Back in October, I predicted who I thought would be the leading candidates for this season’s Rookie of the Year award. This first half of the NBA season has seen some quite underwhelming rookies and some rookies that came out of nowhere to shock us. The world is slowly starting to fall in love with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Tim Hardaway Jr. is finding a way to be productive in a tumultuous situation in New York… while other rookies, like Anthony Bennett and Otto Porter, can’t even get on the court and when they have, it’s been underwhelming.
The 2013 NBA rookie class was considered to be one of the less talented draft class in recent history, especially with the expectations of the incoming 2014 NBA Draft class. Regardless, there have been some picks that have risen to the challenge. Players like Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams are potential franchise players. I can’t believe the NBA season is halfway over and the All-Star break is creeping up on us, but it’s time to look at some of the legitimate candidates for Rookie of the Year.
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10. Mason Plumlee
Mason, along with his brother, Miles, have decided to take the 2013-2014 NBA season to prove they can ball. Much more intriguing is the fact that Mason has been able to have a standout rookie season on the Brooklyn Nets, a team riddled with future Hall of Famers. He won’t be in the main ROY discussions, but he still deserves to be mentioned. He’s been one of the most consistent parts on a Brooklyn Nets squad that has suffered through some tough times.
In 15.2 minutes per game, Plumlee is averaging 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds. Among all rookies, Mason Plumlee holds the fourth highest PER at 16.1, which shows how effective he has been when he has received minutes. In Brooklyn, his minutes have fluctuated depending on the rash of injuries to the lineup, including totaling 11 minutes in the Nets past five games, but he’s proved he’s more than a bench player.
Maybe the most impressive part about Plumlee’s game is his field goal percentage, which stands at 63 percent, which is second amongst all rookies that have played at least 20 games. Plumlee is only averaging 7.4 minutes per game in January, so he’s a fringe candidate in a top 10 list for Rookie of the Year, but that’s not due to his play. He has been productive when given minutes, including a 15-point, 13-rebound performance in 38 minutes against the Spurs on December 31. Plumlee also has a 19-point, six-rebound performance under his belt earlier this season.
Much like his brother during his rookie campaign, Plumlee is struggling to receive minutes on a team that is structured to win right now. However, one would have to imagine that Plumlee is in a great situation under the tutelage of Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. Mason Plumlee has proved he’s way more than just a roster filler for the future, which makes him a necessary on this list.
9. Pero Antic
Pero Antic came out of nowhere this season. My introduction to Antic was his one-legged, off-balance three-pointer against the Bobcats to force OT in December. The European big man has taken advantage of the minutes available in Atlanta due to the injury to Al Horford. Unfortunately, Antic will miss the next 2-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his right ankle, but his impact has already been felt in Atlanta. This season, Antic is averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds on 43 percent shooting and 37 percent from deep. The 6-11 powerhouse has shown the ability to stroke it from deep, making him even more valuable. His jumper is smooth and looks clean, which doesn’t look right on a 6-11, 260-pound center. But, he is a European big man, so his ability to shoot makes sense. Antic is 31 years old, playing most of his professional career in Greece, but he’s still classified as a rookie.
When Antic arrived in Atlanta, he was nothing more than a fourth-string center. He didn’t figure to play much, with the frontcourt minutes going to Al Horford, Elton Brand and Gustavo Ayon. Antic is only averaging 15.3 minutes per game this season, but has seen 22 minutes per game in the last five games he’s appeared in. In his past three games, Antic is averaging 12.7 points and 7.7 boards, shooting 54 percent from the field. His play is improving as his minutes are increasing, and with the Hawks being one of five teams with records above .500 in the East, Antic will need to keep up his stellar performance to give the Hawks a chance in the East. I mentioned his injury will keep him sidelined for a couple weeks and hopefully he can return to full strength.
It’s weird thinking of a 31-year-old as a Rookie of the Year candidate, but Antic’s performance has earned him a spot on this list.
