By Ben Golliver
The members of the 2012 draft class are just a few weeks away from the end of their rookie seasons. Rob Mahoney examined the development of several rookies Tuesday. Now, let’s go player by player through the first round to assess how the top 30 picks have fared. Letter grades are given for all players who have played at least 450 minutes this season; all others receive an incomplete. (All stats and records are through Tuesday.)
1. Anthony Davis, Hornets: A-
13.2 PPG, 8 RPG, 1 APG, 1.8 BPG, 1.1 SPG in 56 games
Here’s a simple question for those expressing disappointment about Davis’ rookie campaign, which has included injury setbacks and, perhaps, more modest numbers than many expected: Does he really look like anything other than a superstar in the making? Davis, who just turned 20, possesses a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 21.6 (the league average is 15), tops among rookie starters and second only to Pistons reserve center Andre Drummond's 22.4 for first-year players. Even though he will likely be filling out his frame for the next half-decade, Davis has performed very well around the rim, taking almost 50 percent of his shots there and finishing 70.6 percent of them. His length, which made a mockery of the NCAA last year, has translated well to the pro game and it’s especially effective when he’s on the move, either cutting baseline or heading toward the hoop after setting a high screen. Staying with a player that mobile and long is essentially impossible for a solid chunk of NBA defenders.
His defensive impact is already being felt and will only become more noticeable as the Hornets improve and as his overall strength increases. Opponents have found success posting him up, but he’s far from the typical rookie big man who is susceptible to being picked on.
Overall, Davis would earn a solid “A” if not for his absences from the lineup. Again, this boils down to expectations. Franchise players over the last 10 years or so have evolved to a freakish level of durability. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and others have all played a vast, vast majority of their team’s games since achieving recognition as a key contributor. The standard for greatness is a high bar, but it’s the only measure that makes sense for a player with Davis’ gifts.
8.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1 BPG in 67 games
Kidd-Gilchrist is half-pedestrian, half-amazing. Few players are so ineffective offensively and yet so widely respected. He is essentially only a credible threat to score when in transition, but all 30 general managers would kill to have the chance to enjoy the fruits of his growth. That’s the paradox created by a 19-year-old forward with nice size, strength, quickness, length and the top motor in his class. It’s not a stretch to say that he is the prototype for a modern elite defender.
Now, about the offense. He treats the three-point line as if it’s off limits -- he's shot just nine threes all season -- and he’s yet to find an area of real strength, other than dunking, as he struggles in the post, in pick-and-roll situations and as a spot-up shooter. His poor marksmanship is exacerbated by the fact that he’s not really a threat to distribute off the dribble. His mission for next season is to find a way -- any way -- to force defenses to respect him. Big picture, the fact that Kidd-Gilchrist is half-amazing makes him a full half more amazing than just about everyone else on the Bobcats’ roster. This is the last guy in Charlotte you need to fret about, even if he has a long way to go.
13.9 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 2.4 APG in 54 games
Beal’s supporters are surely petitioning Basketball-Reference.com to list his numbers as “With John Wall” and “Without John Wall.” No other rookie has been subject to such a dramatic tale of two seasons, as his most efficient scoring play types -- spot-up shooting and transition -- have been transformed by the presence of a real point guard. The fact that Beal couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn until January throws off all of his percentages, but he’s managed to climb back to a quasi-respectable PER of 13.6 and raise his three-point shooting to a very respectable 37.7 percent.
Not yet 20, Beal has a bright future, and the Wizards’ team performance since Wall’s return has flipped the mood in the nation’s capital. Watching these two feel out each other’s games over the next few seasons will be a joy to watch. Beal can continue to improve as an initiator in pick-and-roll situations, but, more important, he needs to develop a better comfort level attacking the basket and finishing in traffic if he is going to track toward elite 2-guard status.
14.7 PPG, 3 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1 SPG in 57 games
Waiters leads all rookies in usage rate despite being a 41.1 percent shooter and 31.6 percent three-point shooter. Unscientifically, he leads all rookies in terrible shots, too. But the raw tools are intriguing: He can create a shot in a flash, he’s rarely afraid of the moment, he can get deep into the paint, he draws 4.5 fouls per 36 minutes and he can get hot.
