Sports media lately has been hit by cupid’s Italian love arrow with an over saturation of all things Brandon Jennings. We all know by now what Young Money and fellow rookies Tyreke Evans and Ty Lawson are capable of. But quietly, the rest of the rookie pile is exceeding many people’s expectations of their class prior to last June’s draft. Across the board, there are numerous rooks making an impact with their respective teams. Here are a few young guys whose play should demand more minutes and attention.
*All season averages are as of Tuesday 11/24
Marcus Thornton, Hornets (13 ppg and 2 rpg through 10 games/New Orleans: 6-9)
Thornton’s stats won’t immediately jump out at you, but I love his game. After watching him tear it up at LSU the past few years (he was the 2009 SEC Player of the Year) and hearing the buzz about him during draft workouts, I thought he could squeak into the first round. He ended up going 43rd to the Heat and subsequently traded to NOLA. Thornton barely saw the floor when Byron Scott was at the helm, but since his absence, he has scored in bunches. Thornton scored 24 in a one-point road loss to Miami Sunday night, and is averaging 17.6 points and 2.6 dimes over the last five games; leading NO to three wins in that time. At 6-4, Thornton can score from everywhere on the court. He’s a slasher and is constantly the recipient of easy layups from basket cuts, while also being able to shoot the three with accuracy (39 percent). Thornton is going to have to add to his repertoire if he wants to have more longevity in the League though. Right now he is a decent defender, but is tabbed solely a scorer, as evident by his 2 boards and .8 assists a game.
Darren Collison, Hornets (9.9 ppg and 3.7 apg through 11 games/New Orleans: 6-9)
Ever since Chris Paul went down with an ankle injury and coach Scott was given an indefinite vacation, Collison and Thornton have been lighting it up for New Orleans. Collison is averaging 14 points and 6.4 dimes over the past 5 games; including a 22 and 11 outburst Saturday against Atlanta and the best record in the League. After watching Collison dominate the Pac-10, despite having to share duties with Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday, I was skeptical whether he could make the leap from great collegian to solid pro. 15 games into the season and he looks to be one of the steals of the first round (Drafted 21st). Collison is easing the pain left by Paul’s absence and is winning games for coach Jesse Ventura, I mean Jeff Bower (Hornets are 3-2 without Paul). He has great vision and is mature with how he runs the offense. Along with Bobby Brown and Paul, I can’t think a better set of three point guards in the League, except for maybe Portland.
Jordan Hill, Knicks (4.2 ppg and 1.2 rpg through six games/New York: 3-10)
Now, I am not from the East, nor do I live in New York – like most of the other Dime guys – but I saw Hill play at Arizona for three years and have watched him sit through his rookie season on League Pass. Yes, he’s unpolished and needs work, but Hill can be very good for the Knicks. Every time he goes into the game, he produces. He has a high shooting percentage (61.1 percent) and I really don’t understand why – as bad as the Knicks are – he is not on the floor more often. Hill does look lost at times, but to be fair, he hasn’t be given much of a chance to get his feet wet. Only getting 6.3 minutes a game, as the 8th pick, on a team that might win 17 games all year, is ridiculous. If anyone believes he is going to be worse for New York than Jared Jeffries, whom I am surprised is still making money in the League, then more power to you. The only way he is going to develop is if he is playing and he’s never going to produce for the Knick critics if he continues to rack up DNP’s and 2-minute games. The kid can shoot the mid-range J, he can bang inside and he has good touch around the basket. I was going to end with saying that there is a reason he went so high in the Draft, but then I remembered who went second, which instead induced a laugh attack.
Wes Matthews, Utah (6.9 ppg and 1.2 rpg through 13 games/Utah: 7-6)
Matthews is the Anthony Morrow surprise of this year’s draft class (undrafted out of Marquette) and is playing great for Utah. His biggest game thus far has come in a November 13th win at Philadelphia, where he dropped 16 points and four boards. Matthews was initially a surprise addition to make the roster this year, but 13 games into the season and he has already started five. Jerry Sloan isn’t known for playing rookies with much regularity and it will be interesting to see if Matthews maintains the 21.1 minutes per game he’s gotten so far. Oddly enough, he has a real similar game as Morrow; he drives a little more, but still kind of lives and dies by his jump shot. I could have also put Eric Maynor at this spot, but I let y’all know about him last week.
Terrence Williams, Nets (11 ppg and 2.2 apg through 13 games/New Jersey: 0-13)
Williams is getting the most playing time out of this group, at 29.3 a game, but still deserves some attention. With as much young talent as New Jersey has, it is surprising to see just how much they are struggling. Going into the draft, I thought that he was going to get lost in the NBA. I thought he would become a tweener and not really find a spot – similar to how Antoine Wright was like coming out of Texas A&M in 2005. While it’s still too early to definitively say that Williams is going to be a star, he is already showing flashes of becoming a great player. Along with Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and CDR, Williams is undoubtedly the future of the Nets. In a loss at Milwaukee last Wednesday, he recorded his third double-double of the season, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds. At 6-6, he is bigger than other point guards, and can bully smaller defenders into the post. He is still struggling to find his shot, but that’s understandable as he continues to acclimate to the NBA. Hopefully being on the worst team in the League doesn’t mess with his psyche the same way it is Douglas-Roberts.
Who did I forget? What other rookies do you think are making a strong push for more PT?
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