NBA Rookie Stock Watch: Ranking Challengers to Michael Carter-Williams' Throne
The Philadelphia 76ers' early run couldn't go on forever, but it's starting to look like rookie Michael Carter-Williams' game is built to last.
The man who shot up the rookie rankings last week put in another solid seven days of work that should go a long way toward solidifying his hold on the top spot here. A few other first-year studs did their best to keep pace, and a couple of them—Steven Adams and Kelly Olynyk come to mind—even helped their teams notch winning records.
Elsewhere in this week's rookie rankings, one point guard's debut on the list meant another's exclusion, while a certain Detroit Pistons sniper is in danger of slipping out of the top 10 for the first time.
There's still plenty of fluidity in the early going of the 2013-14 season, but a few top rookies are starting to separate themselves from the pack.
*Stats accurate through games played Nov. 11, 2013
10. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
2013-14 Statistics: 6.8 points, 0.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.0 blocks
Previous Ranking: 6
Look at it this way: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is still the second-best NBA rookie with a hyphenated last name.
KCP played just 11 minutes combined in two games since last week's rankings, scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting. As was the case a week ago, Caldwell-Pope gets a little extra credit for decent efficiency on offense and a few signs of potential on defense.
As evidenced by 40 percent shooting from long range and an accuracy rate of 83 percent from the foul line, the shooting guard has been pretty efficient in his limited minutes this year. His PER of 13.19 and scoring average of 6.8 per game rank sixth and seventh among rookies, respectively, so it's safe to assume that an eventual return to the rotation will yield solid production.
But if KCP can't crack the lineup this coming week, it's going to be tough to keep him in the top 10.
9. Cody Zeller
2013-14 Statistics: 5.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 8
It was more of the same for Cody Zeller this week. The Charlotte Bobcats rookie logged about 20 minutes per game and was relatively productive in three contests, but was hardly spectacular.
Zeller has been efficient from the field this season, hitting 46 percent of his looks overall and 6-of-9 in his last three games. Foul trouble has been an issue, as the big man from Indiana continues to adjust to the pace of the NBA game. In 59 minutes this past week, Zeller committed eight personal fouls.
Josh McRoberts isn't exactly setting the world on fire, but until Zeller proves to head coach Steve Clifford that he's capable of making a more consistent impact, he'll remain beneath McBob on the depth chart. For now, his stock takes just a minor dip, down one spot from his No. 8 ranking last week.
8. Gal Mekel
2013-14 Statistics: 4.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.1 blocks
Previous Ranking: Unranked
Gal Mekel earns his spot this week largely at the expense of Atlanta Hawks rookie Dennis Schroder, who dropped off the list for the first time this season. Schroder earned a one-game suspension for his low blow on DeMarcus Cousins, but that's not the real reason Mekel has hopped ahead of him this week.
Schroder has hit just 31 percent of his shots this year, including a paltry 17 percent of his three-point attempts. Mekel has been a bit better, hitting 42 percent and 25 percent respectively, which has contributed to an 11.17 to 4.02 PER advantage for the Mavericks rookie.
Without question, Schroder is the player with the higher ceiling. But right now, Mekel is playing better, more consistent basketball.
7. Ben McLemore
2013-14 Statistics: 8.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks
Previous Ranking: 9
Foul trouble limited Ben McLemore to just seven minutes against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 8, but the Sacramento Kings rookie had two other terrific games since last week's rankings.
He scored 15 points in 23 minutes against the Atlanta Hawks Nov. 5 and then redeemed himself in the second half of a home-and-home series against the Blazers Nov. 9, going for 13 points in 28 minutes. Overall, McLemore hit 6-of-10 threes last week while continuing to show the effortless release that has made him a favorite of one of the league's all-time great scorers.
Per Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dominique Wilkins told Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:
When he comes off those screens, he's going straight up and down with his jump shot, almost Ray Allen-ish in terms of how quickly he shoots the ball. And he moves very well without the ball. He impressed me, he impressed me.
With his defense coming around as well, big things are in store for the sweet-shooting off-guard.
6. Kelly Olynyk
2013-14 Statistics: 8.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks
Previous Ranking: 5
Kelly Olynyk started for the first time all season against the Miami Heat Nov. 9, and the big man had a chance to prove that he could be the floor-stretching center the Boston Celtics desperately want him to be.
Seven points, eight rebounds and four assists later, Olynyk hadn't made the kind of definitive statement coach Brad Stevens had been hoping for. The stat line was solid, and Olynyk made the Heat take him seriously as a threat away from the basket, but he couldn't quite deliver when it mattered. He missed a bank shot with under seven seconds left that would have tied that game.
All's well that ends well, though, as the Celtics were able to come back and win on the strength of a Jeff Green triple as time expired.
On the season, Olynyk is rebounding well, struggling with his shot (just nine percent from long range) and has had a hard time avoiding fouls. He drops a spot this week because the most important skill in his arsenal—shooting—just hasn't been there.
