The Top 10 NBA Rookie Of The Year Candidates, Vol. 5

With the midseason point approaching, it’s been interesting to see which rookies have been able to avoid that rookie wall so far. While January has been a hot month for some of the rookies, others have struggled. While Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Alexey Shved spent the majority of the season on the top half of our rookie ladder, others have outplayed them this month.

Damian Lillard‘s been in the top spot all season long, but now he’s closer to getting knocked off than he’s ever been before. Not because he’s been playing any less spectacular than usual (he just put up 37 on the Warriors a few weeks ago) but because both Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters have turned it up lately.

What separates Lillard from the rest of the bunch is his ability to score and distribute at the same time. Waiters and Beal have both proven they can score, and with about three months remaining in the season it will be interesting to see if Lillard wins the NBA Rookie of the Year in the landslide everyone thinks it’s going to be.

Realistically, it’s hard to see anyone stealing the award from him in the late stages of the race, (he is leading the Blazers to a playoff run), but it’s going to be closer than a lot of people make it seem. Here are our rankings for the fifth volume of our Rookie Ladder.

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10. JOHN HENSON – Last week: 9.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.7 bpg
Vol. 4 rank: 8
Henson started off his week with a great game at Toronto, scoring 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting and grabbing six rebounds. As far as players who flew under the radar this year, John Henson has shown some pretty good potential. He was almost nonexistent in the month of December, only scoring more than two points one time all month, and really only seeing garbage time minutes. However in January, he’s playing up to 18 minutes a game and he’s proven capable of having pretty effective nights.

9. JARED SULLINGER – Last week: 6.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 5.0 pfpg
Vol. 4 rank: 9
Jared Sullinger has finally started to reach his potential. This month, he’s been on a tear, averaging about eight points and nine rebounds. He’s having his best month of the season by far, but the one issue with Sully has been his fouls. He’s already fouled out of five different games this month, and is averaging about five whistles a night. Although he’s been relentless on the glass, he has to tone down his aggressiveness just a tad and learn how to defend bigger players without fouling.

8. MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST – Last week: 5.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Vol. 4 rank: 7
While other rookies have been picking up their numbers in January, MKG has been struggling to find a rhythm. He’s coming off of his worst week of the season stats-wise, although it isn’t all his fault as the Bobcats are shaking things up a bit to try and get some positives out of the remainder of their season. While Kidd-Gilchrist is having a decent rookie year, he’s still looking to find his identity. As one of those players that does everything good but nothing great, he’s found himself hitting a bit of a wall this month. For him to get back on the top side of the ladder, he’ll need a few more breakout games to get himself going again.

7. HARRISON BARNES – Last week: 9.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.0apg
Vol. 4 rank: 10
Harrison Barnes has been on the outside looking in for most of this season with the great play of Jarrett Jack. The Warriors are at their best with Jack running the point, and Curry and Thompson coming off those screens for three-point looks. That’s their winning formula. Barnes contributes when he can but he’s seen his opportunities come and go. For him to really fulfill his potential, he can’t play timidly. For example, he played 38 minutes against San Antonio on Friday, and only had four points on 1-for-5 shooting. If he wants to solidify his role, he has to take shots so they don’t lose anything when he’s on the floor. When he plays passively and just goes through the motions, it’s not long before that buzzer sounds and Jarrett Jack comes in. Barnes has a lot to offer with his size and athleticism and potential on the defensive end, but if he can’t score then he’s taking away from the team when he’s playing. He’s proven that he’s capable. He just must get back in rhythm.

6. ALEXEY SHVED – Last week: 5.6 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 rpg
Vol. 4 rank: 3
Shved got off to an excellent start this month, scoring double figures in five of his first six games in January. However, he hasn’t been able to hit double figures since. Before hurting his ankle last week, he struggled against the Clippers, Mavericks and Spurs, scoring only three field goals through those games. It will be interesting to see how he bounces back as he’s been one of the more consistent rookies all season. With his recent struggles, he’s slipped down the ladder, but when he returns his minutes will be right there waiting for him.

5. ANDRE DRUMMOND – Last week: 13.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg
Vol. 4 rank: 6
Andre Drummond has been one of the more underrated rookies this season. While many didn’t know what to expect from him coming out, he’s showing what type of player he can be at the NBA level. January has easily been his best month of the season. He’s shooting an incredible 69 percent from the field and averaging almost 10 points and nine rebounds a game. Drummond is a beast around the basket. He’s one of the rookies that share a direct relationship between minutes and production: the more he plays, the more he produces. He has the potential to be a double-double machine. All he needs is the minutes. He’s only playing 21 minutes a game this month, and his big numbers in limited PT shows he still has more to offer.

4. ANTHONY DAVIS – Last week: 13.2 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.2 bpg
Vol. 4 rank: 5
Anthony Davis has picked up where he left off at the end of last month. After struggling through the beginning of January, he’s back to shooting a high percentage from the field, rebounding well and blocking shots. He had his best game of the month against Golden State on Saturday, putting up 20 and 12, and blocking four shots in a four-point loss. While Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters have inched closer to catching up to Lillard, Anthony Davis is working his way back up to the top as well.

3. DION WAITERS – Last week: 19.0 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.2 rpg
Vol. 4 rank: 4
Waiters has been up and down in the month of January, but we saw a lot of good from him this past week. On Monday against Sacramento, Waiters poured in a career-high 33 points on 12-for-18 shooting. As far as potential goes, Waiters has as high of a ceiling as anybody in this rookie class. He’s proving he can score the basketball on a consistent basis, but he’s a bit undersized as a 6-4 shooting guard, so he can’t let his game become one-dimensional. If he can pick up his assist numbers a little bit and create more for his teammates, Waiters has an opportunity to make a strong case for himself going into the second half of the season. At 14.6 points a night on the season, he’s not far behind Lillard (18.3). The only thing holding him back are those assist numbers.

2. BRADLEY BEAL – Last week: 20.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.2 rpg
Vol. 4 rank: 2
After Lillard, Bradley Beal has certainly been the league’s hottest rookie in January. He’s only been held out of double-figures twice this month, once against Miami and on Monday of this week against Portland. What’s been most impressive about Beal’s hot streak has been his three-point shooting. He’s shooting a remarkable 54 percent from beyond the arc this month, and it’s been opening a whole new world for him, making everything easier. Right now, Beal is sitting comfortably in the second spot on the ladder, and with John Wall getting back, you can expect him to continue his hot streak.

1. DAMIAN LILLARD – Last week: 16.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.7 apg
Vol. 4. rank: 1
Lillard followed up his career-high 37-point performance against Golden State by having a pretty solid week last week. Although Russell Westbrook gave him a hard time on Sunday, holding him to just nine points on 14 shots, Lillard capped off his week by putting up a double-double against Milwaukee on Saturday, scoring 26 points and dishing out 10 assists. Lillard has been remarkably consistent all season. Yet he can’t get comfortable as Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters are high-tailing him. It’s a long season, and while he’s been invincible to this point, he’d better not look back now.

Which rookie is having the best month of January?

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