The NBA has lain out in no uncertain terms which rookies the league has been most impressed with by letting us know who has been invited to the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.
The Rising Stars representatives are the early Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers, the Thunder’s Steven Adams, the Hawks’ Pero Antic (who has a right ankle stress fracture), the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, the Nets’ Mason Plumlee, the Magic’s Victor Oladipo, and the Utah Jazz’s Trey Burke.
Conspicuous by their absence are the Pistons’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, drafted 8th and Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings, drafted 7th. Anthony Bennett, the number one overall draft pick in 2013 by Cavaliers, has neither played enough minutes nor with an enough impact to deserve a spot. Other top 10 draft picks from 2013 not represented – for a variety of reasons – include the Wizards’ Otto Porter Jr. (3rd), the Bobcats’ Cody Zeller (4th), the Suns’ Alex Len (5th), 76ers’ Nerlens Noel (6th) and the Trail Blazers C.J. McCollum (10th). No one said drafting was easy or a sure thing.
There is plenty to argue about with some of the NBA’s selections to the Rising Stars Challenge. The phrase, ‘what were they thinking?’ comes to mind – seriously, some of these guys don’t have much of a resume, but this rookie crop doesn’t seem to be as deep as in previous seasons. It isn’t easy finding 10 rookies to put on a top 10 list.
1A. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
35 GP, 17.2 points, 40.1%, 5.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.4 steals, PER 17.2
Carter-Williams is still the consensus favorite for Rookie of the Year. He has the best stats. He has true leadership potential. His team is just 1 win and 11 losses without him and he looks like future star. However, the 76ers have only won 40 percent of the games he has played in, so while the bandwagon is getting pretty full, the rookie can’t carry a team by himself – yet.
Carter-Williams points, assists and steals are dropping in January and the 76ers have only won 6 of his 16 games played this month, so he is leaving the door open to his competitors and at least one of them can argue the intangibles are on his side.
1B. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
33 GP, 13.3 points, 38.6%, 3.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.7 steals, PER 14.2
All Burke has done since he returned from injury is lead the young, floundering 1-11 Jazz to 15 wins in their last 33 games. For a team that did everything possible to tank this season, they are doing it wrong with Burke at the helm.
Burke’s shooting and scoring has been slightly off in January, but his assist rate is up and he has led the Jazz to 6 wins in 11 tries. Slightly better stats from Carter-Williams shouldn’t offset the intangible of leading your team to significantly more victories and Burke actually has the marginally better True Shooting percentage because he is much better at hitting the long ball. These 2 point guards are playing under comparable circumstances and one of them is definitely enjoying more success at the moment.
3. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
47 GP, 13.9 points, 41.2%, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 steals, PER 13.2
Oladipo continues to slowly improve as this season moves along and it is completely possible that he becomes the best rookie in his draft class – just not yet. He has enjoyed a strong month in January so far, averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists. His shooting continues to improve as well.
Unfortunately, the Magic have figured out how to tank effectively and have only won 2 games this month – a lot of those losses were pretty ugly too. Oladipo is simply at risk of being overlooked. Fortunately, this super-athletic combo guard should shine brightly in the Rising Stars Challenge and that would help keep him on everyone’s radar.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
40 GP, 7.0 points, 44.3%, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 11.6
When your team is dead last in the NBA, your rookies should get to play and the Bucks problems have turned into opportunities for 19-year-old Antetokounmpo.
The young forward has started the last 21 games for the Bucks and averaged 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and almost a steal and a block per game. This kid looks good on the court. Give him a few seasons to mature and learn the game and it really looks like the Bucks have found themselves something special.
5. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
44 GP, 8.6 points, 45.9%, PER 14.8
The Pistons Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a good month and is the better defender than the Knicks’ Hardaway, but Hardaway gets the nod by a nose for his 12.2 points, 52.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep over the past 5 games.
Just missing the cut:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Might be making a move:
Pero Antic, Atlanta Hawks
Ryan Kelly, Los Angeles Lakers
There is still a long ways to go. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.