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How is this year's rookie class?
Plus, Sam Smith's weekly NBA news and notes
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By Sam Smith | 11.24.2014 | 8:57 a.m. CT
It was, we were hearing a year ago or so, the rookie class that was going to revolutionize the NBA. There was this amazing kid from Canada. Another LeBron, we heard. Another Chicago kid who could do it all. Big guys who might dominate. Guards, guards, guards. It’s too soon to make any great judgments about a month into the 2014-15 season, but the current rookie class is as ho hum as they come.
None has really had a substantial impact or any real wow moments to recall. Andrew Wiggins, the big name a year ago, just had his biggest game Saturday, 29 points in a loss to the Kings. He’s athletic, sure, but not anything special thus far. He leads all rookies in scoring at 12.5 per game, but sort of blends into the scenery. Chicago’s Jabari Parker has been a nice piece for an improved Bucks team, second to Wiggins in scoring at 11.6 per game. He’s a solid all around player, but somewhat overshadowed on his own team by second year player Giannis Antetokounmpo. All-Stars eventually? Maybe. Though it hardly suggests a draft bonanza.
That’s the issue with building through the draft in this era. The players are so much younger and so much farther away from being major contributors. And there are questions about their bodies. All players get hurt. But already five of the top 10 from the 2014 draft—Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh—are out all season or a long portion of the season. Bodies not ready for the NBA? Actually, the rookies who seem to be having the most impact for good teams are international players who waited to come to the NBA, which might be a better plan for a lot of teams to acquire more ready to play talent. It’s obvious most of the young players coming directly to the NBA are not ready to contribute, especially for good teams. By the time they are, you end up having to overpay them or they tend to fizzle out. In either case, they and the team often waste several seasons of watching from the bench or helping losing teams go nowhere. It may be time for the NBA to reconsider this model.
“You have to be in great shape to endure an NBA season,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “You have to put the work into it. I look at a lot of the guys who played USA Basketball (this summer). They’ve gotten off to great starts. I think their preparation in the summer has helped them. Obviously, we have more players coming in now (younger). They are not as developed as say 10 years ago when guys spent more than one year in college. Injuries can happen any time. Sometimes you can’t avoid them. But I’d like to see a study (of the effects of entering the NBA with immature bodies).”
The top rookies in the Class of 2014:
- Jabari Parker, Bucks: Second in scoring and rebounding among rookies so about as promised; plays a smart, all around game though not star quality yet. Kind of a grinder.
- Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves: Brought along slowly without much objection, it seems. Not as noticeable as you’d think. Athletic, but not the super athlete as advertised.
- Bojan Bogdanovic, Nets: 2011 draft pick traded around after playing overseas. Decent shooter in regular role with Brooklyn.
- Kosta Papanikolaiu, Rockets: A second rounder from 2012 who was traded around while playing overseas. He’s stepped in at both forward spots with Rockets injuries as another good European big man shooter.
- Shabazz Napier, Heat: The little, hustling guard has been coming on for a contending team, scoring in double digits the last five games while also 12 for 24 on threes in that stretch. Shows maturity, makes a big difference.
- Dante Exum, Jazz: One of many talented guards from this draft who can’t shoot well and run around often out of control. That doesn’t sound like top five—he was picked 5th—but that’s who they are at this age playing a very tough position.
- Nerlens Noel, 76ers: It’s tough to tell what anyone on the 76ers does. Noel leads rookies in rebounds, steals and blocks, but he’s got about zero offensive game and reminds you more of Larry Sanders disrupting your team.
- Nikola Mirotic, Bulls: The big forward should move up among rookies as he gets more playing time, which he should now with Taj Gibson out. He just had the first rookie 20/10 and has been one of the Bulls best players the last three games.
- Elfrid Payton, Magic: The 10th overall pick has had to play more point guard with injuries and done reasonably well, though his shooting remains poor.
- K.J. McDaniels, 76ers: He’s fourth among rookies in scoring, but given the 76ers situation it doesn’t seem to matter. His mom even sent out a tweet regretting the 76ers tanking game plan. But he does have a decent shot.
