Here’s a look at how some of the top rookies have performed so far in the preseason. I selected players of note who have appeared in at least 2 games, who play meaningful minutes, and who are doing something positive, although I snuck a few more in whose progression is of particular note for one reason or another.
Disclaimer: I have seen very little preseason basketball due to my recent schedule, so I’m keeping my breakdowns as factual as possible with a heavy reliance on box scores. Obviously this creates some problems, especially when trying to gauge each player’s defensive involvement, but a look at steals, blocks, fouls, and plus/minus compared to that of teammates at least points us in the right direction.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings (#5 pick)
Cousins scored 16 points (on 8-for-13 shooting, very good 62%) and grabbed 16 rebounds in his first preseason game against Phoenix, so everyone took note. What no one seemed to take note of, though, was that he also had 5 turnovers, 5 fouls, and shot 0 free throws in the contest. Facing the suddenly-pretty-good Clippers’ frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman in his second game, Cousins had 15 points, but on an inefficient 5-for-14 shooting (36%), only 3 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and he fouled out in 21 minutes. Game three showed again that he could grab rebounds (11), and again his points came on too many shots (17, 7-for-18 shooting for a bad 39%, only took 3 free throws). Again he fouled out (in 25 minutes), and he has 0 assists through three contests. His plus/minus numbers are wildly inconsistent compared to the other starters. Overall: A quick glance at his points and rebounds indicates he’s done well – everything else looks really bad.
Derrick Favors, PF, New Jersey Nets (#3 pick)
His first game against the Sixers was bad: 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting, only 1 rebound, 3 turnovers, and 5 fouls. His second game against the Celtics was similar: 3 points on 1-for-6 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 turnovers, and he fouled out in 24 minutes. On the plus side, he also registered 2 steals and 1 block. Things started to look better by his third game against Philly (again), which was also his first start: 9 points on 3-for-9 shooting, 10 rebounds (although 0 offensive), 2 blocks, and only 2 fouls. He also had 3 turnovers. Overall: Like everyone predicted, he’s coming along slowly and his feel for the defense is better than his offense.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards (#1 pick)
Wall did it all in his first game against Dallas: 21 points on 6-for-14 shooting (a poor 43% FG, but he went 9-for-11 from the line), 9 assists to 2 turnovers, and 4 steals. Wall continued to shoot a lot and shoot poorly in the second contest against Cleveland: 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting (31%), a still decent 9 assists to 4 turnovers, plus he picked up 3 steals and 2 blocks. His third game against Chicago was more of the same but again a little bit worse: 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting (42%) and 6 assists to 3 turnovers. Overall: He’s basically a high-usage stat collector, shooting way too many shots for the amount of points he scores, plus he needs to do everything he can to maintain his low-ish amount of turnovers, which haven’t gotten out of hand yet like they did in college and the summer league.
Evan Turner, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers (#2 pick)
Turner had an oddly satisfying/unsatisfying first game against NJ: 12 points on 1-for-6 shooting but 10-for-12 from the stripe, 7 rebounds, and only 1 assist. In a crushing defeat at the hands of the Celtics in his second game, Evan scored 6 points on 1-for-8 shooting (4-for-6 from the free throw line), had 5 rebounds, and 0 assists to go with 1 turnover. Game three is where things started to click: 14 points on 4-for-10 shooting (continued to get to the line, hitting all 6 freebies), 6 rebounds, 7 assists (vs. only 2 turnovers), and 6 steals. And he did that in his first start, showing he could fill the boxscore against the Nets’ starters. Overall: Considering how much of his value is based on developing a good feel for the game instead of being a super athlete, he’s progressing about how you’d expect at this point.
Wesley Johnson, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves (#4 pick)
Johnson is one of four new SF’s to the club, but he got the start at SG against the Lakers in his first preseason contest. He didn’t do much, but he did do the one thing everyone knew he could do: hit shots. He had 9 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including 1-for-1 from deep. Other than that, 2 turnovers and a block, and his plus/minus was right in line with the other starters. Johnson was regulated to the bench for his second contest, but still played 23 minutes (only 20 in his start). He still hit shots, as well, scoring 12 on 4-for-5 shooting, primarily due to 3-for-4 accuracy from outside the arc. He also recorded 5 boards, 3 assists, and 3 steals (an all-around contribution similar to what he did at Syracuse), but he also had 5 turnovers. Overall: The rookie known for scoring from everywhere is scoring from everywhere.
