The Top 10 NBA Rookie Of The Year Candidates: Vol. 1

Along with our Race to the MVP Ladder, the first week of December marks the beginning of Dime’s Rookie Ladder. So far it’s been quite an interesting year for this rookie class. There are underachievers and overachievers; some are struggling, and others are just coasting through. Much of finding your rhythm depends a factor you can’t control — like what team you get drafted to — and then there’s also that old injury bug to contend with.

Some players have flourished in the absence of their team’s best player, while others have struggled in the same situation being given more latitude to make plays. Cleveland’s Dion Waiters has stepped up with Kyrie Irving out with injury, but Bradley Beal hasn’t really been able to do the same for his Wizards in the absence of John Wall. We expected New Orleans’ Austin Rivers to get off to a better start, but he’s been struggling in the absence of Eric Gordon and fellow rookie Anthony Davis.

There are a lot of factors that can cause movement on the Rookie Ladder, but the main one is minutes. In the MVP race, it’s pretty much assumed that everyone is playing the same minutes. On the rookie ladder that isn’t the case. Those who play the most are usually going to produce the most, and getting minutes isn’t always guaranteed as a rookie. Guys such as Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb haven’t even gotten their turn yet in Oklahoma City.

It’s a long season and in the oncoming months there will be some surprises. Stay tuned because it’s shaping up to be a great race to the Rookie of the Year this season.

*** *** ***

10. JONAS VALANCIUNAS (8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg) MPG – 23.6
Valanciunas has been proving himself so far in Toronto. He’s solidified his spot in the rotation by having solid games. He’s also shown he’s capable of having big nights, and he fits perfectly into Toronto’s system. So far he’s recorded three double-doubles and although he isn’t exactly a savage on the glass, he makes up for Andrea Bargnani‘s lack of aggression. If he can begin to deliver on a consistent basis, Valanciunas could rise up the rookie ladder quickly.

9. ANDRE DRUMMOND (6.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg) MPG – 17.6
The Pistons have a project in Drummond. His ceiling is still as high as it’s ever been, and at times he shows just how good he can become. In each game he’s beginning to look more comfortable. Although he doesn’t get as many minutes as the other rookies on the ladder, he’s still very productive when he’s on the floor. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field so far, and you have to think that his minutes are going to increase in the coming months if he can continue to have productive games. He’s shown that he can help the Pistons on the glass, and he can finish well at the rim. Good rebounding and high-percentage shots are what can keep teams in games, and that’s exactly what Drummond has to offer.

8. ALEXEY SHVED (10.8 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.6 rpg) MPG – 24.9
Each year there is that one rookie whose production is completely unexpected. This year Shved is that guy. The 23-year old rookie from Moscow has stepped up for the Timberwolves in the wake of massive injuries and he’s proven that he belongs in the NBA. With Ricky Rubio only now on the cusp of returning from last season’s knee injury, the Timberwolves are limited in the backcourt, and Shved has done a good job filling in. He’s been getting consistent minutes and has been making the most out of them. He’s reached double-figures in eight out of Minnesota’s 17 games this season. It’s always a plus anytime production like that is unexpected, and Shved has been a pleasant surprise for Minnesota so far this year.

7. KYLE SINGLER (9.9 ppg, 1.0 apg, 3.6 rpg) MPG – 27.6
After playing his first season out of Duke in Spain, Singler made his return to the States prepared to make an impact this season. After having such a successful college career, complete with an NCAA title, he knew he wouldn’t be overseas for too long. When he returned to Detroit, it was a good decision by both the team and the player. Singler adds a new element to the Pistons, being a shot maker and a solid contributor offensively. Singler has been another one of those surprise rookies this year. He’s been able to stay on the court with his efficient play and his high basketball IQ.

6. HARRISON BARNES (9.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 4.8 rpg) MPG – 27.
Barnes has been solid for Golden State so far this season. He’s been getting consistent minutes all season at small forward but his play has been a bit sporadic. Being aggressive is the key for Barnes. So far this season, on every night he’s taken 10 or more attempts he’s had double figures scoring, including a 20-point, 12-rebound game against Dallas last month. As far as rookies go, there are some overachievers and some underachievers, but Barnes has been right in the middle, doing what’s been expected of him. He’s a great third option to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and he gets those tough buckets that teams such as Golden State need during cold shooting streaks. Barnes is one of those rookies you can expect to get consistent minutes for the rest of the season, so there’s a great chance that his production can takeoff at some point.