NBA news and notes
What season? New York newspapers are already charting the progress of Duke center (calling him Duke phenom after one game) Jahlil Okafor, who is the early consensus for No. 1 overall pick in next June’s draft. Okafor is projected as a rare true post player for this era. Obviously the 76ers are dumping their season for the draft and should they get No. 1 it would set off a bidding for last year’s No. 1, center Joel Embiid, and their 2012 top pick, center Noel. The 76ers’ plan is borrowed from Houston’s of stockpiling picks and young players and cashing in for a star as the Rockets fell into with James Harden. It can happen; it did for the Rockets. But with the condemnation the Thunder has taken for that deal, it’s a long shot and that’s a bizarre 76ers roster ... Before long players may refuse to go the 76ers as they’re becoming the butt of jokes even among players. Last week, Eric Bledsoe started a debate when he said Kentucky would defeat the 76ers. Someone checked with Las Vegas oddmakers, who ventured the 76ers would be 11-point favorites. But that’s what happens when your plan is as egregious as the 76ers’ You get your players labeled losers and jokes, and those reputations become difficult to shed. I’ve heard GMs say they can’t afford to take 76ers players now the way they’re being tainted with defeat ... Another new NBA owner thinks he’s a coach. The Bucks’ Marc Lasry told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel of the Bucks’ average start: "What you're noticing is they're keeping their poise. It's like the Cardiac Kids.” Lasry said the players "are starting to believe how good they are." Players have responded well to Jason Kidd as they’ve gotten a bounce back season from Ersan Ilyasova and a variety of contributions from young players. It’s a step, but not yet near the playoffs ... How about Brandon Jennings, the league’s worst shooting point guard the last few years, now blaming Stan Van Gundy in comments to Detroit media: "If you ask the question about why we're not making shots, we don't shoot. We don't shoot in practice. We haven't really had a chance to work on our games or anything. When we do have shootarounds, we're not able to get up shots like we should. I just think if you're going to have shootaround in the morning, I think it's good that you get loose and you should work on shots that you're going to take in the game. Even before, after practice, we've got to start getting in the gym, just working on our game more." Who’s stopping him?
Gasol leading the way in the West
Pelicans coach Monty Williams explained the end of Jimmer-mania on his return to Utah Saturday: “You put him in the game and Austin (Rivers) has the ball because he has to guard the other team’s point guards. Then Jimmer would have to guard the shooting guard. A lot of those guys lately has been 6-4, 6-5 or taller. It has nothing to do with Jimmer. He’s put in his work and he was involved in a couple of our wins. He can shoot the ball, but he hasn’t shot as well as we would like him to (about 14 percent on threes).'' ... There’s daily bulletins about Kobe Bryant and his shot counts and back leading the league in scoring. But typically overlooked again is the 38-year-old Tim Duncan, actually playing some point center Saturday with injuries and getting seven points, seven assists, 10 rebounds, three steals and four blocked shots without a turnover in the Spurs win. “We take Tim for granted half the time,” coach Gregg Popovich told the San Antonio Express. “He is still the base of what we do.” ... An early disappointment has been the Hornets. True, they’ve lost a lot of close games and two more this weekend blowing big late leads in Orlando and Miami. But with good reason as Kemba Walker has turned into a one-man dribbling show worthy of the Globetrotters and Brandon Jennings. Classic, Sunday, was dribbling cross court for a late miss trailing by a point while Al Jefferson was being defended by Shabazz Napier ... The Grizzlies have made their step to being for real—not that they weren’t once Marc Gasol came back from injury last season—led by Gasol with 62 points in 64 minutes during the weekend the Grizzlies are looking as strong as anyone in the West with Mike Conley also at an All-Star level. Gasol is joining Anthony Davis in early MVP talk. “The front line just smoked us,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Saturday. “Seventy-one points and 32 rebounds between those 4’s and 5’s. When Gasol gets it with a little bit of time and space, it’s a killer. It’s a hard team to guard. Gasol’s passing makes him really special.” Gasol went on the NBA TV broadcast after Sunday’s impressive win over the Clippers and said he hoped brother Pau, who congratulated him on Twitter, would send him a text message because he doesn’t use Twitter. Marc is headed to being the premier free agent this summer.
— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) November 24, 2014
Deng supports Rose
How far is too far? The last place Thunder is now six games out of eighth in the Western Conference with potential playoff teams like the Clippers and Pelicans not in the top eight. Their record is better only than the 76ers ... Can you surprise twice in a row? The Suns are off to another good start with an unusual rotation for this era reminiscent of the Hubie Brown mass substitutions. Coach Jeff Hornacek has nine players averaging between 19 and 30 minutes and in a win over the Pacers Saturday had all between 20 and 25 minutes in their frenzied action game. They’re fifth in the league in scoring with no one even averaging 16 points ... Interesting comments from Luol Deng last week on criticism of Derrick Rose for not playing with injuries. It’s a sensitive subject for Deng, who believed the community and media unjustly turned on him when he didn’t play in the 2009 playoffs with what was later diagnosed as a serious stress fracture. "When he first came to the league, me and Joakim [Noah] would always tell him, 'Derrick, you can’t play tonight. You're hurt.' And he always wants to put the team behind him and the city behind him. And even when he was hurt, he would play. I really believe that some of his injuries were because he would play hurt. We would tell him not to. And he was so determined and wanted to be the best he could be, not only for the team, [but] for the city. And we kept trying to tell him to understand, like, 'Look, there's a difference between pain and injury.' And I think now after two injuries, he's being smart. Honestly, he's an example of how a lot of kids should be. Someone who puts home first, works so hard and is so humble. And to do that to him (condemnation) is really destroying his identity and what he stands for. I'm smart enough to know when I can go and when I can't go. Every player knows that. It's just Derrick said it."
Coming around in Cleveland?
The larger question now may be whether the Lakers will even want to consider Kevin Love. Not that the fingers are pointing quite yet in the Cavs’ rocky start, but Love, who is facing Chris Bosh syndrome of LeBron and Irving credited with the wins and Love blamed for the losses talked about needing the ball in the post more to ignite his offense. “Kev is a guy if he wants the ball in the post, he gets it in the post. He demands it and we give it to him,” said LeBron James. Right, no excuses. As coach David Blatt said of Love, “Earlier in the season when he was scoring the ball better, it was the same offense.” Love did have 23 points Saturday in the 5-7 Cavs’ loss to Toronto as they forced the ball into him. Love is averaging 16.5 points and 9.9 rebounds while shooting 40 percent, but is obviously troubled being a third option with players who don’t play pick and roll as much. Blatt is talking about lineup changes with the Cavs bench the worst in the league. Love? Can’t do that to the free agent. Love also has taken occasionally to answer questions in the third person, like when he said, ‘Whether that’s getting the best Kevin Love or not, that just remains to be seen.” Nice. You don’t want to blame a coach too much, but it is the risk with someone who doesn’t know the NBA. Blatt has been a successful coach, but the NBA is very different, the personnel, the rules, the officials, travel, the pace, everything. It’s why college coaches fail more often. Blatt has everyone on the Cavs guessing with what looks like name out of the hat rotations. Now you see a basically leaderless Cavs team relying on James, who at times looks like it’s too much weight and even declared his minutes should be reduced. Both he and Kyrie Irving are in the top 20 in the league and Love is averaging more than 36 minutes as Blatt strains his top three every game. Though James did try a power play on Erik Spoelstra when he first went to Miami, he settled in when Pat Riley ended that and then James became the best player in the league. Now James is among those Cavs looking dispirited at times, failing to hustle back on defense and looking beaten with the burden of fixing it. After being among the defense leaders every season with Miami, James’ Cavs are in the bottom five in field goal defense and bottom 10 in rebounding ... What’s the over/under on when Kobe Bryant blows as the Lakers fell to 3-11 with a sweet three of 24 three point shooting in Sunday’s loss to Denver and 29th in the league on defense and 30th in points ... The Warriors lead the league in shooting percentage and opponent shooting percentage, which hasn’t been done since 1980. A fuming and cursing Steve Kerr got a technical Sunday night against the Thunder and already received a disappointed text from Aunt Bee.