the top 10 has done absolutely nothing to dispel that notion. Aside from second pick Victor Oladipo and ninth pick Trey Burke, every rookie in the top 10 has been disappointing, injured, or both.
Do these rookies’ struggles bear ill portent for their fanbases, or can they turn it around? I talked to several scouts and executives, then went to the film and the stats to determine what to make of five rookies’ bad starts.
One key point to remember is the context for each of these players. As one Western Conference executive pointed out to me, the rookies who have struggled the most are generally on teams that are at least trying (if not succeeding) at winning this year. Unlike a lot of years, rookies Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len and Ben McLemore are on teams that are contending for the playoffs or at least attempting to make a playoff push this year. Rookies naturally make mistakes, which the coaches of these teams feel like they cannot afford. These mistakes often lead to the rookie sitting on the bench, which leads to a vicious cycle as the player loses confidence.
»In Related: 2014 NBA Mock Draft
On the other hand, the executive said, “Look which rookies are doing great. The top four rookies are Oladipo, MCW [Michael Carter-Williams], Burke and Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. They play for the four worst teams in the league. None of them care about winning right now.” These players have been given the minutes and freedom to make mistakes. The guards are even playing relatively similar roles to what they did in college, while Antetokounmpo has started most of the year on a Bucks team whose wing rotation has been devastated by injuries, ineffectiveness and lassitude.
Another obvious but easily forgotten piece of context was provided by multiple scouts, who noted that drafts should not be judged until three years after they occur. One Western Conference scout lamented that by that point people have often already been fired and that there is “way more pressure now” for draft picks. “Look at James Harden and Tyreke Evans. How many times has that script been re-written?”
With that context in mind, let’s turn to five struggling rookies.
Last June, I believed Bennett was a top-three pick based on the fact that he had the highest offensive ceiling in the draft. After putting on at least 20 pounds over the summer while he recuperated from shoulder surgery, Bennett’s stats have been bad enough to make him jealous of LaRue Martin. His PER is 4.1, about five points lower than replacement level, and his NBA.com shot chart would make Vladimir Ilych Lenin proud.
But those I talked to said that it was too early to write him off. One scout who watched him a lot at UNLV said he thought he was “Jamal Mashburn meets Larry Johnson” coming out of school, and still had that kind of potential. A few also intimated that whether he recovers to become an effective NBA player depends on his makeup, especially because he has “something hanging over his head” after being the number one pick. Another noted that he still is not in great shape. Undersized power forwards who are successful play with great energy and outwork their opponents, and Bennett has not been able to do that so far in his NBA career.
On film, Bennett shows great potential, but very poor overall results. On rare occasions he looks outstanding isolating and going to the basket, almost always to his left.
He also shows great potential as a pick-and-pop threat with his quick-release three-pointer.
Overall, however, these positive instances are few. What struck me most about Bennett is that he just does not play like a big man despite his heft. His moves inside are almost always of the finesse variety. He tries to go around or over defenders rather than carving out space with his shoulders (which could be because he is a little gun shy due to the shoulder surgery). Bennett also really needs to work on his left hand (especially as often as he drives left), as a lot of his missed finishes at the rim occur when he uses his right hand on the left side. What made Bennett so intriguing as a prospect was his outstanding shooting, dribbling and jumping ability for someone so big and strong. He is going to need to learn to use that strength to maximize his potential. This would help his free throw rate, which ranks below the league average at about one free throw for every four field goals. Bennett also needs to throw his weight around on the offensive glass. His 7.7 percent offensive rebound rate is in the bottom half of power forwards, which is disappointing considering his college statistics.
Part of that is because he is very often on the perimeter shooting (and missing) jumpers.* Most of these come out of pick-and-pops. His quick release could be a huge weapon on these in time, but is currently a detriment because he does not adequately set his feet on a lot of his shots after he pops out. He must better his footwork in this aspect of the game. While there is no way of knowing whether his jump shot will ever come around, he made them in college and presumably makes enough in practice that he is allowed to take them in games. This is another area in which getting in better shape will help, as less fatigued legs should better his jumper.
