20 points, 19 rebounds, three assists – what a game for Jabari Parker! Except not really. Those numbers are the combined statistics from the debuts of young stars Parker, Andrew Wiggins, and Nerlens Noel. The Rookie of the Year favorites labored relative to expectations in their opening NBA contests, lending further credence to talk of early summer that 2014-2015’s crop of first-year players would never live up to sky-high expectations.
But that surface-level analysis fails to account for crucial context. Namely, that Parker, Wiggins, and Noel are 20 years-old and one season of competition removed from high school basketball. It’s hardly time to worry about the present or future of either player. Might it be prudent to adjust assumed prospects of each for this season, though? Perhaps.
Take Parker, for instance. The 19 year-old played 37 minutes in the Milwaukee Bucks’ disheartening loss to the Charlotte Hornets last night, scoring eight points (3-9 FGs), grabbing four rebounds, and notching a team-worst plus-minus of -13. It wasn’t a good debut by any means, but the construction of Milwaukee’s offense makes Jabari’s surprisingly low impact easier to understand.
Brandon Knight doled-out 13 assists and took 17 shots. O.J. Mayo was feeling it off the bench, going for 17 points in 24 minutes and leading the Bucks to a 24-point lead they’d ultimately relinquish. It was the bench and primary ballhandlers that did the lion’s share of work last night, all too often leaving Parker to spot-up idly on the weak-side. The rookie simply had few opportunities to make a play on offense. We were actually pleasantly surprised by his work on the other end, too. Parker navigated pick-and-roll coverage like a veteran, and was only prone to a couple off-ball missteps that so littered his only season at Duke.
The base of talent, obviously, is still here. This was the 6-8, 235-plus pounder’s first professional basket:
Wiggins’ first go as a pro was similarly nondescript. Plagued by early foul trouble, the number one pick’s line doesn’t stand out: six points (2-5 FGs), three rebounds, and two steals. But look who the Minnesota Timberwolves drew to open the 2014-2015 season. Wiggins was hounded by perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Tony Allen from Wednesday’s opening tip – the same guy that gave Kevin Durant fits last spring. And even if Wiggins could have freed himself from the Grindfather, all-court terror Marc Gasol would loom.
Flip Saunders’ late-game rotation further limited the Canadian sensation’s impact. Corey Brewer was Minny’s crunch-time small forward alongside Ricky Rubio and Mo Williams despite numbers that mirror those of Wiggins in more court-time and a team-low plus-minus of -13. Stats aside, there were aspects of the Kansas Jayhawk’s debut to like. Wiggins jumped a cross-screen for a steal on the game’s first possession, closed-out hard on shooters, and even bullied Allen in the post for an easy layup.
And as for those who question his jump-shooting ability, this was the teenager’s first career hoop. Pretty smooth:
Noel is in a tougher spot than either of his esteemed peers. The Philadelphia Sixers are intentionally doomed this season, and his package of skills will always make it difficult to properly gauge his impact. All too often last night, Philly put Noel in the unenviable position of making a play late in the shot-clock – considering he’s a center with a very raw offensive game, it’s no wonder Noel went 2-11 from the field for only six points. There’s this, too: he was being checked for much of the game by Indiana Pacers interior monster Roy Hibbert.
Noel isn’t a creator at this point of his career and might never be one. That’s fine. His value is elsewhere, a fact he showed by corralling 10 rebounds and blocking three shots. His rare quickness and general ability to recover was on display throughout the Sixers’ loss, too.
And despite the his awful inefficiency, Noel even flashed some offensive touch and nuance for the initial points of his career:
It simply takes time for the vast majority of rookies to adjust to the NBA game, and so many factors go into that acclimation. Kobe Bryant totaled six points in the first three games of his career! Later that spring, he went for 22 points in a playoff game. That’s not to say Parker, Wiggins, and Noel will follow similar path – this season or going forward – to that of Bryant’s, but goes to show that even the most talented young players need reps and experience before they begin to make a sizable impact.
These guys are no different. We project all three players to be All-Stars, but that’s not coming in 2014-2015. There will be flashes of that play that make us wonder why it’s fleeting as opposed to consistent. And the answer is an easy one: Parker, Wiggins, and Noel are rookies, a crucial reality we all need to remember as their debut seasons get underway.
What do you think?
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