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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Taking a Look Back on Last Season: SDH presents the Top 30 Rookie Performers of the 2012 NBA Season

The Class of 2012 can be considered as one of the most surprising in NBA History as many of the players drafted were not considered "star"or "franchise player" material.  Sure there were their share of busts, especially when it came to a certain white boy that entered the draft with so much critical acclaim; however, they also had their share of surprises as well--player's who were not even expected to make a significant contribution, yet made major impacts on the teams that they had played for.  Attached are the names thirty of the best performing rookies of the 2012 NBA season as selected by me, the Slap Dog.  Some of the names you probably never heard of and some of the names will have you thinking: you put THIS guy in your list?  One thing that won't be a surprise however is who will be at the number one spot (go on, I dare you to guess who it is, LOL), so go ahead and take your time in viewing this countdown and also stay tuned in the following days for my succesive posts showcasing the thirty best performers in each position.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
Steisma can be considered a “rags to riches” story as he had bounced around in minor leagues and abroad before getting a chance to play in the big leagues.  At 26 years of age, he finally got his chance when the Celtics picked him up by giving Boston a solid backup and the much needed physical toughness in the paint that the Celtics lacked.

Selected 40th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
For a little known player picked midway in the second round, Jon Leuer proved to be quite a solid and efficient contributor in his rookie season. In the 47 games he played, 12 of which he started, Leuer posted solid numbers (4.7ppg, 2.8rpg, .508FG%) in limited action—just a little over 12 minutes per game.

Milwaukee Bucks
Selected 19th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
Tobias Harris proved to be a rather solid yet unspectacular player for a rather unspectacular team such as the Bucks. Harris played in 42 games for Milwaukee and posted rather solid numbers—5.0ppg, 2.4rpg s and .467FG%—while playing rather sparingly with just a shade over eleven minutes per game

Selected 39th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
While being drafted, Tyler was known more as a high school dropout who bounced around in professional leagues due to his attitude and poor work ethic; however he carved quite a niche for himself while playing in Golden State. Although he did not play for much of the season, Tyler impressed many in the last month of the season starting for the warriors and posting solid numbers in that period averaging 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in about 24 minutes per game.

Selected 13th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
Morris started off the season rather well for Phoenix averaging 7.8 points per game while shooting .611 from the field in the first four games; however, his production started taking a dip once the Suns coaching staff gave him more minutes and responsibilities.  He continued to struggle throughout the seasons his minutes dropped along with his inability to attain any sort of consistency on the offensive end.

Golden State Warriors
Selected 44th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
Charles Jenkins proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Warriors as he got the chance to play major minutes due the team’s injury depleted roster.  In the lockout shortened season, Jenkins played in 51 of 66 games starting in 28 of them and averaged close to 6 points and a little over 3 assists per game in a shade less than 18 minutes of action.

Selected 22nd  overall in 2010 NBA Draft
After spending more than a season on the injured list, Elliot Williams showed signs of being quite a shiny diamond in the rough for a down and out Portland team.  Although he just played in 24 games this season, Williams averaged an impressive 3.7 points per game and shot .500 from the field while just playing in just 6.2 minutes per game.

Selected 34th  overall in 2011 NBA Draft
The man who led Butler University to two straight NCAA Final Fours before going pro proved to be one of the few bright spots of a rather dismal Washington Wizards team.  Mack played in 64 of this season’s 66 games and gave solid contributions of around four points and two rebounds per game in a little over 12 minutes of action.

Washington Wizards
Selected 18th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
His stats may not show it—just 4.6 points in 22 minutes per game while shooting just .367—but, Chris Singleton’s effort and hustle on the defensive proved too much for Wizards coach Randy Wittman to ignore.  In fact, Wittman was so impressed by Singleton’s energy and work ethic that he placed him in the starting lineup over Nick Young which led to him being subsequently sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in the March trade deadline.

Washington Wizards
Selected 6th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
At first, Vesely did not show that he was that much worthy of being picked sixth in the NBA draft as all he was known for was the hot smooch he gave his even hotter girlfriend on draft night.  He played rather sparingly throughout the season and not producing much; however, Jan blossomed at the end of the season as a result of getting more minutes to late season trade that Washington made and proved to quite the prize averaging 9 points and seven boards while shooting .555 from the field in the month of April giving Wizards fans some hope for the future.   
Selected 2nd overall in 2011 NBA Draft

For the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Williams’ performance seemed rather underwhelming considering the performances of his fellow classmates who were picked after him.   Williams never really seemed to fit in as he never really had a defined position and as a result of the logjam of forwards on the roster, he never had a defined role on the team. Hopefully, with a trade here and there, he will get the minutes to be a solid complement to all star Kevin Love in the Wolves’ front court which unfortunately did not happen this season. 