Another adjustment Bennett could make in the pick-and-roll is trying to set harder screens. One of the key differentiators of his successful pick-and-rolls is making solid contact with the ballhandler’s man. Another is when he rolls to the basket instead of immediately popping. He does the latter about 80 percent of the time, and usually barely makes contact Carlos Boozer style on these plays.* By contrast, rolling to the basket is one of his very few effective play types.
Defensively, Bennett has not been horrendous for a rookie who was not expected to shine on that end. The Cavs’ bad defense isn’t significantly worse with him on the court, and the only area in which he has particularly struggled is in closing out on shooters, which again may be the result of his conditioning.
»In Related: Cleveland Cavaliers Salary Information
The good news for Bennett is that his issues are things that he could plausibly improve, including getting in better shape, using his body better inside and actually hitting some jumpers. Nevertheless, the best predictor of future performance is past performance, and it must be noted that the list of rookies who have played as badly as he has and gone on to great things is nonexistent. Equally troubling, he really hasn’t started playing any better yet; his numbers since January 1 are nearly on par with his season-long statistics. Plus, he is a year older than most who come out after their freshman year, turning 21 in March. Given his performance to date, it is very difficult to imagine him becoming a star, and unlikely that he even becomes a solid starter. But we cannot yet entirely foreclose the possibility if he is willing to put in the work. With the Cavs out of the playoff race, they need to see what he can do the rest of the year. Despite his struggles, I still think he has the best chance for stardom of this group.
Charlotte Bobcats fans were none too happy about the drafting of Zeller with the number four pick in the draft, and thus far they have proved more prescient than Bobcats management. Zeller has been unable to beat out Josh McRoberts for the starting power forward job, a disappointment on a Charlotte team that basically had no good big men last year. The scouts and executives largely agreed that Zeller was a reach with the number four pick. Said one, “If you were Charlotte you might look down the road and wish you had done a little better.” Said another, “I think he can have value in the league, but I’d probably lean toward him being more of a backup. He’s kind of like Tyler Hansbrough. Does he have value, sure? But a star? No. Zeller is a longer version of that type of energy player.”
Zeller wowed scouts with his “athleticism” at the combine, but he is an example of the dangers of such testing. While I normally put great stock in the numbers, this testing is a different animal. Athleticism is far better evaluated on film and through actual game performance. Zeller’s 35-inch vertical and agility testing were considered outstanding at the combine, but it is hard to call the seven-footer athletic when he doesn’t block shots, dunk on anyone or even finish inside well. That last is the most concerning part of his game. He shoots 48 percent in the restricted area. Even worse, he shoots only 44 percent* on non-post ups around basket, a miserable number considering most of those attempts occur after receiving the ball inside with an advantage on the defense.
Another disappointing aspect of Zeller’s play is his outside shooting. Zeller shot few jumpers when he played center in college at Indiana, but his camp successfully painted him as a stretch four leading up to the draft. His jumper looks pure, but the results have been Bennett-like. Overall, his 37.7 percent shooting is horrendous for a big man with a usage rate of 18.5 percent.
One executive commented that “his skill set seems a little undefined right now,” and the numbers bear that out. Zeller is below-average offensively in every category but transition, where he can showcase his ability to run the floor like a deer.*
Unfortunately, the Bobcats’ slow pace has provided few chances for Zeller to get out in transition, as he uses a slightly below average six percent of his possessions this way. By contrast, the league leaders (many of whom use far more possessions overall than Zeller) are up around nine or ten percent.
»In Related: Bobcats Are Buyers at Deadline
With his inefficient scoring, Zeller’s future is likely, as one executive said, “more as an energy guy off the bench.” However, the “one caveat is if he develops a three-point shot.” Considering Zeller’s solid form and the fact that he apparently hits jumpers well enough in workouts to impress people, this is not out of the realm of possibility. But right now, he has taken only one three all year. Without adding that shot, it is unlikely he becomes a starting caliber player.
McLemore was the player the insiders and I most disagreed on.
