This season, it’s more like a Who’s That?
Just two weeks into the season, we are startled by the number of lower picks who have played their way into the rankings – or, more accurately, the number of high picks on the outside looking in.
Just to make sure our imagination wasn’t playing tricks on us, we went back to the second week of the 2012-13 rankings to see the breakdown of low picks vs. high picks. Sure enough, both last season’s table and this season’s table have three rookies not taken in the first round.
But if you raise the bar to top 10 picks, that is where the difference begins to show itself. A year ago at this time, there were seven lottery picks in the rankings and none had gone lower than seventh in the draft.
This season? There are just three players who went seventh or higher, and none of those guys occupy the top spot.
The reason is simple: injuries. For the most part, the table includes less lottery picks because many of those guys simply aren’t playing, which is kind of a prerequisite to crash the rankings.
No. 3 Otto Porter has yet to play due to a hip injury. No. 5 Alex Len still has discomfort from offseason ankle surgery. No. 6 Nerlens Noel is rehabbing a torn ACL and may not play this season. No. 9 Trey Burke has a broken finger and still hasn’t been cleared for contact. No. 10 C.J. McCollum has a broken foot and is weeks away.
And of course, top pick Anthony Bennett sat out Monday’s loss to Chicago to rest a sore right shoulder. However, the training staff in Cleveland may also want to check Bennett for a scratched cornea or a detached retina, which may explain his 4-of-32 shooting thus far.
With six of the top 10 picks either not playing or banged up to the point where they cannot contribute on a regular basis, the rookie rankings are wide open right now and will be for a while.
Who thought second-round pick Nate Wolters who be starting at point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks? Who thought Steven Adams would be getting more minutes than Kendrick Perkins in Oklahoma City? Who thought Tim Hardaway Jr. would play regularly for the New York Knicks, let alone contribute?
Reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard certainly benefited from this dynamic a year ago. He made an immediate splash while top pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf with an injury. By the time Davis returned, Lillard already had ingrained himself as the NBA’s top rookie.
It should be noted that Lillard also broke through the infamous “rookie wall” by becoming just the second rookie in NBA history to lead the league in minutes played. He also did so with no discernible dropoff in his game.
That is the hurdle facing Wolters and Michael Carter-Williams, the only rookies currently playing legitimate starter’s minutes. It’s a long season – longer than any of these kids can possibly imagine. And like Lillard, they are point guards, so there is a mental toll in addition to the physical toll.
Carter-Williams was a late scratch from Wednesday’s win over Houston with a sore foot. With just 185 pounds on his 6-6 frame, you have to wonder whether he can withstand the rigors of an 82-game season.
Looks like the rookie rankings could open up even more.
On to the rankings.