Golden State Warriors
Selected 11th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
Klay Thompson looked to be a potential bust and another one of the Warriors’ draft day blunders as he was yet again another guard selected on a team already crammed with backcourt players.  He struggled through much of the season, but seemed to find his game with the trade of the team’s leading scorer, Monta Ellis, and finishing the season averaging close to 20 points per game in the last two months earning him All Rookie First Team honors.

Selected 12th overall in 2011 NBA Draft
Burks spent much of his rookie season unnoticed as he was literally buried under a team that was high in physical size and strength, but rather low in terms of talent in the backcourt.  Despite being virtually ignored by the media and even his fans, Burks put up rather solid numbers in limited minutes averaging about 7 points, 2 rebounds and half a steal per game in just around 16 minutes of action.  
Selected 28th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Norris Cole looked to be one of the league’s best kept secrets as he came blazing out of the gates averaging close to ten points per games to start the season and giving the Heat’s starting point guard, Mario Chalmers, a run for his money.  That began to change, however, as Cole’s production started to cool off and showed the growing pains of being a rookie point guard in the NBA; however Cole still proved to be a solid backup point guard on a team that may be heading soon to the Eastern Conference Finals.  
Utah Jazz
Selected 3rd overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Some may find this rather high considering the fact that Enes Kanter did not play that much and produced rather humble number for the third overall pick in the NBA Draft, but mark my words: this kid is going to be a star.  Here’s a 19 year old kid whose only basketball experience was playing in prep school and a Nike hoops summit tournament entered the greatest basketball league in the world so green that you could have sprouted seeds and flowers on him.  Yet despite his obvious handicaps, he managed to pull off a very solid yet efficient season in his first campaign making jazz fans beam brightly about their future.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
Talk about a literal unknown in the NBA—this guy did not even have a photo on his profile page until very late into the season.  Coming from Mexico of all places with little or no exposure whatsoever, Ayon burst onto the scene playing and making a difference on probably one of the littlest exposed teams in the league—the New Orleans Hornets.  At 27 years old he became not only one of the most pleasant surprises in the NBA, but also one of the catalysts on a New Orleans team that was low on talent, but high on heart.

Selected 16th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

His name was harder enough to pronounce than expecting that he would make a major impact being such a low draft pick; however he proved his doubters wrong by playing in 51 games of a 66 game season starting in 15 of them.  In those games, Vucevic posting solid numbers of amount six points, five boards, and close to a block a game in less than 16 minutes of action.  He has certainly earned the confidence and respect of Doug Collins which is a tall order considering the fact that Collins is a coach known more for favoring veterans and ignoring rookies.  

Philadelphia 76ers
Selected 50th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Talk about Cinderella Stories: here’s a hometown boy coming out of Temple University picked by his home team near the end of the draft that not only has managed to get playing time, but also managed to become a major contributor coming down the stretch to the NBA playoffs.  Lavoy Allen played in 41 games starting in 15 of them and played so far in all 11 playoff games logging in major minutes (20 per game—a lot for a rookie that was picked late in the second round) and averaging around 7 points, 5 boards and a blocked shot per game.  With such a glistening diamond in the rough, the Sixers may have found their starting power forward of the future in Allen.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agent
At 28 years old many players in the NBA have trouble staying in the league let alone starting in it making Ivan Johnson the oldest rookie in the 2012 NBA Season.  Johnson spent most of his career bouncing around in minor leagues and internationally before he got his chance to play in the NBA. Despite being somewhat undersized and old to play a significant role in the power forward position, Johnson proved any naysayers wrong by posting a rather decent stat line (6.2ppg, 4.0rpg, .513FG% in 16.7minppg) and has become a fan favorite and folk hero on his team in the league.

Selected 8th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Although Brandon Knight had a rather impressive season as he started in 60 of the season’s 66 games and averaged solid number of 12.8 points and 3.8 assists per game, he still did not give the Piston what they truly needed: a point guard to facilitate the offense and involved his teammates.  Knight just followed his fellow backcourt teammates such as Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum in looking to find their own shots thus continuing the downward spiral of Pistons basketball.

Selected 7th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Although the Bobcats finished the season with the worst record in NBA History, their season did have a silver lining in that they had a solid performance from a 19 year old kid from the Congo.  Although he was not much of an offensive threat, Bismack Biyombo proved to be quite the defensive presence leading the Bobcats in blocked shots in his inaugural season and giving Charlotte fans (the few there are) something to look forward to as the 2012 season trudged through.