Said one, “I think he’ll be alright. The biggest thing he’s getting used to is the speed of the game and making decisions at the speed of the game. He’s still their fifth leading scorer at seven points per game. He’s got some promise, and has two things going for him. If you’re an athletic player who can shoot, you have a future in the league. He’s got good size, he’s very athletic and he can shoot. Just getting the feel to wait on screens comes with experience, he’ll be alright.”
Another was less sanguine, “He doesn’t have great size and has few intangibles. He seems to be another athletic 6’5 guy that can’t do any one thing exceptionally well. If he were good enough he would get noticed in [Sacramento]. They are getting better but were searching for help early on and McLemore was unable to separate himself. He’s getting decent minutes and has shown shooting ability, but needs to find out who he is.”
My projection is much worse for him than either insider’s. The fact McLemore has played 23 minutes per game masks just how bad he as been. He shoots 36.4 percent overall with a .470 True Shooting Percentage.
McLemore’s usage rate is a relatively low 17 percent, but he may need to reduce it even further to become anything other than a massive detriment on offense, at least in the short-term. Of particular note is the fact that McLemore shoots in the 71st percentile on jumpers when unguarded (36 percent of his jumpers), but in the 19th percentile when guarded (64 percent of his jumpers). On film, many of these guarded jumpers are taken coming off screens—the Kings would be wise to junk these plays for now and just let McLemore spot up, cut to the rim and get out in transition. With two high-usage stars in Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, they have plenty of sources of offense.
Probably the most disturbing aspect of McLemore’s game is his poor shooting at the rim, even in transition where he ranks in the 24th percentile. He shoots only 45 percent on layups and is 70 percent (21 of 30) on dunks. Despite his outstanding leaping ability, it is clear that McLemore simply does not have the feel that great, or even average, finishers have for defenders around the basket.
It is very rare to see any NBA two get stopped at the rim like this by other smalls, not to mention one with a 40-inch vertical. This problem is exacerbated by his complete lack of an in-between game, as he has shot only 21.7 percent in the lane away from the rim. Even worse, McLemore has shown no ability to break down his man off the dribble, operate in the pick-and-roll or create for others. One scout’s take that “he’ll need to work on improving his skills with the ball” is a massive (and perhaps diplomatic) understatement. Thus, his only offensive skill right now is making wide open jumpers.
Defensively, things are even worse. While he has decent tools on that end, the Kings’ 29th-ranked defense gives up 5.4 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He does poorly in nearly every defensive play type, rating particularly badly in pick-and-rolls, isolations and spot-ups where he loses track of his man. Overall, the Kings actually outscore their opponents by 0.9 points/100 when McLemore sits. With him in the game, they are minus 5.9 points/100. This is not a product of having played only with the bench, as McLemore started much of the year.
»In Related: Sacramento Kings Salary Information
Reports on McLemore’s work ethic are positive. But his lack of feel is the most worrying part of his performance right now. While more research needs to be done on which skills can be improved and which cannot, the areas in which he is lacking seem more nature than nurture. i.e., they are less likely to improve with mere time in the gym. It also must be noted that he too is a year older than the typical freshman due to his redshirt year at Kansas, which further lowers his ceiling a bit.
The fifth overall pick has played only 185 minutes due to offseason surgery on both ankles and the fact that he is clearly the fifth big man on a good Phoenix team. He is shooting 44 percent on the year, with a 9.03 PER.
On film, he has shown flashes of a very high skill level in the post despite his relative inefficiency from there. The problem is that he over-relies on that skill level instead of his pure size. He shoots (and misses) a lot of face-up jumpers. When he gets closer to the basket he pump fakes half the time, which is way too much. While these look pretty when they work, a pump fake is a gambit because it makes a successful shot very difficult if the defender does not jump. Len almost never just backs his man down for a jump hook or drop step, and he travels a lot while attempting his fancy footwork. His style in the post evokes Chris Kaman, a very skilled pivotman who nonetheless has been relatively inefficient.
On a positive note, Len has hit the offensive glass so far. He pulls down 14 percent of offensive rebounds, a rate that would rank in the league’s top five if he had played enough minutes to qualify. On defense he is blocking a respectable 2.8 percent of opponents’ twos, and the Suns are only slightly worse defensively with him on the court.