8. Hollis Thompson
Chances are you might have no idea who Hollis Thompson is, since he’s one of the pieces Sam Hinkie collected from the dumpster list of undrafted free agents before the season began for the Sixers. After being buried on the bench in Philadelphia in November, receiving only 14.9 MPG, Thompson’s play improved as his minutes increased. In December, Thompson averaged 28.8 MPG, while scoring 7.4 PPG on 43 percent from the field. For a shooting guard, Thompson has exceptional length at 6-8 and 206 pounds. One of the more impressive things about his rookie season is that Thompson is seventh among all rookies in games played at 41 and sixth among all rookies in total minutes at 891. He might not have eye-popping numbers, but he’s been one of the more consistent rookies in this draft class. That’s impressive for a guy who was playing for the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Development League last season.
The month of January has been the most impressive month of Hollis Thompson’s rookie campaign. In January, Thompson is scoring 6.0 PPG, but doing it on 54 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. He has eight performances in January shooting over 50 percent from the field, including two performances where he shot 80 percent or better from the field, on six and seven shots respectively. He isn’t getting a ton of looks, but he’s taking advantage of the ones he receives.
During training camp, Sam Hinkie gave out contracts to a bunch of players who had potential, Thompson being one of them. His length as a 6-8 shooting guard, plus his efficient shooting, figures to keep in Philadelphia for more than just his rookie season.
7. Ben McLemore
Even with a roster deep with talent like Boogie Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore has still found a way to make an impact in his rookie season. McLemore is fifth among all rookies in scoring, averaging 7.8 points this season. With the recent injury to Rudy Gay, McLemore looks to be a candidate for those open minutes.
McLemore is averaging 23.7 minutes per game this season, and was the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month in November, a month where McLemore averaged 9.5 points and had six performances scoring over 10 points. The high-flying guard was known for his shooting at Kansas, but has showed a great ability to soar over opponents for highlight reel dunks in his rookie season.
McLemore has been struggling in January, only averaging 5.5 points in 19.2 minutes per game. His minutes have dropped since the Rudy Gay acquisition, but with Gay being injured, McLemore will look to replicate the performance he had in November. His numbers haven’t been the best, but one look at McLemore will tell you that his shooting touch and elite athleticism will translate into a solid NBA career. If McLemore can find the shooting touch he had during his NBA Rookie of the Month performance in November, he will reinstate himself as a prime Rookie of the Year candidate.
6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
To most, KCP has been having an underwhelming rookie season. But, with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in uniform for the Pistons, it’s a miracle that Caldwell-Pope can manage to throw up 7.3 shots per game. Joe Dumars saw something in Caldwell-Pope, electing to take him over Michigan stud Trey Burke. His offensive numbers haven’t been exactly impressive, but his defensive ability has been heralded as his best attribute. Caldwell-Pope is aware of the Pistons selecting him over Trey Burke and had the following to say (via The Detroit Free Press): “I mean, Joe (Dumars) made the decision, so they must have seen something in me that they didn’t see in him. Trey, he’s a great player, but I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to try to go out there and get us another win.”