Charlotte Bobcats
Selected 9th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Kemba Walker was both a blessing and a curse for the dismal Charlotte Bobcats as he provided plenty of energy, hustle and toughness on both sides of the floor; however, because of his lack of size (listed at 6’1” but was probably 5’10” in reality), he could not play alongside starting PG DJ Agustin, who also measures around the same height.  Given his numbers, Walker could be potential force in the league if he is given the minutes, but Rich Cho and company will have to decide whether or not to let go of their other talented point guard in DJ Agustin.

Selected 4th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

The highest Canadian Draft pick had an up and down season as he started rather well producing rather efficiently in limited minutes but unfortunately an injury hampered his development as he played sparsely and struggled with his shot.  That all changed, however when he was granted to start at the end of the season and he showed plenty of toughness and an uncanny ability of getting to the basket with his gifts of physical strength and natural athleticism giving Cavalier fans even more hope of a bright post-Lebron future.

Selected 17th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Many scratched their heads when the GM at the time, Donnie Walsh, selected Shumpert in last summer’s draft as the Knicks needed more size and rebounding rather than another perimeter player; however, he silenced his doubters with his solid perimeter defense, the tenacity he showed on both ends of the floor and his ability to facilitate the offense while the Knicks struggled to find an answer at the point guard position.  It will be interesting what the Knicks will do as they have a solid player in Shumpert who can be a prospect for the future but already have a logjam in talented shooting guards with JR Smith and Landry Fields playing there as well. 

Selected 25th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Many did not expect Marshon Brooks to have such an immediate impact for the then New Jersey Nets as he was drafted rather low by the Boston Celtics and then immediately traded to the Nets once they picked him; however, it would be the Celtics loss as Brooks blossomed his rookie year averaging close to 15 points per game in the first months of the season.  For much of the regular season, Brooks was second behind Kyrie Irving, the first overall pick in the NBA draft and reigning Rookie of the Year, in scoring amongst rookies and proved to be quite the draft day steal for the New Jersey Nets.

Selected 60th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

He was selected with the final pick of the NBA draft and nobody would have expected him to make the team let alone start for it and had Sacramento Kings fans saying “Jimmer who?”  Isaiah Thomas would have been one of the best underdog stories in sports if it were not for that Taiwanese Harvard grad that took all the attention and acclaim away; however, being placed in JT’s Hoops Blog’s  top five rookie performers of the 2012 NBA Season can be considered quite the impressive consolation prize as well. 

Selected 15th overall in 2011 NBA Draft

Not many Spurs rookies are able to even crack the lineup let alone start for the team, but Kawhi Leonard made what was considered unthinkable at one point possible as he became the defensive stalwart on the perimeter that the Spurs craved.  In fact, the spurs had so much faith in Leonard that they decided to ship off their veteran small forward, Richard Jefferson, for little if nothing in order for Kawhi to get even more playing time.  Leonard has rewarded his team’s faith by helping them reach the NBA Western Conference Finals for the first time in three years.

Selected 22nd  overall in 2011 NBA Draft

When the Denver Nuggets picked him 22nd in the draft, I knew that the Nuggets got a surefire steal—so much so that I predicted him to be a dark horse favorite for league rookie of the year.  I even had him starting at one point; however it started to look bad when Faried was not playing at the start of the season, but when Denver had that string of injuries midseason and he finally got his chance, I finally got exonerated for my blind faith in someone that no one really knew about or bothered to pay attention to.  If it were not for the stellar play of Kyrie Irving and the surprise performances from this rookie class, I still would have had Faried winning rookie of the year.

Minnesota Timberwolves
Selected 3rd   overall in 2010 NBA Draft

Ricky Rubio certainly lived up to his hype as he had a splendid debut in the league averaging a near double-double in points and assists along with leading the league in steals per game before an injury cut short his season.  It was because of him that Minnesota improved so much and if he would have managed to play for the rest of the regular season, the Timberwolves would certainly have been contending for the playoffs and he would have probably been Rookie of the Year instead of this guy. . . .  

Cleveland Cavaliers
Selected 1st    overall in 2010 NBA Draft

It was already a foregone conclusion that he would be named as the top rookie of the 2012 NBA season considering that: a. he won the Rookie of the Year award; b. he led all rookies in scoring; and c. gave the city of Cleveland a light of hope after Lebron-gate.  He certainly lived up to his billing despite the skepticism because of his injury trouble while in his only year in college and his limited basketball experience.  Thanks to Irving, now Cleveland’s rebuilding efforts will be on the fast track to becoming respectable and possibly a contender in the near future.