In the final weeks before the All-Star break, the midseason mark is almost upon us. While every rookie under the sun has struggled at some point this season, Damian Lillard has remained invincible. Anthony Davis wasn’t able to shake injury. Bradley Beal has let the injury bug catch up with him as well, and Dion Waiters lost his starting spot at times. It’s never easy in the world of an NBA rookie, but Damian Lillard really couldn’t make it look anymore easy.
With the Rising Star Challenge at All-Star Weeekend right around the corner, we’ve heard which rookies will make the cut. But if I had to pick today, these would’ve been my guys:
With Jared Sullinger out for the remainder of the season with a back injury, I had to go a different direction. Sure, it would’ve been nice to see Austin Rivers or Terrence Ross in the game, but with the other eight guys being locks for me, I had to give the last spot to Kyle Singler.
With that, here are our rankings for the NBA Rookie of the Year in the sixth volume of the Dime Rookie Ladder.
*** *** ***
10. TERRENCE ROSS â€“ Last week: 5.0 ppg, 1.7 apg, 2.0rpg, 18.2 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: UR
With the recent blockbuster trade that brought Rudy Gay to Toronto, it’s clear to see that the Raptors are shaping up for a nice future. Ross will be a big part of that. Although they had to part ways with a promising young forward in Ed Davis, they received a great piece to build around with Gay. While DeMar DeRozan and Gay will likely be the starting wings for the Raptors for the foreseeable future, Ross could grow into one of those J.R. Smith-type roles.
Although his numbers don’t necessarily jump out at you, Ross has shown flashes of his potential this season. He’s an athletic guard who can shoot the ball well. His offensive game is very raw, but once he comes into his own, Terrence Ross will be a familiar name when this rookie class gets brought up down the road.
9. TYLER ZELLER â€“ Last week: 8.3 ppg, 2.0 apg, 4.3 rpg, 25.6 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: UR
Tyler Zeller has done a great job holding it down for the Cavaliers in the absence of Anderson Varejao who was certainly on pace for an All-Star year had he stayed healthy. Although filling that void isn’t exactly an easy task, Zeller has done a pretty decent job. He averaged 8.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in January, and even had a pair of double-doubles. Although he has a ways to go offensively in terms of expanding his game with post moves and extending his range, he has the ability to finish well around the basket with his tremendous touch.
The only issue with Zeller is he isn’t physical enough down low. At 7-0 and 250 pounds, Zeller should really be averaging more than 6.1 rebounds a game. Although he has the size, he lacks the athleticism and it definitely doesn’t help that he often positions himself poorly under the basket. He’s getting starters minutes now, and at that size he should be producing at a higher clip than he’s been performing at. An impressive 16-point performance against David Lee and the Warriors allows Zeller to climb onto this Ladder this time around, but unless he can pick up those rebounding numbers, he won’t be sticking around for much longer.
8. KYLE SINGLER â€“ Last week: 11.6 ppg, 1.0 apg, 4.6 rpg, 30.8 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: UR
Kyle Singler was a fixture on the rookie ladder in the beginning weeks of the season. He surprised many with his consistent play out the gate and got off to a good start, but not every rookie can be lucky enough not to hit that rookie wall. Singler hit a cold streak in the middle of December that he wouldn’t shake until the middle of last month, so he found himself falling off the ladder.
However, he’s been able to work his way back on to the ladder by finding a rhythm these past two weeks. He scored in double-digits in six of his last 10 games, including a career-high 20 points against Cleveland on Friday. Throughout that stretch, he’s proven that he can score if given the opportunity. He’s played big minutes all season for Detroit and has been looking more and more comfortable on the court.
7. ALEXEY SHVED â€“ Last week: 14.0 ppg, 5.6 apg, 3.3rpg, 24.3 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 6
Shved made his return last week against the Clippers after missing five games with a sprained ankle. He’s played well since his then, proving that he can score and distribute the ball as well. He’s also shown that he’s not going to waste time playing timid basketball. He was 5-for-11 from deep against the Lakers on Friday, scoring 18 points while dishing out six assists and grabbing four rebounds.
Shved has been one of the more consistent rookies all season. If he can pick up where he left off and get back to playing the way he was doing before his injury, he’ll continue to move up the ladder.
6. HARRISON BARNES â€“ Last week: 15.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 5.6 rpg, 34.6 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 7
Barnes has finally gotten back to playing to his potential. After a seven-game stretch without cracking double-figures, he’s played well in his last three games. Against Phoenix on Saturday, Barnes had 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and eight rebounds. The most notable part about that game was he didn’t take a single three-point attempt. If Barnes can continue to play aggressively inside the arc, he’ll see more minutes at the four spot for the Warriors.