To date, KCP is averaging 7.4 points in 25.6 minutes per game this season. He’s only shooting 40 percent on the season, but his shooting percentage has increased every month of his rookie season. After shooting 34 percent in November, KCP increased his shooting to 41 percent in December. This month, KCP is shooting a career-high 48 percent from the field, along with scoring 8.9 points per game. Coach Mo Cheeks is showing confidence in KCP, playing him 31.4 minutes per game in January. KCP’s rookie season was off to a rough start, but he’s shown great strides of development every month and the future only figures to get brighter in the Motor City. Joe Dumars was confident when selecting KCP over Trey Burke with the eighth overall pick in the draft and it’s starting to look like he made the right selection.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo (or “The Greek Freak” since even his own teammates can’t pronounce his name) has taken the NBA and America by storm. The kid use to be a street vendor in Athens for crying out loud and now he’s quickly becoming one of the most intriguing players in the league. His innocent smile will capture the hearts of millions and his play on the court will capture billions with the way he’s started his NBA career. Antetokounmpo is averaging 7.0 points and 4.7 rebounds, while shooting 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from deep. The Bucks are the poster child of the ghastly Eastern Conference, with an 8-35 record, which is the worst record in the NBA. Even though it looks like the Bucks will be in the running for Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, the foundation is already set with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Even if the Bucks are the worst team in basketball, there might be a silver lining. With Milwaukee going nowhere fast, valuable minutes have been allocated to Giannis, giving him a great opportunity to grow. Although Giannis has showed flashes of brilliance, he is still very raw and needs a lot of time to become a finished product. This season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 minutes per game, but has averaged 28.6 minutes per game in the Bucks last seven games. Giannis has played 30-plus minutes in 12 games this season, with most of them coming in the past month, since he didn’t play 30-plus minutes in a game until December 11.
Being the worst team in basketball usually doesn’t come with anything positive, but the Bucks should be sky high when thinking of the future with Giannis Antetokounmpo and a lottery pick next season. Could the Bucks also draft Giannis’ brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who is draft-eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft? Imagine those two playing next to each other, having enough wingspan to cover the whole city of Milwaukee. If you haven’t seen much of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is understandable, check this out.
4. Tim Hardaway Jr.
While the Knicks are competing every night to be one of the worst teams in basketball, there’s a rookie on their squad that is being overshadowed by the Knicks dismal play. That would be Tim Hardaway Jr, who is averaging 8.5 points on 46 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from the three-point line in 19.1 minutes per game. Hardaway has quite the shoes to fill with his father’s NBA career and his rookie season has been exciting. With the ongoing antics of J.R. Smith in New York, Hardaway has been able to see more minutes, playing 20-plus minutes in three of the Knicks last four games. His latest performance included a victory over the Lakers with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting (4-for-5 from deep).
It’s a shame that Hardaway has to deal with the New York Knicks front office and management because he’s extremely talented. Hardaway’s 8.5 PPG is fourth among rookies, but that’s not the most impressive part. The top-three rookies in scoring all average over 30 minutes per game, while Hardaway doesn’t even average 20 minutes per game. Hardaway is 10th among rookies in minutes per game, while being fourth in scoring. Hardaway is also doing all of his damage off the bench (one start this season), playing with lesser-caliber players than the top-three scoring rookies, all who have started 20 or more games this season.
Need more to qualify Tim Hardaway Jr. as a Rookie of the Year candidate? Among rookies that have played 150-plus minutes, Hardaway is fourth in true shooting percentage at 59 percent. Hardaway also is fourth among all rookies in offensive rating at 116, which is 18 ticks higher than the player everyone is giving the Rookie of the Year award too in Michael Carter-Williams. Tim Hardaway Jr. is fifth among rookies in PER at 14.5. The Knicks are in a constant state of despair and the basketball world realizes this, however they have a young stud in Hardaway Jr. that deserves some shine. Mike Woodson would be smart to throw more minutes Hardaway’s way. He might not come home with the award, but Tim Hardaway Jr. is definitely my pick for surprise of the year, if nothing else.
3. Trey Burke
After missing the first 12 games of his rookie season, Trey Burke has emerged as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. Besides the stats, the Utah Jazz were 1-11 without Burke in the lineup to start the season. Since his debut, the Jazz are 14-18, including an impressive victory over Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, where Burke scored 10 points, dished six assists and grabbed six boards. Burke’s excellent play has him rivaling Philadelphia 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams as the top point guard in the 2013 NBA Draft class. Burke was named the NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December, when he averaged 14.8 points, 5.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds. This season, Burke is averaging 13.5 points, 5.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds and is knocking down 91 percent of his free throws.