The backcourt pairing with point guard Kyrie Irving makes sense, in theory, but right now it badly tilts against Waiters, as more often than not he gives off the impression that he’s doing too much on offense and not nearly enough on defense. If he reins in some of the shot-selection issues, continues to look to set up drive-and-kick opportunities for shooters and concentrates his efforts on getting to the line, he could emerge as a dynamic offensive weapon. That’s a lot of "ifs," though, making an arc toward a microwave bench scorer a pretty realistic possibility.
4.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG in 63 games
Robinson’s name was synonymous with the words “NBA ready” last spring and yet the NBA is here, waiting, and he’s not made a real impact. Some voices have already emerged, ready to write him off. But rushing to dismiss him would be a mistake, as the dysfunction permeates everyone, even the brightest of prospects, in Sacramento. That said, the biggest red flag to date is that while Robinson is totally reliant on in-the-paint opportunities for his offense, he hasn’t distinguished himself as a reliable scorer around the hoop. Thought to be a fearsome finisher who would command real defensive attention, Robinson has been, mostly, an ineffective afterthought.
The Rockets offered Robinson a new lease on life at the trade deadline, an opportunity he surely welcomed. He’ll be in a position to compete for a starting spot next season, pending any major free-agent or trade additions. The up-and-down Houston style should play to his strengths as an athlete. If he has to settle in as a high-energy, glass-cleaning reserve, that’s an acceptable backup plan, too. Let’s give him another season before we judge too harshly.
6. Damian Lillard, Blazers: A
19.1 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.2 RPG in 70 games
The surefire Rookie of the Year has made the most of an incredibly advantageous situation. He entered the NBA with a no-nonsense attitude and tons of experience running the pick-and-roll, and he landed in Portland, where a first-year coach (Terry Stotts) was more than willing to give him the keys. Lillard has appeared in all 70 games and logged 2,703 minutes (38.6 per game), more than 900 more than any other 2012 draft pick. The Blazers have posted an above-average offense with Lillard at the helm and they’ve hung around the outskirts of the Western Conference playoff chase longer than just about everyone, including team management, expected.
There are areas for potential improvement. Lillard is a tad jumper-happy, launching more than six threes per game. Like a number of big-time point guards before him, he’ll need to ramp up his ability to get to the free-throw line as he ages. He’s far more accomplished on the offensive end than the defensive end. Lillard will turn 23 in July, making him one of the oldest players in this class. That’s raised questions about his ceiling, given that he’s older than Irving and Wall, and nearly as old as fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday of Philadelphia. Optimists see him as a certain All-Star, while pessimists are more likely to peg him as a solid starter. More immediately, he gives the Blazers a real chance to make the playoffs in 2013-14 (assuming their longshot bid falls short this season).
9.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.2 APG in 71 games
Let’s take a long moment to acknowledge Barnes, the only full-time starter for a projected playoff team among the 2012 first-round picks. Only 20, Barnes has held up playing more than 25 minutes a game thanks to his excellent physique and top-notch work ethic. Barnes looked and carried himself like a pro as a high school senior and nothing has changed now that he is one. While he’s unleashed his big-time hops on a few occasions, Barnes is really at his best as an auxiliary, spot-up option. His shooting has been decent but there’s room for improvement, especially in his mid-range game.
It’s quite possible that his reputation soon becomes that of a lockdown, defense-first perimeter stopper. He’s smart, long, quick and disciplined, and he’s rebounded fairly well for a young wing. Barnes has all the makings of a long-term pro and he’s still young enough that he could emerge as a dynamic offensive threat, which is what many people forecast when he was a highly ranked prep star. He’s part of a talented, stable core in Golden State -- with Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson – so anything besides steady development would be a surprise.
