We’re now a month and a half into the season, and it’s been more unpredictable than a Lil’ Wayne album. Sure, we have our juggernauts (Miami, Chicago, I guess OKC) and our basement-dwellers (Charlotte gets their own spot). But in the middle, it’s a wreck. Portland looks like the best team in the West at home, but then goes on the road and can’t do anything. Denver started off 14-5. Then lost seven of eight. Even old reliables like the Celtics have continuously sputtered and stopped. Already this season, they’ve had winning streaks of four, four again and five, and losing streaks of three and five.
It’s the same plot with the rookies. At the top, Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio are still going strong. But after that, it’s a diehard’s/blogger’s fantasy. Gustavo Ayon. Jon Leuer. Nikola Vucevic. Lavoy Allen. Alec Burks. They’re all in the top 10 in rookie PER. How many of those names could you put a face to right now, let alone at the start of the season?
We’ve had two rookie reports so far, and while some of the names have changed, the ones leading the way haven’t. It’s no different this time.
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10. NORRIS COLE
Vol. II: unranked
It’s been a minute since we last heard from Cole. He had his “Simba” moment against Boston early in the year, and since then, he’s drifted to the background. Just the other night against Atlanta, Cole took 11 shots and routinely broke down plays to go for his own. Not even J. Cole was winning a Grammy, dude. Relax. You’re playing with two of the best players in the world. Cleveland State is proud enough.
His PER is only 10.24, 26th among all rookies. But he’s carved a role on perhaps the best team in the league, and has already proven he has rookie Sam Cassell-lite potential. If it comes down to rating Cole against say, Klay Thompson, I’ll take the kid performing in the bright lights.
If he was shooting better than 36 percent in February, I might even rate him higher. But for now, he’ll have to wait a little longer before he takes Mario Chalmers‘ job.
9. GUSTAVO AYON
Vol. II: unranked
I tried to steer clear of the rookies getting baby burn. Too many players get a swift paint job done by overvaluing PER. The truth is Ayon was barely averaging double-digit minutes until a week ago. But I’m showing him love for two reasons: First, because the Hornets can use any good news they can get outside of Chris Kaman exchanging the hunting gear for a spot in the low post. That ship is sinking quicker than Titanic. And second, Ayon is No. 2 in the entire rookie class in PER at 19.22. Sure some of his minutes haven’t been during key moments, but when he’s been out there (15.3 minutes a night in 21 games), he’s been ones of the best rookies.
“If I said three or four things about our team in our language, Trevor and Jack know exactly what I’m talking about,” Monty Williams told the New York Times when the team initially signed their secret weapon. “He may look at me like, ‘O.K., Coach.’ I think it’s going to take a while to start to pick up basketball N.B.A. language.”
Adjusting hasn’t been a problem for Ayon. In fact, it’s taken everyone else a little longer than normal to figure him out. Just last night in New Orleans’ six-point win over Utah, Ayon was destroying Paul Millsap (he missed one shot, and had 13, nine and three blocks). If I can argue Millsap for All-Star appreciation, I can show Ayon more love than he’ll get on Valentine’s Day.