Among rookies with at least 150 minutes played this season, Trey Burke is sixth in PER at 14.3. He’s quickly emerged as the signal caller of the future for the Utah Jazz, essentially giving the Jazz their first real point guard since the departure of Deron Williams. If the Jazz can ink Gordon Hayward to a contract extension, then they have some building blocks.
Trey Burke is also leading all rookies in assist percentage at 31.3, while boasting the third highest usage rate at 23.5. For a rookie to come into the NBA and play the way Burke has been playing, on a below-average team in Utah, is impressive. He’s only played in 32 games and has the numbers to rival any of the leading rookies.
I know the wins won’t come immediately, but with Trey Burke running the show in Utah, along with Derrick Favors in the paint, the Stockton and Malone days could be recreated before we know it.
2. Victor Oladipo
Coming into the draft, Victor Oladipo was considered the most NBA-ready prospect, or the safest pick. I’m sure the Cleveland Cavaliers are wishing they would have made Victor Oladipo the No. 1 overall selection. His play this season has proven this notion to be true. While Trey Burke missed the first few weeks of the season and Michael Carter-Williams missed significant injury time, Victor Oladipo has appeared in all 45 games for the Orlando Magic, starting 25 of them. His 13.8 points are second in the rookie class, trailing only Michael Carter-Williams. His 3.9 assists are third in the rookie class, however the two in front of him are point guards in MCW and Trey Burke.
Oladipo was named the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for the month of December, where he averaged 12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Oladipo has six performances scoring 20-plus points, including a 35-point outburst on January 15 against Chicago. He also dished eight assists, grabbed four rebounds and three steals. Michael Carter-Williams leads rookies in most categories, but Victor Oladipo has the advantage in games played. He’s played in about 10 more games than MCW, while having stats that rival his.
Speaking of the two rookies, they made history on December 3, as the two were the first pair of rookies to both record triple-doubles in the same game. The game wound up going to double-overtime as Victor Oladipo recorded 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. As the season goes on, Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo should emerge as the two candidates who can legitimately win the award. Right now, MCW has the edge, but there’s still half of a season to play.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
Michael Carter-Williams destroyed the Twittersphere on October 30, throwing up 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals in his rookie debut. His first NBA points came on a play where he stole the ball, took it the length of the floor and blew by Mario Chalmers for a slam while LeBron James was watching. Oh yeah, he also lead his team, that was predicted to win less than ten games this season, to defeat LeBron James and the two-time defending NBA champions in the Miami Heat. Even Magic Johnson was quick to anoint Michael Carter-Williams as the Rookie of the Year after his epic debut.
It’s been about three months since Carter-Williams took the NBA by storm and he’s still the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. On any given night, Michael Carter-Williams can fill up the stat sheet in every category. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a quadruple-double or two by the time his career is over. His ability to affect the game in a multitude of areas reminds me of Rajon Rondo and how he’s on triple-double watch every time he’s on the court. Michael Carter-Williams is leading all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals this season, averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals, with a PER of 17.7 (first among all rookies that have played 200-plus minutes).
Michael Carter-Williams has missed 12 games this season and the Sixers have missed him when he’s not in the lineup. Without MCW in the lineup, the Sixers are 1-11, compared to 12-20 when he plays. The Sixers didn’t win a game in December when Michael Carter-Williams didn’t play. MCW has proved that his dynamic opening night performance was no fluke and every game is proving the theory of genius of Sam Hinkie.
Carter-Williams has 10 games scoring 20-plus points this season and also has two 30-point performances. No one in the NBA thought Carter-Williams would be as impressive as he has been. He has taken the reigns of a team in rebuild mode, but that has two lottery picks coming up in this draft and Nerlens Noel sitting on the bench. Carter-Williams is having a ROY season with a roster filled of leftovers (save Thaddeus Young) — just imagine what he will do when he has legitimate NBA talent surrounding him.
Michael Carter-Williams is the runaway candidate for Rookie of the Year at this point and has been ever since he first touched the NBA hardwood.
*All stats from basketball-reference.com and ESPN.com
Who do you think will win ROY?
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