»In Related: Suns Are Set to be Players at Deadline
The key for Len will be getting stronger and improving his shooting inside. With a 13 percent usage rate and only nine points per 36 minutes, he needs to get his shooting percentage well north of 50 percent to be useful on offense.
The number three pick elicited little feedback, as he has played only 207 minutes due to a hip injury. One scout noted that Porter is “very long and has shooting ability that would allow him to stick around.” I am not in agreement on the shooting ability. Porter is shooting only 29 percent on the year. On a Washington team with John Wall and Bradley Beal, his offensive role will be as a shooter and cutter. Unfortunately, he has shot only nine threes (missing them all) compared to 29 midrange shots. When he spots up, it’s generally in the 20-foot range, which kills the Wizards’ spacing. They score a mere 88 points/100 in his limited minutes.
While Porter had excellent statistical translations, I worried that he would prove unable to score in the league. He increased his three-point shooting significantly in his second year at Georgetown, but it was not on a large number of attempts. He also does not have the most versatile jumper and has rather ugly form. Porter is also hamstrung by a lack of elite quickness to get to the basket.
The good news is that Porter has played solid defense in this small sample size. The Wizards give up only 95 points/100 with him in the game. Most of the shots he’s faced have been jumpers, but he has done well closing out due to his length and opponents have hit only 25 percent of their jumpers with him guarding them.
»In Related: NBA Rookie Rankings
Porter isn’t going to play much this year with the Wizards making a playoff push and Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster all playing well in the wing rotation. But Ariza is a free agent next year, so it seems likely Porter could at least become a rotation player if he can extend his range. The key question is whether he will ever develop the offense to merit a starting job. The (very) early returns are not positive in that regard.
Nerlens Noel Should Have Been the Pick
One would imagine the teams that let Nerlens Noel slide to the sixth pick did so at least in part because he could not help them this year and they are looking to win now. Ironically, drafting Noel and playing some other replacement level player all year would have helped these teams more than the rookies they actually drafted. Although Noel has yet to play, he certainly looks much better by comparison due to the poor performances from the competition.
»In Related: 76ers Ready to Trade Evan Turner?
It should be noted that Noel is very unlikely to ever be much of a scorer away from the basket. Sixers coaches have been rebuilding his shot, but based on the shooting drills I saw him doing in Denver last month the rebuild has not particularly taken. Despite shooting all one-handed jumpers in an effort to fix his form, Noel’s shot was still flat and his right elbow flew way out even while shooting one-handed. Some big men simply do not have an aptitude for shooting, and I fear he may be one of them. Nevertheless, Noel has the potential to be a top five defensive player in the league and an acceptable offensive threat with his finishing at the rim. These skills could have really helped the Cavs, Wizards, Bobcats or Suns down the road. Each of them may rue the day they passed on him.
NBA Daily: Washington’s Positionless Rebuild
Drew Maresca explains why the Washington Wizards’ are closer to legitimacy than you might think
Upon first glance, the Washington Wizards look like an absolute train wreck. They traded away a lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick to swap out John Wall for Russell Westbrook – whose contract will haunt them through the end of 2022-23 – and they are on the verge of chasing away their 27-year-old, thirty-point per game scoring guard, Bradley Beal. So insert your “Washington can’t get their stuff together” comment here while you can, because the opportunity won’t be here for long.
Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth acknowledging that the Wizards have, in fact, botched the opportunity to build a winner around Beal thus far. But, when John Wall opted to have heal surgery and subsequently ruptured his Achilles, the door shut on that option, anyway.
There is an obvious silver lining – Beal is signed through the end of next season with a player option for 2022-23. Given what the Milwaukee Bucks gave up for Jrue Holiday last offseason, one could assume that the Wizards would get more than enough to jump-start a rebuild in exchange for Beal.
But a look closer at Washington’s roster would reveal they’ve quietly laid a foundation for the future. Specifically, the Wizards’ last two lottery picks, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija, embody position-less basketball, as versatile, highly skilled players who can be plugged into almost any lineup. Both were recently named to the Rising Star challenge — although it won’t be played due to inherent limitations in the arrangement of the 2021 All-Star Weekend, NBA coaches clearly agree. Sure, there’s international appeal given Hachimura’s Japanese background and Avdija’s Israeli heritage, which one could surmise was a major motivator in naming one or both to the team, but coaches aren’t known for playing politics.
