4. KAWHI LEONARD
Vol. II: No. 6
Perhaps my favorite rookie of all. Leonard has the instincts to play power forward, and the athleticism to play off the wings. I compared his length and hand size to Chewbacca early this season. Ask Scottie Pippen (or, I guess, Scotty Pippen) what that’ll do for someone. He first gained fame early in the season for the way he attacked the glass; Outside of this rookie class’ big men, he’s still No. 2 among rebounding rate (11.9), just barely trailing Derrick Williams. And in estimated wins added, he’s No. 5 in this class. Leonard’s numbers could drop with Manu Ginobili set to come back, but more than likely, he’ll still be on the court when it counts.
For now, Popovich is giving him just under 24 minutes a night, and has started him for barely half the season. Next year, if anyone will be ready to make a huge jump, it’ll be Leonard.
3. MARSHON BROOKS
Vol. II: 3
After missing some time with a fractured toe, Brooks has played in the last two games. And despite looking like a shell of himself – a combined 14 points on 4-for-17 shooting – he’s been perhaps the biggest surprise of this rookie class. Since he went down a few weeks back, New Jersey’s offense has been lacking a little punch, and not even Deron Williams playing as aggressively as ever could change that.
At 100.4, their offensive efficiency is still exactly average (they’re No. 15) for an NBA team. With a PER of 17.27, and a surprisingly well-rounded offensive game – seeing rookies who can hit pull-ups off the dribble and floaters in the lane is more astounding than Kobe passing late in a game – Brooks looks like a potential 20-point a night scorer down the road. The only problem is, more than likely, if New Jersey wants to trade for Dwight Howard, Brooks will be off to see Micky Mouse.
2. RICKY RUBIO
Vol. II: No. 2
In Smack a few days back, we pointed out a play from Rubio that probably had Minnesota fans ready to call Rubio the best thing since Fargo. He faked a behind-the-back pass that had Jordan Farmar as confused as a fish out of water, and then made one of the craziest one-handed bounce passes look completely routine. Rubio found Wes Johnson at a weird angle, somehow spinning the ball just past Farmar’s legs. Unreal (Amazingly, it wasn’t even the most incredible part of the play. That was Wes Johnson actually making a shot.).
The Spanish Magician’s efficiency has tailed off a little as the season has progressed – he’s now shooting under 38 percent and his PER has dropped to 16.22… AND he’s had all of his momentum stolen by Jeremy Lin. But still, 10.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 2.4 steals a game is nothing to scoff at. If I had to compare Rubio’s rookie year so far, I’d compare it to Young Jeezy‘s debut: Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101. Full of highlights…memorable songs that I can still spit off memory…swag unlimited…and while it wasn’t necessarily a classic, it takes you to a time and place whenever it gets play.
1. KYRIE IRVING
Vol. II: No. 1
Forget Eli Manning. Irving is the master of clutch. He’s the basketball-playing version of the opposite of Stan Van Gundy. Here’s the only stat I need to prove how great Cleveland’s new king is: their record is 10-16, and they’re about a gazillion times more competitive than we expected. Sure, before he hurt his wrist (and will now apparently miss a month), Anderson Varejao was playing like a cross between Charles Barkley and Jaguar Paw from Apocalypto, but Irving has already won three or four games for the Cavs. His spin move is smoother than John Legend. His “clutch gene” has Skip salivating.
Over the weekend, I chatted up Cleveland sports with a good friend who had the horrific luck of being born in Ohio. I had to feel for him just listening. He mentioned our top 5 LeBron James dunk post and how “Everyone looked so happy and excited” back then. It’s true. Check out those old videos. It was a show. Well, if Irving improves at all in the next few seasons like I think he can – he’s already averaging 18 points and 5.1 assists on a rookie-best 21.62 PER – the Cavs will be smiling and celebrating again.
Did I get it right?
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