5. BRADLEY BEAL (10.9 ppg, 1.8 apg, 3.2 rpg) MPG – 27.0
This season has been a real struggle for the Wizards. With no John Wall they don’t really have an identity and Beal has suffered the most because of it. So far he hasn’t really shown how good he can be without a running mate such as Wall. Along with Jordan Crawford, he’s been placed with the responsibility to score with Wall out but he hasn’t exactly delivered on a consistent basis. His shooting percentages (34 percent from the field, 41 percent effective field-goal rate) has been low, because he forces it more times than he should. Once Wall gets back, and Beal has someone to play off of and create for him, he’ll begin to show people why he was the third overall pick in the draft.

4. MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST (10.8 ppg, 1.6 apg, 6.1 rpg) MPG – 27.2
A year after the worst single-season winning percentage in NBA history, the Bobcats have surprised this year and a lot of it has to do with the stellar play of MKG. Kidd-Gilchrist has brought a new type of tenacity to Charlotte. He’s doing exactly what’s been expected of him by playing athletically as an attacking wing, and he’s proven that he can hold his own defensively. It’s rare that a team can draft a player that instantly makes them better defensively, especially on the perimeter. That’s exactly what Kidd-Gilchrist has provided for Charlotte this year. They’ve got some tough wins so far, including a big win over Dallas last month, in which MKG had 25 points and 12 rebounds. Technically, MKG is leading all rookies in rebounding at 6.1 a game because his college teammate, Anthony Davis, has been injured. He can count on getting consistent minutes for the rest of the season, and the Bobcats are one of those teams who spread the scoring load. If Kidd-Gilchrist can get in a rhythm offensively and continue to rebound the basketball, he’ll be in the discussion.

3. ANTHONY DAVIS (16.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 bpg) MPG -28.3
Although he’s been hurt, Davis has shown what he can do. Playing with Team USA this summer really showed him how dangerous of a player he can become. In the six games he’s played this season he’s shown he possesses that budding superstar potential. He hasn’t played since Nov. 17, but once he returns you have to imagine he’ll pick up right where he left off when he gets back in a week or so. There’s no question that he’s the guy in New Orleans, he just has to stay healthy. The Rookie of the Year award is still very much up for grabs at this point, but it’s a long season, and you have to expect that Davis is going to make this thing interesting when he returns.

2. DION WAITERS (15.2 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.3 rpg) MPG – 32.0
Waiters has been killing it so far this season. Kyrie Irving helped him get into a rhythm early because Irving’s play was taking so much attention by itself, and as a result Waiters has felt comfortable to be aggressive offensively. Since Irving has gotten hurt, (he’ll be out for another few weeks) Dion is has been picking up the slack. Although his shooting percentage has been low — 36 percent overall and 42 percent EFG% — he has been filling it up so far. Waiters and Portland’s Damian Lillard have separated themselves from the rest of the pack this season, at least in terms of scoring. They’re without a doubt the most advanced offensively so far. If Waiters can get hot, as he was in L.A the fourth game of the season (hitting 7-11 from three-point range), he’s a legitimate threat to win the award this year.

1. DAMIAN LILLARD (19.3 ppg, 6.3 apg, 3.3rpg) MPG – 37.9
Lillard has simply showed out this season. He’s a step ahead of everyone in his rookie class and he’s proven so since Day 1. After winning MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, he hasn’t lost a step, already becoming a leader on the Trail Blazers, and he plays with such calm maturity. He really hasn’t looked like a rookie all season long until last week at Boston, which was his only single-digit scoring game of the year. He’ll have to keep it up if he wants to stay at the top and between Waiters and Davis, it won’t be as easy as everyone thinks for Lillard. But if he can remain consistent, and end up having one of those Chris Paul-Derrick Rose-type rookie years, it’s hard to see anyone knocking him off the top spot of the Ladder.

Who is your leader for ROY right now?

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.