So let’s take a closer look at the young Wizards hoping to lead Washington into the future.
Avdija is a top-flight, Israeli prospect who played on for EuroLeauge’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv – alongside former pros Amare Stoudemire and Omri Casspi – as a teenager for the past two seasons. He entered the NBA as a highly-touted playmaker, capable of playing and defending multiple positions. Somewhat surprisingly, Avdija fell to the Wizards with the ninth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, as he was rated as the fourth-best prospect by the Wizards’ front office prior to the draft, according to sources.
The comparisons between Avdija and Luka Doncic were inevitable, as both are big, point forward types with a flair for the dramatic. That put obvious pressure on the young forward and, while he’s struggled for much of his rookie season – Avdija is averaging just 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while connecting on 35.6% of his three-point attempts – his ceiling is obviously sky-high. He’s shown flashes of his greatness, like in a game in early March in which he recorded 10 points, 7 rebounds; or an early January game in which he collected 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Further, no one should be discouraged by Avdija’s struggles. First, he shot just 27.7% on three-point attempts last season in the EuroLeague – so his three-point percentage this season should come as a huge relief. Further, Avdija is averaging just 21.4 minutes per game, often deferring to Beal and Westbrook (and, to a lesser degree, Hachimura and Thomas Bryant). So, as much as everyone wanted him to be the next Doncic, the opportunity simply hasn’t been there.
But the potential is.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks explained some of what’s went wrong for Avdija’s thus far: “It’s normal to have some good moments and some tough moments. Every player, every single player in this league. I’m sure Michael [Jordan] had a couple of bad games in his rookie year. Every player. Russell [Westbrook], I coached him his rookie year. He’s had a handful.”
“Deni’s gonna be a good player,” Brooks continued. “For all the rookies in the league, it’s never happened where you had no Summer League, really no training camp and then with the safety protocol, he missed three weeks in the middle of the season. That’s hard to overcome.”
To Brooks’ point, the lack of preparation has definitely made the transition for Avdija even harder. What’s more, it’s not just Avdija who’s struggled; Obi Toppin (New York) and Devin Vassell (San Antonio), two of the more refined prospects, have also struggled to get carve out a consistent role.
Further, Avdija isn’t the first lanky foreigner who needed more than a third of a season to acclimate to the NBA; Dirk Nowitzki averaged just 8.2 points in 20.4 minutes per game as a rookie; Manu Ginobili averaged just 7.6 points in 20.7 minutes per game; Danilo Gallinari averaged just 6.1 points in 14.6 minutes per game. The list goes on.
Once he gets an actual opportunity, Avdija’s bandwagon should fill up quickly.
If Avdija is Washington’s future facilitator, then Hachimura is its finisher. And, while questions plague Avdija’s performance, Hachimura is being praised for his.
To be fair, Hachimura is farther along in his development, with one NBA season already under his belt (and three years at Gonzaga). Hachimura, already 23, is a bit more refined and it shows in his output: 13.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season.
That said, a closer look at Hachimura’s play shows room for improvement – with a below league-average 12.9 PER and a 29.2% three-point percentage serving as his most glaring weaknesses. But, like with Avdija, the upside is clear as day. We’re talking about a second-year player who scored 15 or more points 11 times so far this season – just 26 games. He’s strong, polished and bouncier than advertised prior to the 2019 draft.
Further, a closer examination of his shooting numbers reveals that while his three-point shooting clearly needs work, his mid-range game is spot on. Hachimura is connecting on 41.2% of his shots from between 16 feet and the three-point arc – better than noted midrange expert Carmelo Anthony (37%) and just hair behind All-Star forward Jayson Tatum (42.9%).
But Hachimura’s offensive abilities have been known for what feels like forever, partially due to the ridiculously long 2019-20 season. What’s surprising, though, is how he’s continued to improve on the defensive end – so much so, in fact, that Brooks specifically called out his defensive development after a recent game.
