The Top 10 NBA Rookie Of The Year Candidates, Vol. 7

The time has come for our first Rookie Ladder after the NBA All-Star break. The second half of the season has begun and a lot has happened in the first two weeks. While some guys have struggled since the break, other guys have really picked it up. It’s always interesting to see how the All-Star break affects some the rookies. By this point in the season it’s either sink, or swim. Some of the familiar faces on the top half of the ladder hit the rookie wall after the break, while others have come out rejuvenated.

While the main key factor in the rookie race is minutes, another key factor is the injury bug. Those that have been fortunate enough to shake it can tell you that it’s not easy to avoid missing games. Guys that have been bit by it (Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond) can tell you how much of a setback it really is. Davis had his entire rhythm interrupted early in the season with an ankle injury and Drummond’s back injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for him.

Here are our rankings for volume 7 of Dime’s NBA Rookie Ladder.

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10. ALEXEY SHVED – Since the break: 6.5ppg/1.1apg/2.3rpg/MPG: 20.1
Vol. 6 rank: 7
Through the first half of the season, Shved was a familiar face in the top 5 of the ladder. He surprised many with his consistency and didn’t fall short of double-figure scoring numbers too often. He was able to average just above 10.0 ppg for the first three months of the season until he hit the wall last month. His minutes dropped and his production dipped along with it. After playing 30.5 mpg through January, Shved only played an average of 22.8 mpg in February and as a result, he fell short of averaging more than 10 points a game in a month for the first time all-season.

Shved is currently averaging 10.0 ppg on the season, which is still good enough to keep him in the top 5 among all rookies. Even though he’s been struggling since the All-Star break (averaging only 6.5 points per contest) a couple of bad weeks can’t undo a season of quality play. If Shved can pick it up and get his rhythm back he’ll work his way towards reclaiming his spot on the ladder.

9. KYLE SINGLER â€“ Since the break: 5.0ppg/0.4apg/2.8rpg/MPG: 24.6
Vol. 6 rank: 8
Singler is coming off of his best month of the season. Although he’s shown bright spots all year long, he’s never had quite as good of a stretch as he had in February. Before the All-Star break, Singler scored double-figures in seven of his first eight games, including a career-high 20-point performance in a win over Cleveland. The All-Star break must have thrown him out of rhythm because he was only able to reach double-figures once out of his final 6 games last month.

Aside from his glaringly low assist numbers, the only thing holding Singler back now is consistency. He’s shown he can produce and has proven that he can be relied on to play big minutes, but he hasn’t been able to reach the level of consistency it takes to be considered a top rookie.

8. MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST – Since the break: 8.1ppg/1.6apg/4.4rpg/MPG: 24.2
Vol. 6 rank: UR
The rookie wall hits some much harder than it hits others. Unfortunately for this Bobcats rookie, it hit pretty damn hard. Going into the All-Star break, MKG hadn’t scored double-figures in a game since January 15. That’s pretty much an entire month without scoring 10 points, after doing so with ease throughout the first two months of the season. Things have been getting progressively worse for MKG. His minutes and production have gradually declined and he’s been looking more and more dejected.

It’s far too early to tell, but MKG is beginning to look overwhelmed by his own expectations. He reminds me a bit of Marvin Williams: A player who many had high hopes for but couldn’t quite reach the potential people believed he had. Kidd-Gilchrist seems to be headed down the same path. The bar may have been set a little too high for him (just like it was for Williams) and it’s beginning to show now. There’s no question that he has potential, but you can’t get by on potential forever, Marvin learned that the hard way.

MKG has to get back to playing up to his capabilities and fast, or else it’s going to be hard for him to recover if he falls victim to his surroundings. The main thing MKG was praised for coming out of Kentucky was his intangibles, but now it seems he’s gotten a bit complacent. If he wants to be the player he’s capable of becoming he’s going to have to get back to his old ways and start playing the type of inspired basketball he was playing at the beginning of the season.

7. HARRISON BARNES – Since the break: 6.6ppg/0.6apg/2.8rpg/MPG: 25.3
Vol. 6 rank: 6
Barnes has a way of showing up at the right times. He chooses when he wants to be aggressive, but he does it well. He’s also in a unique situation: Of all the rookies on the ladder, he’s the only one on a playoff team. Finding his role in the rotation would’ve been difficult, but with Brandon Rush injured and out for the season since November, minutes were never an issue for Barnes. He’s played consistent minutes all season and has answered when called upon. On a winning team with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, there simply aren’t enough shots for him on a nightly basis. But anytime he’s aggressive, he’s productive. His numbers don’t jump out at you like Bradley Beal or Dion Waiters because he doesn’t get the shots they do. He’s had to deal with the challenge of finding his role on a winning team in a tight Western Conference playoff race. It’s not fair to just look at his numbers and assume he’s not having a good season, with him you have to read between the lines and really understand how well he’s handled the situation he’s been in.