6.4 PPG, 2 RPG, 0.6 SPG in 64 games
The Slam Dunk Contest champion finishes a fast break with more style and grace than anyone else in his draft class, but there’s not much else to like about his body of work. He’s not a multifaceted playmaker for others and he doesn’t get to the free-throw line, leading many of his possessions to end with low-efficiency looks. The Raptors try to move him around and make things easier for him, which does work to a degree, but he will need to extend his shooting range for that to pay real dividends.
Exactly how and where he fits in the suddenly crowded Toronto wing rotation is a key question heading into next season. Not much about GM Bryan Colangelo’s roster construction makes sense, so Ross’ role is only one of a number of questions facing the Raptors. This likely isn’t the best set of circumstances for his development.
9. Andre Drummond, Pistons: A-
7.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.7 BPG in 50 games
Drummond is pure intrigue, addicting intrigue. He might very well have been the league leader in causing observers to scream for him to get more playing time, more touches, more media attention, more, more, more. Before going down with a back injury in February (an injury from which he’s yet to return), Drummond posted a rookie-best PER of 22.4 and compiled per-36 minute averages of 13.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.1 blocks and 1.7 steals. Those are eye-popping numbers that signal All-Star potential, given that he’s still 19.
A big-bodied center with excellent athleticism, Drummond knows what he does best. More than 95 percent of his field-goal attempts have come in the basket area and he finishes nearly two-thirds of them, often with emphatic dunks. It must be noted that his offense is predicated on someone setting him up, but he knows exactly what to do with a dump pass and a second-chance opportunity. Those high-percentage looks helped drive his PER, and his presence on the court significantly improved the offensive efficiency of coach Lawrence Frank's team. And, yes, the lowly Pistons were better defensively with him on the court, too, as he effectively clogs the paint simply by being out there.
We might never know why Drummond had his playing time crimped in what was clearly a rebuilding year, and it’s not clear whether management and the current coaching staff will be retained next season. But whoever runs the show in 2013-14 will have to realize that Drummond’s potential is far and away the best thing this franchise has going for it.
10. Austin Rivers, Hornets: F
6.2 PPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 RPG in 61 games
It’s virtually impossible to assess Rivers’ rookie season without piling on. The numbers are just abysmal. Rivers, who has been out since breaking his hand on March 6, ranks last among qualified rookies with a PER of 6. He is shooting just 37.2 percent from the field. He has made only 40 percent of his shots at the rim, converted a below-average 32.6 percent from three-point range and hit 54.6 percent at the free-throw line. Gulp.
Eric Gordon’s unexpected absence definitely had the effect of throwing Rivers to the wolves. Playing for one of the NBA’s worst teams didn’t help, either, as he often found himself trying to create in isolation situations, where he performed exceedingly poorly. To make matters worse, Rivers has already had two surgeries since draft night. The upside here is that he’s still not 21 and the Hornets will ask much less of him next season, assuming Gordon is healthy. That’s a good thing, because he broke under the weight of the load this year.
11. Meyers Leonard, Blazers: C
4.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.6 BPG in 57 games
Stotts, seeing that his team could remain competitive as long as he relied almost exclusively on his starters, cut Leonard’s minutes before the end of November. A midseason ankle injury also sidelined Leonard for three weeks. This hasn’t been a completely lost season, though, as the youthful-looking, youthful-acting Leonard has gotten his feet wet, finding that he’s capable of turning his physical assets into highlight dunks with sufficient regularity.
Past the power slams, it’s been hit and miss. Leonard struggles with defensive awareness, to put it kindly, as he can often be seen employing a panorama approach to isolation defense, completing a full 360-degree spin as he hopelessly tries to find the ball. Billed as a face-up threat on offense, Leonard hasn’t reliably shown that type of range, although he’s gotten more confident in pulling the trigger as the season has progressed.
Given his importance to the Blazers’ future, Leonard was underutilized this season. In an ideal world, he would have developed enough as a rookie to make a strong play for the starting job next season. Now, the Blazers enter free agency with their center spot as a question mark.
