With all due respect to guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Evan Turner, a quick look at the rookie scoring race tells you all you need to know about this year’s Rookie of the Year contenders.
John Wall leads all first-year NBA’ers with a 19.4 point per game average, 2.3 points ahead of fellow former No. 1 over-all Blake Griffin (17.1). Impressive, considering No. 3 on the list is Cousins, at just 11.8 points per game. On top of their respective scoring prowess, Wall is dominating the rookie assist category with 9.6 per game and Griffin has established himself as the premier rookie rebounder with 11.0 per contest.
The stats are impressive, no doubt, but what do they really say about the young blue chippers?
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Well, for one thing, they say that these players have been ‘fortunate’ enough to find situations wherein they are getting big minutes and being immediately tabbed as central scoring options. With Gilbert Arenas out of the Wizards’ lineup to open the season, Wall has logged a jarring 40.1 minutes per game, one of just seven NBA players to average 40+ minutes. Griffin, meanwhile, isn’t far behind, playing 34.6 minutes for a shallow Clippers front line.
Despite their apparent surge into NBA superstardom, a closer look at their early output still leaves areas of their games on which to build.
If Wall is to be a primary ball-handler in Washington, he will have to improve on his NBA-worst 5.8 turnovers per game. Granted, it’s still early, but Artis Gilmore’s NBA record for highest turnover per game average over an entire season was 4.5 (set in 1977-78). Wall apologists could reasonably point to his team’s youth, inexperience and lack of established passing options, but a floor general needs to offer a stable, assured presence even in playing at a fast pace.
Griffin hasn’t had any issues holding onto the ball, but his numbers aren’t exactly leading to team success. He still has a ways to go in avoiding foul trouble, as evidenced by his team-worst 3.1 fouls per game mark, while still developing as a defender, which is highlighted by his -83 on the season, good for third-worst in the NBA (Minnesota’s Kevin Love is -91 and Wayne Ellington is already -108).
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Of course, as is to be expected with teams using talented-but-still-developing rookies in central roles, neither Wall’s Wizards (1-4) nor Griffin’s Clippers (1-7) are exactly soaring up the league standings.
Such is the life of a prized NBA draftee. While less-heralded players drafted lower than the two more recent No. 1’s are contributing, albeit in lesser roles, to good teams Wall and Griffin are being thrown into the fire immediately as their franchise’s next great hope.
In recent weeks, NBA TV has featured the league debuts of players who have since gone onto superstardom. Watching these contests recalls a time when Shaquille O’Neal fouled out and recorded eight turnovers in his NBA debut with the Orlando Magic and Patrick Ewing’s rookie year actually led to one fewer win for his New York Knicks from their previous season’s output.
In other words, the high-scoring but error-prone beginnings for Wall and Griffin have them right on track.
Despite the poor records of their teams thus far, both Wall and Griffin have the early makings of a core foundation around them. Like Wall, McGee, Blatche and Young are all still developing, while Kirk Hinrich has been brought in to help the 20-year old adjust to the NBA game. Griffin appears further ahead in that regard, with teammate Eric Gordon already headed for stardom, fellow rookie Eric Bledsoe opening eyes at the point and DeAndre Jordan and Al-Farooq Aminu continuing to grow as players. Just as Wall has Hinrich, the 21-year old Griffin has veteran Chris Kaman as a frontcourt mate (not to mention an added year of getting to know teammates and observing the pro game while sitting out with a torn MCL).
The message here: stay even keel. Wall and Griffin are on their way, but they’re not there yet.