But no one should be that surprised. Hachimura’s combination of speed and strength, along with his high motor, is tailor-made for defensive success. And, again, like Avdija, the 6-foot-8 Hachimura’s versatility is his major selling point. He boasts size, dexterity, touch and handle. And, while his skill set has become far more common in the NBA, plug-and-play guys of Hachimura’s build are still relatively rare. And, most importantly, they allow teams to get creative in roster construction, enabling the addition of players whose deficiencies could be covered up by players like Hachimura.
Ultimately, neither Avdija nor Hachimura is a guarantee. Both possess serious upside and could grow into perennial All-Stars, but neither is a sure thing. Their attitudes and approaches will be a major determining factor in their success, or lack thereof.
The Wizards could look very different as soon as next season. But, as of now, Washington looks ready to tackle its rebuild — and, between these two, they may already have a headstart.
Blink and you might just miss their entire rebuild.
NBA Daily: Three Teams Failing Expectations
Expectations were extremely high for three teams entering this season. A variety of factors have derailed their trajectory but there may still be time to address their issues and turn their seasons around.
Every offseason presents the opportunity for organizations to revamp their rosters in hopes of improving their team for the upcoming season. Between the NBA Draft and the free agency period, executives are busy around the clock. The flurry of phone calls and internal discussions among management is key to molding the future.
But the league found itself in an unfamiliar position this past year with the delayed season, the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble” and a shortened offseason that went by in the blink of an eye. The first preseason game tipped off exactly two months after the final game of the NBA Finals. The turnaround was quick and complicated for everyone involved.
That said, several teams were able to capitalize on the abbreviated turnaround. The Phoenix Suns knocked it out of the park with the Chris Paul trade and signing of Jae Crowder. The Charlotte Hornets nailed the draft and free agency, as Michael Jordan landed both Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The New York Knicks found success in the draft with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. The Brooklyn Nets added excellent role players in Bruce Brown and Jeff Green while re-signing Joe Harris, who has been worth every penny.
Some teams appeared as though they had hit a home run, only to see the ball being caught at the warning track. The hype and buzz surrounding these teams were well warranted at the time, but things just haven’t panned out for a variety of reasons. With the All-Star break finally here, these three teams would welcome the idea of hitting the “undo” button on their offseason moves.
The Raptors find themselves sitting two games under .500 entering the All-Star break. While they are certainly not out of contention, they are a far cry from where most people thought they would be at this point. It began with a rocky start to the season, where they dug themselves a massive hole with a 2-8 record.
The crux of their struggles came with their frontcourt issues. Both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka took the Kawhi Leonard route from Toronto to Los Angeles in the offseason. Losing one of their big men hurt, but losing both of them was crippling. The signings of Aron Baynes and Alex Len looked okay on paper, but the fit could not have been worse. Toronto currently ranks dead last in rebounding as a team.
Toronto ended up waiving Len, while Baynes has seen his role reduced even more. Fortunately, the emergence of Chris Boucher and Norman Powell has helped the Raptors turn their season around. Draft picks Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris haven’t had a major impact, but Pascal Siakam finally snapped out of his bubble fog and Kyle Lowry is healthy once again as well.
One good thing that the Raptors were able to do in the offseason was retain their sensational guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto has seemingly turned things around over the past few weeks and, considering they are playing all of their home games 1,400 miles away from their arena, they are positioned for a much better second half of the season.
Last season, the Mavericks boasted the best offense in the entire league, led by MVP-candidate Luka Doncic. The goal for them in the offseason was to acquire a defensive presence that could get this team more balanced. It appeared as though they addressed that when they traded Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson. Unfortunately, that has not been the case early on.
Dallas was also looking for an upgrade at the center position, but they missed out. They ended up having to settle for bringing back Willie Cauley-Stein on a two-year deal for $8.2 million. As a team, the Mavericks rank 24th in rebounding. James Johnson has been a solid addition, but he alone was not nearly enough to upgrade their porous defense.