Cole Aldrich, C, Oklahoma City Thunder (#11 pick)
Aldrich is supposed to be the tough inside presence the Thunder have been lacking. He didn’t disappoint in his first game, a 20-minute reserve role against Charlotte. He grabbed 7 rebounds, gave out 2 assists, picked up 2 steals, and blocked a shot. His shooting wasn’t much, scoring 3 points on 1-for-5 shooting and only 1-for-4 from the stripe. Considering Aldrich is known for defense and doing the little things, it’s no surprise his +8 nearly lead the entire team, even in only limited minutes. He was moved into the starting lineup against the Heat, and in 28 minutes he hit his only shot for 2 points, grabbed 4 rebounds, blocked 3 shots, and picked up an assist and a steal. I watched the last quarter of this game, and a few things stick out about Aldrich: he plays extremely aggressively but avoids fouls, he handles the ball a lot in the high post and doesn’t turn it over, he doesn’t half-ass any screen, and his activity in the paint directly resulted in the opposition corralling far less rebounds than they should have despite his low rebound total. His +9 lead the team in a near-comeback win. Overall: He doesn’t shoot much, but he does everything else well you could expect out of a rookie center.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers (#1 pick in 2009)
Griffin is some people’s favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award after he missed all of last season with a broken knee cap. So far, it’s looking quite possible. His first game against Portland yielded 9 points on 3-for-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 5 turnovers (ouch), in 22 minutes. Griffin wrecked the Kings’ Cousins-lead frontline in his second game, scoring 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting (!), grabbing 13 boards, plus picking up 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block with no turnovers, all in 23 minutes. Against the Warriors in his third game, Griffin continued to do great, putting 23 point on the scoreboard on 10-for-15 shooting, pulling down 9 rebounds, and collecting 4 assists (vs. 2 turnovers), 2 steals, and 1 block. A couple other trends have emerged over three games: Griffin gets to the line a lot but doesn’t convert (10-for-24, an abysmal 42% clip), and he doesn’t foul much (3, 3, and 2). Overall: I’ll repeat what I said back in August, he may be one of the NBA’s top-5 PF’s right now.
Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Los Angeles Clippers (#8 pick)
His first game was 18 minutes of terrible: 1 point (missed all 3 shot attempts), 0 rebounds, 0 blocks, 0 assists, 0 steals, 4 turnovers, and 6 fouls. Apparently he’s a fast learner, though, because two days later against Sacramento Aminu scored 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting (including 2-for-3 from long-range), snatched 8 rebounds (including 6 offensive), and he had 2 assists. The turnovers dropped to 1, and he didn’t foul out, although he still picked up 4 fouls in 27 minutes. He went somewhere in the middle in his third game, scoring 13 points on a bad 4-for-11 shooting (chiefly due to going 2-for-7 from outside), had 4 rebounds, 4 turnovers, and 4 fouls in 28 minutes, throwing in 2 steals and 1 assist for good measure. Overall: So far, Aminu is the embodiment of wild inconsistency (at least statistically).
Eric Bledsoe, G, Los Angeles Clippers (#18 pick)
Because Bledsoe was a giant part of the reason the national media said the Clippers had a good draft and I said they had a bad draft, I figured he’s worth tracking. In game one, Bledsoe scored 9 points on 2-for-5 shooting and hit all 5 free throws, but 6 turnovers to 1 assist is horrendous for a guard. His -26 lapped the reserves and was worst on the team in a big loss. A sprained ankle kept him out of the Clips’ second game. Bledsoe returned to play 13 minutes against Golden State, and I suspect we saw his most typical line for the year: 1 point on 0-for-2 shooting from the field and 1-for-3 from the line, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 1 steal. Hopefully it’s all a complete coincidence, but LA has lost by 29 and 40 when he plays, but won by 32 in his absence. Overall: I still don’t see it; he can’t shoot or run the point without lots of turnovers, and he’s only 6-feet-1.