The NBA’s best freshmen no longer need to study for midterms. Their quizzes come every day, in practices or in games with this year’s go-go-go schedule.
Their salaries are better than their scholarships, sure, but as rookies the learning curve is mastered slower than going from Math 100 into Advanced Statistics.
That’s why this time of year is one of the most interesting of any to watch the rookies play. In college life, as many of these guys were in last year, this is the peak of the year. Well, welcome to the league, where you’ve still got a month after the NCAA championships — and that’s if you’re watching the playoffs on the couch.
They’ve passed the trade deadline and have seen the business side of the NBA. Some of their teammates are gone. Maybe their coach, too. And after all their hard work, all they get to hear is about a deep draft class coming up and how March Madness will bump up their stock.
These 10 rookies, however, have taken all that the rookie season has thrown at them and succeeded better than the rest. With Ricky Rubio now out for the season, we decided to leave him out of this. Despite his recent struggles, Youtubio had been playing like one of the 10 best rooks in the league. But we want to concentrate on who’s doing it presently. Now in our fourth “Rookie Report” of the season, we rate them. Again.
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10. CHANDLER PARSONS
Vol. III: No. 8
Maybe you know him as the guy who helped out Chase Budinger in this year’s dunk contest, but Parson’s has quietly been given a lot more responsibility than that this year. Getting 26 minutes a night and 37 starts, Parsons has been one of Houston’s top-five best players all year because of his range. He’s more comfortable from long range, but at 6-9 can work inside, causing matchup problems. Throwing down on the NBA’s best shot blocker, Serge Ibaka, earlier this week needs no comment on his growing inside-outside game.
So the toolkit is there, but now it’s about how it expands. The Rockets can probably be filed under “first-round out” in the playoffs, but I can’t wait to see how a sneaker freak like Parsons – seriously, we asked him about it at All-Star Weekend. Dude is a Jordan fiend – improves from this year into the next.
9. GUSTAVO AYON
Vol. III: No. 9
There was a special moment last Monday when the NBA’s only two Mexican-born players met on the court. Ayon faced up against Eduardo Najera, and then it was cool, and then everyone thought about how much better Ayon is right now. Not just against Najera — against his peers. On a team in chaos like New Orleans, he should get more minutes than just 21 per after putting up a 17.34 PER (third among rookies), 4.7 points and 6.5 points.
I like his game because it scales with his playing time. Give him more minutes and he gets more for you. Thursday night in 37 minutes, he had 16 points and nine boards. Given 20-29 minutes, he’d be averaging 7.1 points and 5.0 boards a game, but given 30-39, those increase to 9.8 points and 8.4 rebounds. The Hornets are a mess, but Ayon’s one of the few in that organization who isn’t.
8. ISAIAH THOMAS
Vol. III: unranked
I got to watch Isaiah play often at Washington being on the West Coast, and I think I see why Kings fans like him so much: He reminds them of them. I mean, you don’t see Thomas and think he can be as good a scorer as he can be (10.0 points) or as efficiently (fourth in both rookie PER and estimated wins added), much like the NBA looked at Sac-town last year and though, uh uh, no way.
The Kings have been assured a new stadium and I’d like to see Thomas get the chance to be in tandem with Tyreke Evans when it’s opened. He’s done what you want as a rookie by keeping his mistakes low at 1.6 turnovers a game, while he’s actually shooting better than his college average (44/39/85 shooting averages). Plus, have you watched the trailer for the documentary made about him, “Mr. Irrelevant”? Amid his other stats, he’s one of the easiest rooks to root for.