Kristaps Porzingis has been quite inconsistent this season, so it is difficult to know what they are going to get from him every night. He is nowhere near the defensive presence that he was during his time in New York. Richardson is the guy that Dallas has been waiting on to provide outstanding perimeter defense, but he too has been unable to piece it together on a nightly basis.
The Mavericks did not find anything in the draft and it seems as though, once again, Doncic is having to do everything for this team in order for them to have success. His 36.2 percent usage rate is the highest in the league and that doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon. If you are going to give the keys to the entire offense to someone, he is a good choice but Dallas struck out in terms of giving their franchise player more help this season.
No team had won the offseason quite like the Hawks. The organization was able to surround its franchise player with truckloads of talent in free agency. They added elite shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. They added key defensive guards in Kris Dunn and two-time champion Rajon Rondo. They even scored more talent in the draft, taking Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick.
Atlanta lost no players of significant value, either, as general manager Travis Schlenk added to his already loaded young nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter. The problem here is that there are just too many overlapping pieces.
The veterans that were brought in either haven’t been able to get on the floor or are taking up valuable minutes for the younger players, potentially stunting their growth. The workload has been spread thanks to their depth as they deal with all of the injuries but there is no chemistry on the floor. In a season where practice time is near non-existent, that is a real problem.
Kevin Huerter on Lloyd Pierce: “Obviously, our problems extend a lot further than Lloyd, so in a lot of ways, he was the one that kind of took the hit for it.”
Huerter says he sent Lloyd a text thanking him for his time in Atlanta.
— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) March 3, 2021
The Hawks hit the All-Star break in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a disappointing 16-20 record. The game is being played in their backyard, yet they don’t even have a player to represent them. And, in recent days, it’s gotten even worse; the team officially fired head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday, with Nate McMillan set to take over as interim coach.
Atlanta has played 36 games this season. Their nine best players have missed a combined 143 games. Not including Dunn, who hasn’t played all season, that number is still well over 100 games missed. This locker room is a mixed bag of players that lack leadership and desperately need guidance. Pierce wasn’t the answer and Vince Carter isn’t walking through those doors anytime soon.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – March 5
Two rookies have pulled away from the rest of the pack in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year award. Tristan Tucker breaks down how the rookie pyramid is shaping up halfway through the season.
The All-Star break is nearly upon the NBA, and the Rising Stars rosters were just announced with several rookies leading the charge. Two players have pulled away by a significant margin in recent weeks, with several first-year players making impacts on winning teams. Let’s take a look at how the rookie ladder has changed over the last two weeks.
1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: 1)
February was kind to the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, who’s ascended to another level of stardom in the NBA in just his first season. The rookie is averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game during that span. Since Basketball Insiders’ last update to the rookie ladder, Ball put up a stretch of five 20-plus point games, including a 30-point showing against the Portland Trail Blazers and a 24-point, 12-assist game in Charlotte’s wild win over the Sacramento Kings.
WILD sequence at the end of Hornets-Kings as Malik Monk wins it with an and-one 😳pic.twitter.com/FNEhgdRVr0
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 1, 2021
One of the concerns surrounding Ball when he entered the league was his ability to knock down jump shots at an effective rate. The 6-foot-6 point guard has shattered those concerns with his recent play and knocked down 40.7 percent of his attempts from downtown in just under seven tries per game.
When Charlotte parted ways with Kemba Walker in the summer of 2019, it would’ve been far-fetched to imagine that the Hornets would be stacked at the point guard position in just two years. However, with Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets are looking at a legitimate shot at the postseason.
2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)
Together with Ball, Haliburton has all but cemented this Rookie of the Year race as a two-party contest. It gets harder to not give Haliburton the top nod with each passing week; the rookie out of Iowa State is completely dominating off the bench for the Kings. Though he’s missed the last three games for Sacramento, Haliburton is averaging 17.4 points, 6 assists and 2.4 steals per game while shooting a very impressive 47.9/39.4/85.7 line in five games over the last two weeks.
Haliburton’s excellence extends beyond his scoring, as the Kings are 1.5 points better when Haliburton is on the floor. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5 guard boasts an assist percentage of 24.6, which ranks in the 97th percentile of all NBA players and a 1.33 assist to usage clip, which ranks in the 100th percentile.