2.2 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.1 APG in 20 games
Lamb hasn’t gotten the chance to show he is or isn’t more than another potentially valuable asset in GM Sam Presti's war chest. The scoring guard has played more than 10 minutes only twice, owing to the depth (Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin, DeAndre Liggins, Reggie Jackson and now, sadly, Derek Fisher) in front of him. The Thunder acquired him in the James Harden blockbuster but might eventually decide that he is more valuable as a trade commodity than as a player. For now, Lamb’s affordable rookie contact and the fact that he appeared to have significant upside coming out of UConn provides a fall-back plan for OKC as it considers Martin’s fate in free agency this summer.
13. Kendall Marshall, Suns: C-
2.6 PPG, 2.1 APG, 0.7 RPG in 37 games
It’s important to avoid letting a player’s fit and situation take center stage in an evaluation, but Marshall’s exceedingly rough circumstances in Phoenix are an unavoidable part of his narrative. Things have imploded in the desert, leaving a rookie coach to handle one of the least talented rosters in the NBA. Alvin Gentry’s departure and Lindsey Hunter’s arrival meant more burn for Marshall, but the results have been middling.
Of this, there can be no question: Marshall has the vision and timing to thread the needle like few other NBA players. Unfortunately, his poor shooting is a serious detriment, and he hasn’t gotten to the hoop with any regularity. His PER of 6.8 is second worst among qualified rookies. The Suns’ offensive efficiency, already performing at a league-worst level, falls off a cliff when he’s at the controls. Clearly, he needs talent surrounding him if his brand of pass-first, pass-second, pass-third point-guard play is going to have a chance to work.
5.5 PPG, 4 RPG, 0.5 BPG in 54 games
Because Henson's playing time has fluctuated a lot, his body of work isn’t exactly definitive. Henson has used his 7-5 wingspan to put up impressive rebounding numbers (12.3 per 36 minutes) while creating second-chance opportunities for himself. Three-quarters of his shot attempts have come in the basket area but he’s finishing them at just an average rate, something you would hope to see improve as he ages and adds some upper-body strength. In theory, he should develop into a legitimate lob target on every possession. If that doesn’t happen, it’s not clear how he will help on the offensive end.
Defensively, it’s hard to carve out a niche as a shot-blocking presence when you’re on the same roster as Larry Sanders, but that’s still the goal for this near 7-footer. The Bucks perform about the same defensively with and without him, which is a good place to start for any rookie big man.
15. Moe Harkless, Magic (drafted by Sixers): B-
7.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG in 65 games
It’s difficult to be an efficient wing player in the NBA as a teenager and Harkless isn’t. He possesses a below-average PER (13.1), his plus-minus is quite unsightly and he holds an average or below-average shooting percentage from all 13 zones tracked by NBA.com. He lacks NBA range to open up his offense and isn’t yet a player you trust in one-on-one situations. However, Harkless is a sneakily effective off-ball offensive weapon, using well-timed cuts to catch defenders napping and putting his solid athletic tools to work in receiving all types of passes and creating enough space to finish around the hoop. There’s promise on the defensive end, too. The 19-year-old has untapped potential, but his shooting will have to improve.
16. Royce White, Rockets: F
It’s a tricky balancing act, but it is possible to respect and appreciate what White is going through with regard to his mental health advocacy while also being cognizant of these harsh facts: He’s the only 2012 first-round pick not to appear in an NBA game this season (thus earning himself an "F," not an "Incomplete"), and he’s caused more public relations headaches than all other 29 guys listed here combined (and it’s not close … at all).
White said recently that NBA and Rockets officials “want him gone,” and it’s fair to believe that not many franchises would have stuck with him this long. Right now, it’s easier to envision White out of the NBA come September 2014 (after the second and final guaranteed year of his contract expires) than it is to see him as a productive professional. The road has just been that rocky.
Is White a lost cause? The future looks quite dim at the moment, but the fact that Andray Blatche has a PER of 22.5 one year after being cast off and amnestied provides the slightest trace of “never say never” hope. There are a number of non-mental health questions that need to be considered. Is White in NBA shape? Will the Rockets have any room in the rotation for him next season? Houston will remain reticent until the end, but isn’t it reasonable to believe that the bridges with the coaching staff have already been compromised, if not burned? Those are all major impediments to success.
17. Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers: C
7.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG in 64 games
Forced into a starting role by virtue of a season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao, Zeller has found himself in water that’s simply too deep. He’s a legit 7-footer, but not particularly strong. He’s a comfortable mid-range shooter, but hasn’t been a very successful one. And he’s the “backbone” of what’s been one of the worst defenses in the NBA. His effort and attitude can’t be questioned, but that’s not always enough to make for a useful player.
Areas for improvement include basically everything that involves strength: isolation defense, rim protection and his back-to-the-basket offense, to name three. Some of that might never come, which makes it all the more important that he becomes a knockdown face-up shooter. The rebuilding Cavaliers aren’t in a huge hurry and should allow their Zeller project time to play out.
18. Terrence Jones, Rockets: Incomplete
3.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.4 BPG in 11 games
The Harden acquisition changed everything for the Rockets, accelerating their timeline and shifting their emphasis from developing during a rebuilding year to making a playoff push. The 21-year-old Jones surely would have seen more freedom and chances in a Harden-less world, but he’s had to settle for recording six double-doubles in the D-League. Jones is best suited to play the stretch 4, but Robinson's arrival by trade and 2011 first-round pick Donatas Motiejunas' emergence could make it difficult to find time next season. Jones' raw talent and physical gifts beg for an enterprising general manager to come calling for a trade, but the cap-flexible, on-the-upswing Rockets are positioned to be picky sellers.
19. Andrew Nicholson, Magic: B+
8 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.5 APG in 65 games
Things have broken right in Orlando for Nicholson, who has emerged as both the most productive and efficient non-lottery pick in the 2012 class. Nicholson is one of only five first-rounders -- along with Drummond, Davis, Henson and Lillard -- to post an above-average PER (15.5), and he’s shooting 53.5 percent. His spot-up mid-range shooting keeps defenses honest and he is fairly comfortable in the post, especially against smaller defenders, uncorking a hook shot far more often than your average 6-9 forward. The Magic have struggled on defense all season, and though Nicholson isn’t a stopper, he’s not the weakest link, either.
Nicholson is already 23 and his physical talent isn't overwhelming, two factors that could limit his upside. Still, Orlando shouldn’t hesitate in buying out Hedo Turkoglu with an eye toward increasing Nicholson’s playing time and growth possibilities next season.
3.1 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.7 APG in 29 games
It’s no crime that Fournier, a slender 20-year-old Frenchman, hasn’t been able to crack the rotation, given Denver’s uber-deep bench and championship aspirations. His numbers are subject to both sample size and garbage-time disclaimers. He’s a willing shooter, standstill and off the dribble, but he’s yet to be truly tested.
6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 0.5 BPG in 45 games
Sullinger has gone through an intense yo-yo of expectations over the last few years, and it only seems right that his rookie grade falls smack dab in the middle. Red-flagged for medical reasons, Sullinger started to produce with reasonable consistency in January, only to have season-ending surgery on his back in February. Evaluating the undersized power forward involves weighing the good (10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes at age 20) with the bad (it took only three months for the medical concerns to rear their ugly head). His offense has come as promised, by hitting the glass and hanging around the basket area waiting for dump-offs; his lack of length, considered a major bugaboo, didn’t prevent the Celtics from having very good defensive-efficiency numbers with him on the court.
Though his on-court contributions merit a higher grade, the first criterion for judging Sullinger from here on out is whether he is able to stay on the court. Last thought: There’s offensive talent that went untapped this season that could prove valuable down the road.
22. Fab Melo, Celtics: Incomplete
1 PPG, 0.2 RPG, 0.4 BPG in five games
What's the bigger indictment of Melo's rookie campaign: that his top highlight was either breaking a chair by sitting on it or giving himself a concussion by running into a door frame, or that Shavlik Randolph, who hadn't appeared in an NBA game since April 2010 and was playing in China this season, saw more action in his first two games after signing a 10-day contract in March than the center from Syracuse has played all season?
