Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Updated: March 25, 3:17 PM ET
Rookie Watch: Checking in on the bigs
By David Thorpe
At the end of 2008, I wrote about the big men in this rookie class. My focus was how rookie bigs often are unfairly criticized. I also suggested that as many as 13 guys from this class have a chance to be solid starters or rotation guys in the NBA.
Three months later, it's time to study the production of all the rookies who play at least some time as a center, the position that typically is the hardest to fill. There are 12 guys who have played at least a few minutes at the 5-spot, though a few of these guys are clearly better suited for the power forward position. Here's an update on these 12 guys:
Brook Lopez, Nets
Lopez is still playing at a high level, and is constantly making a bid to prove he was the overall steal of the draft. He's the rare rookie that is contributing strongly in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and rebounding.
And his blocked shot numbers have also been amazingly consistent: He has averaged 1.6 bpg, 1.8 bpg and 1.7 bpg (twice) in four of the first five months of the season (he blocked 2.3 shots per game in December). Add in the amount of times he's changed shots or intimidated guys to not take a shot at all, and you can see his impact on defense.
Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Love is playing his best ball of the season despite the poor play of his team. His monthly scoring average of 15.3 ppg is his best total of the season, and his 9.6 boards per game in March show he'll be an easy double-double guy when he starts getting 30 minutes a game (likely next season).
He's making a run at Marreese Speights for the rookie PER crown, trailing 18.47 to 19.64, but is No. 1 for any rookie playing more than 20 minutes per game.
Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
Oden finally returned to the lineup from the chipped bone in his knee, and is being limited somewhat in terms of minutes. He did play 25 minutes Monday night, hitting 5 of 7 shots and grabbing 8 rebounds, so we might see more of him very soon.
JaVale McGee, Wizards
McGee is playing 17-plus minutes per game in March, the most for him this season. Some wonder why he does not play more; for a team that was destined for the lottery months ago, it's a fair question.
He has had some excellent games in March, including three straight double-figure-scoring games and one double-double. I've noticed he often releases his shot from a spot too far behind the backboard or rim, but this is easily correctible. Seeing McGee improve a great deal next season is a huge possibility, which is great news for his team.
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
March has been the best month for Gasol: He's scoring 13.8 ppg (his best monthly average) and grabbing 8.3 rpg (second-best). He has shot over 50 percent from the field in every month but one. That statistic shows his excellent shot selection as much as it does his ability to make shots.
In terms of PER, he ranks second behind Lopez for players getting 30-plus minutes a night.
Jason Thompson, Kings
Thompson has had some excellent moments in March, and is averaging a season-best 9 rpg this month. Combined with his 12.3 ppg, he's a player the Kings feel can produce excellent numbers at either big spot next season. But he is still turnover-prone, largely because he tries to do too much too soon.
J.J. Hickson, Cavaliers
Hickson has basically dropped out of Cleveland's rotation. He hasn't played more than 10 minutes in a game since March 4.
Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Hibbert is yet another young big who is having his best month in March. He's scoring 8.4 ppg, although he's struggling to rebound (just 3.6 rpg in March). Still, he has put together five double-figure scoring games in Indy's 10 games, and he has blocked 1.7 shots per game, too (five came in one game).
However, he's fouling 3.7 times per game, which is far too much for his 18-minutes-per-game average.
Marreese Speights, 76ers
Speights is shooting just over 50 percent in March after two straight months shooting over 55 percent from the field. He is still the rookie PER leader at 19.64 and was instrumental in three of Philly's wins this month.
One area for him to improve in is his rebounding, as his rebound rate ranks only 10th-best among all rookies.
Robin Lopez, Suns
Lopez is still not getting much playing time in Phoenix, with 10 minutes being his high mark in March.
Kosta Koufos, Jazz
Has not played yet in March.
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers
Jordan has basically dropped out of the Clippers' rotation, logging just 22 minutes total since the first week of the month. But his rebounds and blocked shots were solid for the minutes he got, and he still has potential.
As for my rankings, I still see a tie for No. 1, with Brook Lopez joining Rose and Westbrook at the top of the list. I expect one player to separate himself from the group over the next three weeks, but until that happens, we're sticking with bunching them together at the top. Here's a quick update on some rooks who do not play minutes at the center position.
Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose is enjoying a solid month while experiencing the pressure of having to help the Bulls clinch a playoff spot. He carried his team to a win in Oklahoma City recently with a big second half, showing off his improved jump shot.
In March, his scoring numbers are up (16.5 ppg, his second-highest average for a month) and his minutes are up (39.5 mpg, his highest this season), but his assists are down to 5.4 apg (a season-low). Also of note, Rose has made only two 3-pointers on 26 attempts in 2009, after making 14 of 42 through Dec. 31.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Westbrook has stumbled a bit in March, making fewer than 40 percent of his shots while being on pace to take more shots than in any other month. And he's not getting to the free-throw line nearly as often, either: He took 70 or more free throws in every month up to March (97 in February), but has just 44 attempts this month.
Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Randolph is getting more playing time than ever, and his production has increased accordingly. His March averages of 20.3 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 1.9 bpg are all monthly bests.
Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley is finishing shots better in March than in any other month, shooting 51.6 percent on 128 shots. He has also dropped his turnovers down to 1.1 per game, his season low for one month. And his jump shot has been very effective in many games now. I'd still like to see him "beast it" more inside, but there's no doubt he's finding a good groove in Miami.
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Mayo is at a season-low 14.8 ppg in March, despite shooting a season-high 45.9 percent from 3. The problem, as stated in this report numerous times, is his lack of free-throw attempts. He has taken only 24 this month, with 47 being his lowest total for one month before March.
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers
Batum exploded for 20 points last week, and is now averaging 6.6 ppg in March, which is his season high. And he's making 52.8 percent of his shots in March, also a top mark for him. It's likely he could do more on offense, if he was asked to, but he has played his role beautifully thus far this season.
Courtney Lee, Magic
Lee has put together the most productive four-game stretch of his career, scoring 19, 13, 13 and 22 while the Magic went 3-1 (three of those games were on the road). He is averaging over 10 ppg for the second straight month and is at 10 ppg in the 29 games he's started.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Nets
CDR was finally able to get minutes and show some of his game recently, scoring 32 points on 15 shots in back-to-back wins. It's fair to expect more minutes for him during the last three weeks of the season in an effort to better gauge his future in New Jersey.
• Click here for the entire Rookie 50 rankings and more observations
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.