The Kings have to feel good about their young core in spite of their record, especially with Haliburton earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors and a spot on the Rising Stars roster.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 24, 2021
3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: 5)
Before the season, nobody would’ve guessed that the Knicks would be the fifth seed at the halfway point of the season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau and improved veteran play from All-Star Julius Randle and others have sparked the franchise’s turnaround. No player, however, is more synonymous with that spark of energy than Quickley.
Since the last ladder update, Quickley is averaging 13.5 points on a staggering 48.4 percent clip from deep. When the team acquired Derrick Rose, Quickley’s playing time was in the air, but the rookie’s resilience and determination have kept him in the lineup as he continued to exceed expectations.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 6)
Bey’s placement here should be representative of the overall fantastic job the Detroit Pistons have done with all of their young pieces. Bey is obviously playing great — more on that later — but other draftees Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee are playing phenomenally as well. Then there’s the case of resurgences in Josh Jackson — averaging a career-high 13.5 points per game — and Dennis Smith Jr., who was just acquired and posted a triple-double in a blowout win.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) March 4, 2021
But, in a year that many thought would be a throwaway for the Pistons, especially with seventh overall pick Killian Hayes sidelined, Bey and the rest of the young corps along with Jerami Grant and company have stepped up and delivered exciting basketball to Detroit.
Over the last two weeks, Bey is averaging 11.7 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 37 percent from deep on just under eight attempts per game. If Hayes pans out, the 2020 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a turning point for the Pistons.
5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 3)
If Edwards could hit shots at even a 45 percent clip, there’s little doubt that he would be running away with the scoring title of all rookies and perhaps the Rookie of the Year award itself. However, it continues to be a hindrance, as Edwards is shooting a horrid 32.8 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from 3 in the last two weeks.
It’s unfortunate that the shooting is so inconsistent, as he’s put together a string of four 19-plus points per game contests and several highlight-reel plays across the span of the last two weeks.
ANTHONY EDWARDS…DUNK OF THE YEAR. 😳😳😳
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 20, 2021
The last two weeks brought a lot of turmoil to light for the Timberwolves, with the team undergoing a head-coaching change, bringing in Chris Finch from the Toronto Raptors to replace Ryan Saunders. But that’s not all, as Ricky Rubio recently voiced displeasure with the team’s performance and D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley continue to be out.
With all the drama surrounding Minnesota, it’s hard to envision any rookie seeing much success there. The fact that Edwards is able to put these high-scoring performances together at all is telling of how special a talent he can be.
6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)
Tate’s on-court production has dipped slightly in conjunction with the Houston Rockets’ losing streak, but the hyper-athletic forward is still giving it his all on a nightly basis. Look no further than the fact that the team is parting ways with DeMarcus Cousins for proof that Houston believes in Tate as a member of its future.
Houston plays better when Tate is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. And with that comes rejuvenated energy from all points on the court. When Tate is on, the team’s offensive rebounding percentage increases by 8.1 percent, which ranks in the 98th percentile of the entire NBA.
Even though the Rockets are in a slump, Tate is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 47.9 percent shooting from the field. Most recently, he enjoyed a double-double in James Harden’s return to Houston.
Honorable Mention: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers (Not Ranked)
Okoro gets his first rookie ladder nod after the Cleveland Cavaliers saw a fantastic stretch in which the team won four straight games. During that span of time, Okoro averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while seeing season-best shooting figures of 49.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three.
The 6-foot-5 forward out of Auburn has played the second-most minutes of any rookie and has started in every game for the Cavs, a promising start to Okoro’s career. Okoro is also playing strong defense for a Cleveland team that desperately needs good defenders and his stock could rise as the weeks go on.
With a multitude of highlight-reel dunks, passes and plays in just the last two weeks, several rookies are making big impacts on teams in a year where young depth is crucial. While Ball and Haliburton are currently leading the race, don’t sleep on James Wiseman to make a resurgence, as he scored 14, 11 and 16 points, respectively, in his first three games since returning from injury. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for the next rookie ladder to see how tight this competition gets!