Sure, there are a few guys playing better than Barnes is right now, but he never falls too far behind by reminding us how talented he is every time we begin to forget. His numbers are a poor reflection of what he can do, and if he begins to play like he’s capable of on a nightly basis, he could sneak up the ladder, especially if he can help lead the Warriors into a comfortable playoff spot.

T5. ANDREW NICHOLSON – Since the break: 11.9ppg/1.0apg/4.0rpg/MPG: 24.5
Vol. 6 rank: UR
Like Moe Harkless, Nicholson had to be patient and wait for his opportunity. Once Glen Davis got injured, Nicholson began to get more and more burn and really took advantage of it. He’s played well as a starter in Orlando and has really been the centerpiece of this new young lineup they have. Nicholson has been solid, but his rebound numbers are too low. Friday against Houston he had 17 points but didn’t get a single rebound. That’s unacceptable for someone of his size and skill.

T5. MAURICE HARKLESS – Since the break: 14.1ppg/1.0apg/5.7rpg/MPG: 32.5
Vol. 6 rank: UR
Sometimes, it takes patience for a rookie to start playing well. For the majority of the season, Harkless was flying under the radar for Orlando. Before February, he had only scored double-figures one time all season long. But an opportunity presented itself and more minutes became available. February was easily the best month of the season for Harkless. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg playing an average of 34.5 minutes per night on the month, a tremendous improvement from his first 3 months.
The departure of J.J. Reddick has provided Harkless with a bigger role in Orlando. He’s scored double-figures in 9-straight games since the All-Star break and has really found his identity on a young Orlando team.

4. ANTHONY DAVIS – Since the break: 12.6ppg/1.6apg/7.4rpg/MPG: 26.8
Vol. 6 rank: 4
Davis just can’t seem to shake the injury bug. He had been playing extremely well since the All-Star break, averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds before injuring his shoulder against Brooklyn last week. Luckily the injury wasn’t that serious and Davis would make his return in a win over Orlando on Monday. He finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks, so his shoulder seems to be in good shape.
Staying healthy is the key for Davis for the rest of the season. Better days are ahead for New Orleans, and it’s important that Davis is the foundation of the new identity. He’s got to be the face of the Pelicans and to do that he has to be healthy. There’s no guarantee that Eric Gordon will stay in New Orleans in the future, so Davis has to be the one to sell tickets. It’s important for him to prove he can stay healthy going into next season to give the fans something to be excited about.

3. BRADLEY BEAL – Since the break: 20.2ppg/2.8apg/6.9rpg/MPG: 38.0
Vol. 6 rank: 2
Beal has lived up to his expectations in Washington. Since and up-and-down start to his season, he’s been solid for the Wizards. He led the team in John Wall‘s absence and has played even better since his return. He’s currently playing better than he has all season, on a streak of nine-straight double-figure games.

Beal’s intriguing potential allowed the Wizards to let go of Jordan Crawford and with the extra minutes Beal’s numbers are only going to get better. On Friday against the Knicks, Beal scored a career-high 29 points along with 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Even with the Blazers’ chances for a playoff spot fading, it’s hard to see Beal having any chance at winning rookie of the year. But with the minutes he’s gotten and the situation he’s been in it’s hard not to argue that he’s had just as productive of a season as any other rookie. While Dion Waiters had Kyrie Irving to lean on, Beal had to go without his point guard for the first half of the season. While I do think Waiters has been playing slightly better, Beal might deserve more credit for what he’s done in Washington this year.

2. DION WAITERS – Since the break: 19.8ppg/3.6apg/1.5rpg/MPG: 30.8
Vol. 6 rank: 3
Dion Waiters has been on a tear. He’s averaged almost 20 points a game since the All-Star break, and really shined in the absence of Irving, who was out with a hyperextended knee. Waiters only fell short of double-figures twice in the entire month of February and he shot a surprising 51 percent from the field, tough to do for a volume shooter. That’s an impressive month for Waiters, who struggled with his shooting percentage and shot selection at times this year.

It doesn’t look like anybody will be able to catch Lillard with the season he’s been having, but aside from him there’s no arguing that Waiters has played as well as anybody. His numbers have been consistent all season long and he’s been a great complement to Irving. If there were no Lillard, I would call Waiters the Rookie of the Year if the season ended today.

1. DAMIAN LILLARD – Since the break: 21.0ppg/5.6apg/3.6rpg/MPG: 39.2
Vol. 6 rank: 1
Lillard took home his fourth straight Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for February. His numbers speak for themselves, but more importantly he’s got his team in playoff contention, even if those hopes are fading (the fact he had them in contention at all for the majority of the season is a true tribute to Lillard’s impact).

Although his Trail Blazers have been slipping, Lillard has continued to perform at a high level. He’s been as consistent as he’s ever been, averaging 21 points a game since the All-Star break. It’s his award to lose, but he can’t get complacent. It’s important for him to get the Blazers into the playoffs in order to make his rookie season a complete success.

What do you think?

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