5. Vitor Faverani
2013-14 Statistics: 6.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.6 blocks
Previous Ranking: 3
Vitor Faverani is still shooting 47 percent from the field while leading all rookies in blocks, but the big man from Brazil hasn't quite measured up to the performance standard he set in his first week.
He's scored in single digits in each of his past five games and has seen his minutes fluctuate wildly from contest to contest. In other words, Faverani has looked much more like a rookie than he did in his stunning opening week.
The 25-year-old has handled his inconsistent role extremely well, telling Jay King of MassLive.com:
Kelly and Sully played very good in the last game and I think they needed to play more, so [Brad Stevens] decided they needed to play more. And I respect that. It’s good for the team. It’s his decision. He’s the coach, he knows what’s best for the team. He decided who plays or not, and I respect it so much. He’s the coach.
It's a good thing Faverani has such a mature approach to minute distribution. We'll see if he retains such a positive outlook as his playing time dwindles in the coming weeks.
4. Nate Wolters
2013-14 Statistics: 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Previous Ranking: 4
Under normal circumstances, Nate Wolters' solid week would have been good enough for a slight move up the rankings. But thanks to the three players ahead of him, he's stuck in a holding pattern at No. 4.
Really, though, that's still a pretty good position for a guy who came out of nowhere to snatch the fourth-place position last time around.
Wolters' Milwaukee Bucks played just two games this past week, splitting a pair of contests against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks. The rookie point guard was solid in both, going for nine points, eight rebounds and six assists against the Cavs Nov. 6.
He followed that up with five points, three rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block against the Dallas Mavericks.
He's currently stuck at the top of what has become a clearly separate tier. The trio ahead of him is playing at another level.
3. Steven Adams
2013-14 Statistics: 6.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 blocks
Previous Ranking: 7
After starting out at No. 2 in the rankings, Steven Adams slipped down to the No. 7 spot last week. His volatile run continues now, as he has vaulted all the way back up to the No. 3 position.
Consider this a bet that he'll stick around here for a while, as the bulky big man has shown that all he needs is an opportunity to see the court for him to produce. With 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-10 shooting against the Pistons Nov. 8, Adams raised legitimate questions about whether he should be starting over Kendrick Perkins.
A stinker (one point, two rebounds and two blocks) against the Washington Wizards two days later should keep some of Perkins' detractors at bay for now. But it's really just a matter of time until Adams claims his spot in the first unit—especially since his nonreaction to a Vince Carter elbow Nov. 6 proved he's invulnerable to pain.
He was the first man off the bench in that game against Washington, and the boost in athleticism and activity he provides the Thunder is undeniable. Plus, he's an analytics darling, as his 18.8 PER is third among all rookies who have played in at least one game this year, per Basketball-Reference.com.
If Adams fails to improve at all, he'll still be a useful, high-energy big off the bench. But he's 20 years old and getting better at a rapid pace. There'll be some bumps in the road, but if he finishes lower than third on this list by season's end, it'll be a surprise.
2. Victor Oladipo
2013-14 Statistics: 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks
Previous Ranking: 2
Notorious on-ball terror Avery Bradley ripped Victor Oladipo twice during the fourth quarter of the Boston Celtics' 91-89 win against the Orlando Magic Nov. 8. The two steals were a good reminder that Oladipo, while still a terrific prospect, is in for plenty of rough patches in his transition to the point guard position.
Fortunately, the rookie is keeping the big picture firmly in mind.
Per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel, Oladipo said of his struggles: "It's just a learning process, like everything else."
Despite a difficult three-game stretch that saw him commit 10 turnovers against seven assists, Oladipo retains his hold on the No. 2 spot because he has continued to defend at a high level. His overall numbers remain solid, and it's going to be very interesting to see how he handles his rematch against Bradley and the Celtics Nov. 11.
Adams may close the gap eventually, but Oladipo has a good grip on his second-place position for now.
1. Michael Carter-Williams
2013-14 Statistics: 18.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 2.6 steals, 0.4 blocks
Previous Ranking: 1
Some of the gaudy shooting numbers have started to regress, but Carter-Williams continued to fill up the stat sheet in his second week as an NBA player.
His latest game, a 49-minute effort in a 127-125 loss to the Cavaliers Nov. 9, featured the kind of eye-popping stat line that has marked his young career. He scored 21 points, handed out 13 assists, grabbed seven rebounds and hit all three of his long-range attempts.
What's the secret to sustaining out-of-nowhere rookie success?
Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald found out an interesting tidbit about Carter-Williams' living situation that might help explain things:
To ease Carter-Williams’ transition to the 76ers on and off the court, his stepfather Zach Zegarowski...is living with him.
“It’s going to be a tough year for him physically and emotionally,” Zegarowski said. “I’m really more of a support system and a sounding board — on top of a cook, a chauffeur, a maid and all that stuff. I just want him to concentrate on basketball.”
Well, I guess Oladipo knows what he'll have to do to snatch MCW's top spot. It's time for the Magic rookie to get a little live-in parental guidance.
Until that happens, the No. 1 spot will continue to be Carter-Williams' to lose.