NBA lovers were surely spoiled by the 2012 draft class, and maybe that's why this year's rookie class has proven to be anything but fascinating in the eyes of so many. Though it isn't the best draft class we've seen, there are some diamonds in the rough. A select few found their way into the Rookie of the Year discussion, while others have gone through the season quietly about their business.
Three's Not a Crowd
The race for the NBA Rookie of the Year award is on, and the contenders are clear. NBA fans have seen the race narrow down to just three: Michael Carter-Williams , Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. This trio of youthful guards, coveted by so many in last year's draft, are in a battle for the hardware as they come down the stretch.
Though the Sixers may find themselves at the bottom of the league, MCW may very well be the front-runner for this year's award. He's surely making a case as of late, as evidenced by his recent success. Over his last two games, the Syracuse product has averaged 7 assists, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals to go along with his 22 points per game, while shooting an efficient 16-24 (66.6%) from the field. This kind of production has not always been the case this season for the floor general, as the Philadelphia faithful have seen the 22 year old take his share of lumps.
Carter-Williams has struggled with his jumper, shooting only 25% from three and 40% from the field with an average shot attempt of only 10.5 feet, 4.5 feet closer than the free-throw line. He hasn't been afraid to miss though, as he has taken about 15 shots per game. His poor shooting could surely prove to be the main factor in his lackluster efficiency - MCW has negative marks in both nERD (-8.1) and numberFire efficiency (-2.6). The former identifies how many wins a player adds to a team over the span of a season, while the latter measures a player's raw efficiency by calculating an estimated point differential that a league-average team would have with that player as one of its five starters.
Yes, his lackluster shooting may be the cause of such poor efficiency numbers, but the lack of talent around him can't be ignored. Even as the Sixers struggle to compete on a nightly basis, Carter-Williams finds a way to produce in other areas. Alongside his 16.7 points per game, the rookie stuffs the stat sheet with 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game in his 34.5 minutes of playing time in each contest. This, coupled with his recent success, may be the winning argument for MCW as rookie of the year.
Victor Oladipo is the lone top-five pick of the three candidates. At 21 (soon to be 22), Oladipo has pushed through a rebuilding year for the Magic, as the team sits with a 23-58 record. Like MCW, it's been hard for Oladipo to find the spotlight on a frequently forgotten stage.
Oladipo - and the ball of energy and hard work he was known for at Indiana - has still managed to place himself in the thick of the NBA's Rookie of the Year race. He's averaging just short of 14 points per game, while dishing out 4.1 assists and grabbing 4.1 boards from the shooting guard position. On the other hand, he hasn't been very efficient in his 31.3 minutes per contest. "Dipo", like MCW, has negative marks in both nERD (-7.7) and numberFire efficiency (-2.4), and his 106 points allowed per 100 possessions as a defender is disappointing for a young player who plays with such energy. On the bright side, however, Oladipo has managed to shoot 42% from the field and 33% from three in an unstable environment, marked with injury and in the rebuilding process.
Some people see Burke as the second or third candidate for the award. The former Michigan Wolverine and number nine overall selection hasn't had a fantastic season by any means, as the Utah Jazz have won a measly 24 wins - he's averaging 12.5 points, 5.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. College basketball fanatics may look at this stat line and tell me that something is missing, and it is. The point guard averages just 0.6 steals per game in his first year in the league, after posting over 1.5 per game in his sophomore year at Michigan. Burke's defense has been a point of weakness, allowing an estimated 115 points per 100 possessions to opposing point guards. His lack of defense has earned him a nERD of -8.0 and a numberFire efficiency of -2.8, the worst efficiency score of the three freshman.
These numbers are surely scary for Jazz fans, but Burke has shown promise. He only averages 1.8 turnovers in 32 minutes of playing time per game while assisting on nearly 30% of his team's points. Burke's solid play has him in the hunt for rookie supremacy.
Though there's some hardware to be won, other rookies have their eyes set on another piece of hardware. A trio of rookies, all frontcourt players as opposed to the three aforementioned backcourt players, aren't concerned with the Rookie of the Year race. All three are getting ready to contribute for their respective teams in the postseason in pursuit of an NBA championship.
Though he was selected in the top five of the 2013 draft, one of these rooks is the opposite of what you would call a flashy player. Cody Zeller is a hard-working center out of the Hoosier state. He hasn't put up big numbers this year, but he has contributed to a Bobcats team that has tallied 42 wins and finds themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they haven't been since 2010.
Zeller hasn't been a stud down low, but the Bobcats have Al Jefferson for that. Instead, Zeller has put up solid numbers, averaging 6 points and 4 rebounds with 17.3 minutes per game. He particularly proved valuable in the first week of April, as Charlotte made its playoff push without its starting power forward, Josh McRoberts. In three starts, Zeller averaged just under 30 minutes per game and provided 9.7 points, all while grabbing 7.7 boards. Zeller's nERD (-0.4) and numberFire efficiency (-0.2) are nothing to get excited about, but his 2.2 defensive win shares is nothing short of solid. Though he's absent from the spotlight, he is sure to show up on the TV screen during the Bobcats' playoff run and play a key role.
Another seven-footer, this one out of the University of Pittsburgh and the country of New Zealand, has made an impact on his team due to injury. Steven Adams was called upon to step in for Kendrick Perkins after Perkins suffered a groin strain that required surgery and a five week recovery period.
Adams started 20 games and appeared in 60 as a reserve. As a starter, he averaged 17.1 minutes, 3.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 58% from the floor. It's clear that Adams didn't star in any game, nor did he have a huge role, but he made a positive impact with his size, especially on the defensive end. His 2.0 defensive win shares is a telling number for such a low amount of minutes, and has led to positive numbers in both nERD (0.8) and numberFire efficiency (0.5). Even with Perk back in the mix in Oklahoma City, Adams will be an asset when and if Perkins gets in foul trouble in the Thunder's playoff push. I am sure that Adams is satisfied competing for a title with a true contender rather than competing for a rookie of the year award.
Who would of thought that Duke, absent its usual NBA prospects, would have provided the NBA with maybe its most efficient and valuable rookie among them all. The Brooklyn Nets likely didn't think so when they took Mason Plumlee with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft. Then again, maybe they didn't expect Kevin Garnett to miss a multitude of games, even at his advanced age.
But Plumlee has surely been a nice surprise in Brooklyn, where he's stepped in for KG and become a solid frontcourt contributor. He's averaged 18 minutes per game on the season, and 21.2 and 24.7 in the months of March and April respectively. He proved to be a key player for the Nets as they clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth, too. Plumlee averaged 7.3 (11.1 in April) points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and has earned himself an 18.8 player efficiency rating (PER), contributing an estimated 4.5 wins as a starter. His nERD (4.4) is first on his team and his numberFire efficiency is 2.7, which are outstanding efficiency numbers compared to the others mentioned before. Again, his team will be a contender in the weak Eastern Conference in the weeks to come.
The most efficient and valuable "Rookie of the Year" may not win an award this year, but he may compete, if not win, an NBA title.