23. John Jenkins, Hawks: B-
5.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.7 APG in 54 games
Jenkins’ scoring and shooting pedigree have found a nice home in Atlanta. The Hawks lost Lou Williams to a season-ending knee injury and traded offense-for-defense in moving Anthony Morrow for Dahntay Jones, opening up a nice role for Jenkins, who is shooting 39.3 percent on three-pointers. A classic corner-three monster, Jenkins finds his looks in both half-court settings and in secondary transition, where his quick, confident release can beat napping defenders. The advanced numbers don’t treat him very kindly on either end, and his efficiency dwindles when he’s asked to put the ball on the floor, but he should have a future as a spot-up sharpshooter.
2.0 PPG, 0.4 RPG, 0.1 SPG in eight games
There didn't look to be many minutes available for Cunningham out of the gate in Dallas and that proved accurate, as O.J. Mayo has received the lion's share of the playing time at shooting guard. Cunningham has put up points during his D-League assignments but he's yet to do so efficiently, shooting only 33.5 percent in 15 games for the Texas Legends. Cunningham happens to be the only member of Dallas' current backcourt group under contract next season, with Mayo, Anthony Morrow, Darren Collison, Rodrigue Beaubois and Mike James all headed for free agency.
2.8 PPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 RPG in 31 games
Wroten has found himself as the fifth man in a four-man guard rotation in Memphis. His shaky jumper and decision-making were the concerns coming out of Washington and his field-goal percentage (38.6) and turnover rate (3.9 turnovers per 36-minutes) are in line with those expectations. The Grizzlies face a contract decision with Tony Allen this summer that will go a long way in determining Wroten's opportunities in the short term. Just 19 and blessed with good athleticism and the ability to pressure the ball on defense, Wroten will require patience. In the meantime, put him in the class of "guys who could randomly put up huge numbers at summer league."
0.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.3 BPG in 12 games
Plumlee's selection in the first round raised plenty of eyebrows and the fact that he hasn't yet made a field goal outside of the restricted area should raise them even further. He fits into Indiana's general aesthetic of hard work and high energy, but it's impossible to watch Indiana's possessions in which he has the ball in his hands without screaming: "Pass it as soon as possible!" Rebounding his own missed shots just might be his best asset. A meaningful leap next season seems fairly unlikely for Plumlee, who will turn 25 before training camp.
27. Arnett Moultrie, Sixers: Incomplete
3.1 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.2 BPG in 36 games
Shocker: Coach Doug Collins stuck tightly to his veteran big men in the absence of Andrew Bynum. Moultrie, acquired from the Heat in a draft-day dump, had season highs of 14 points and eight rebounds in a loss to the Jazz on Wednesday. A full 70 percent of his shot attempts have come in the restricted area, bolstered by a number of second-chance opportunities, but Moultrie is comfortable setting screens away from the hoop and diving or stepping out for mid-range jumpers, too. He plays with high energy and Sixers fans are right to complain about his limited action in a season that went south quickly.
28. Perry Jones III, Thunder: Incomplete
2.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.3 APG in 35 games
The Thunder are so deep and talented that playing time is hard to come by for 21-year-old prospects, even one like Jones, who was regarded as a 2012 draft-day steal. He fits right in among the long and athletic forwards in Oklahoma City, but he'll have to settle for mop-up duty in blowouts for the foreseeable future with all of this year's front line (Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet) under contract through at least 2014-15.
2.3 PPG, 1.4 APG, 1 RPG in 43 games
Teague never got the trial-by-fire treatment in Derrick Rose's absence because coach Tom Thibodeau has turned to Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson to run the show. It's easy to see why. Chicago's offense has struggled with Teague and his turnovers often jump out as being more careless than average. Short-term expectations were minimal considering his age when he was drafted, 19, and Rose's place as the franchise's centerpiece. Teague's older brother, Jeff, didn't make a real impact in Atlanta until his third season, and now he looks like a starter for years to come. Chicago really only needs Marquis to be a competent backup down the road, and that possibility is definitely still on the table.
30. Festus Ezeli, Warriors: B
2.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 BPG in 68 gamesAndrew Bogut