After losing some of his minutes to Jarrett Jack for most of the season, Barnes has found a new role for the Warriors. He’s shown he has a lot to offer in many different aspects. While he may not be the best shooter or the best rebounder on the team, he can do both pretty well. He’s also coming along defensively. At his size, he can take on some of the more challenging matchups for Golden State and really make Klay Thompson‘s life easier.
5. ANDRE DRUMMOND â€“ Last week: 8.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 21.8 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 5
Drummond has been the most interesting rookie to keep an eye on this year. He hasn’t gotten the big minutes like some of the other rookies, but he’s been making it harder and harder for the Pistons to keep him off the court. It’s really a simple formula: the more he plays, the more numbers he puts up. He had a monster game on Tuesday of last week against Milwaukee, scoring 18 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in 28 minutes. If he plays those kind of minutes on a consistent basis, there’s no telling how good he could really become. After checking out the rookie ladder, take a look at this interesting piece on Drummond’s potential and why Detroit really should be playing him more often.
4. BRADLEY BEAL â€“ Last week: 6.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 rpg, 24 mpg (one game played)
Vol. 5 rank: 2
After injuring his shooting wrist on a bad fall against Denver last month, Bradley Beal hasn’t been the same. Through the first half of January, Beal had people thinking he would get in rhythm and really give Lillard a run for the award. However, on account of his injury, his shooting struggled, his minutes went down, and recently it’s gotten so bad that it’s caused him to miss games. He sat out the last four for Washington and is planning on taking all the time he needs to let the soreness fully recover.
The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Beal, who was just beginning to play at his potential. He worked himself all the way up to the No. 2 spot on the ladder after being stuck in the middle of the pack for most of the season. It’s going to be interesting to see how he recovers from the wrist injury and if it affects his aggressiveness when he returns.
3. ANTHONY DAVIS â€“ Last week: 14.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 26 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 4
Anthony Davis is officially back. He’s scored double-figures in 12 of his last 15 games and although he hasn’t been rebounding the way he’s capable of, he’s been playing tougher in the paint. Through that same 15-game span, Davis only had two games where he didn’t register a block.
Don’t count him out of the race just yet. Although he’s not been the double-double machine many thought he was capable of being, Davis has been consistent when he’s healthy. It would’ve been really interesting to see how far along he’d be right now if he didn’t get hurt.
2. DION WAITERS â€“ Last week: 12.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.3 rpg, 27.3 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 3
Aside from Lillard, Dion Waiters might be the most aggressive rookie of the bunch in terms of offense. That’s been both good and bad for the Cavaliers over the course of this season. There are times when Waiters looks great and really helps the team win, but the aggressive mentality that he has can hold the team back when he’s struggling. Scorers are taught to keep shooting, that’s understood. That aggressive mentality that Waiters has isn’t a bad thing, but Byron Scott seems more comfortable with his rook coming off the pine. Scott feels he can get more positives out of it. It’s worked out just as well as he thought it would.
With the soaring play of Kyrie Irving, Dion doesn’t get in the way as much anymore. Instead, he comes in and really gives the team a spark, and when Irving is out of the game, Waiters controls the team. He’s played with more confidence off the bench and it’s shown in his numbers. Through his first nine games coming off the bench, Waiters has averaged over 17 points a game. With Cleveland far behind playoff contention, it makes sense for them to try a new angle.
1. DAMIAN LILLARD â€“ Last week: 18.7 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.3 rpg, 39.7 mpg
Vol. 5 rank: 1
It seems like every rookie has struggled at some point this season except for Damian Lillard. What separates him from the rest of the bunch is his ability to be consistent. He’s stayed healthy all season, and has played at a high level from the jump. He’s won three straight Rookie of the Month honors and at this point, it’s going to take an enormous collapse for him not to win Rookie of the Year.
It’s not often that a rookie costs through the season the way Lillard has been doing. He’s been playing so well his name was even brought up in All-Star considerations. Lillard has the Blazers very much alive in playoff contention, and with the numbers he’s put up this year he’s having a better rookie campaign than Kyrie Irving had last year. All he needs is an MVP performance in the Rising Stars Challenge. While I think it’s possible for him, I doubt he’ll be able to top 34 points on 8-for-8 shooting from long range.
Which rookie would you take for the next 10 years?
Follow Jaimie on Twitter at @_JaimieTyler_.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.