NBA Rookie Report – Top rookie performers through January 1, 2017

Dec 1, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) advances the ball during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 1, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) advances the ball during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

With the flip of the calendar it’s time to update the NBA Rookie Report.

In this updated rookie report I focus on rookie action over the past 3 weeks. Specifically it features my top 10, insight on the Thunder rooks and their peers, and offers the National pundits rookie ranking over this period.

First up let’s dive into the top 10 of yours truly.

RELATED:  be the first to get Thunder content

Tamberlyn’s top 10:

As per usual, my top 10 has specific caveats for which I give precedence. Most notably, rookies playing and contributing to playoff seeded teams with secondary focus on consistency. Those factors tip the balance for my selections, especially when there isn’t palpable separation.

Barring  injury, Joel Embiid aka  ‘the Process’ is unquestionably the leading Rookie of the Year candidate.  And, I’m fully in agreement, but I’m placing another rookie at the top of the list in this rookie report. By virtue of seizing an opportunity and forcing a decision regarding how the team proceeds  in my opinion merits his top berth, at least once this season.

The Top Tier:

Number 1B – Malcolm Brogdon:

The surprise member who joined the triad of New Years Eve, triple-double achievers was rookie Malcolm Brogdon. Pedestrian in comparison to Harden’s 50+ point and 15+ assists/rebounds or Westbrook’s first half triple-double it was none-the-less impressive.

Pre draft I cited Brogdon as a hidden gem, but he’s quickly ascended to the upper echelon of rooks. As fate would have it, landing in Milwaukee was a best case scenario for the Virginia Senior. Under the tutelage of Jason Kidd, the point guard is thriving.

Since becoming the Bucks head coach, Kidd has seemingly been on a mission to find a protege or hidden talent he could turn into the next great point guard. To that end, Milwaukee has been a turnstile for point guards; in less than 3 seasons the list of exiting PG’s is extensive:

  • Nate Wolters
  • Kendall Marshall
  • Brandon Knight
  • Jorge Gutierrez
  • Tyler Ennis
  • Michael Carter-Williams
  • Jerryd Bayless
  • Greivis Vasquez

At it’s apex, Kidd looked at 8 different point guards (2014-15). Knee-jerk trades brought in coveted players (Carter-Williams) only to be sent packing in short order.  Finally, Kidd chose to be creative and turn Giannis Antetokounmpo into the Buck’s guard of the future. To make the transition easier he added Matthew Dellavedova to assist in the Greek Freak’s modification.

When Brogdon was drafted most assumed it was to fulfill depth at the position. But, in a strange twist of fate Brogdon seemingly became the guard Kidd was originally searching for. Circumstance and luck played a role in the rookie’s rise when Dellavedova got injured.

MUST READ: Trade of the day – Kyle Korver

Once Brogdon joined the starting line-up, the Bucks suddenly became relevant and began to stack up wins.  Moving forward Delly’s return will force Kidd to decide if he wants to mess with the chemistry of the new starting unit.

An oft repeated adage of coaches is “next man up”, Brogdon took the challenge seriously and now hes proven everyone should take him seriously!

Number 1A – Joel Embiid:

While the NBA loving community has become enamored with ‘The Process’ there are quantifiable reasons for why they have.  The light at the end of the tunnel is moving forward at break neck speed – akin to a passing car headlights.

That light is growing in diameter and sharpness as Embiid progresses to increased playing time and subsequently increased production. Like previous seasons the Sixers are a lottery team, but unlike recent history Embiid has given the rabid 76ers fan base something to cheer about for the first time since Allen Iverson exited the court.

Number 3 – Dario Saric:

Another rookie I forecast to have a big impact was Saric who is vacillating between good, great and mediocre performances. That said, Saric has consistently been the best rookie rebounder, has potentially the best and most consistent shot and sure seems to be reveling in the shadow of Embiid.

One thing is certain, while Embiid delights the masses, it’s hard not to be chock full of excitement for the future Sixers front court once Ben Simmons returns.

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Toronto Raptors won 123.114. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Toronto Raptors won 123.114. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tier 2: Consistency and Playoff Seeded Rooks

Number 4 – Pascal Siakam

Although still starting, Siakam ‘s minutes had been cut back, but the recent injury to Patterson led to an uptick in his playing time.  Steady and reliable the youngster is adept at processing lessons quickly, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.  That fact may prove beneficial come April.

One thing is clear,  I guarantee you he’ll work hard in the postseason and by his sophomore year there will be palpable improvements.  I could wax poetic about Siakam’s upside all day. Instead, I’ll point to the Cameroonian’s quality of character which is on constant display, both on and off the court.

Number 5 – Buddy Hield :

Several prospects from this rookie class have under achieved original expectations. Hield who was earmarked to bring ‘Buddy Ball’ immediately to the pro courts, arguably tops the under achiever  list.  So, it’s no coincidence Hield’s rise up the ladder is coinciding with the Pelicans improvement.

In the month of December Hield put up 10.6 points, 1.4 assists and most notably shot 48% from deep. Keep a close eye on Hield to determine if this was simply a small break through, or ‘Buddy Ball’ is here to stay.

Number 6 – Jamal Murray:

He’s slipped lately both in terms of production and Malone’s usage rate of him. Denver on a whole is in a weird situation. Of all teams with young talent the Nuggets have the most productive veteran players. Moreover the squad haven’t been bad enough to give up the fight for the eighth playoff rung.

Nor have they been good enough to encourage management not to search out  trade partners to propel them into the post season. More than any other squad the Nuggets have youth and veteran depth at every position, so it does feel like Murray’s role can’t be clearly delineated until there is roster resolution.

In the interim, Murray deals with nagging injuries and trying to rediscover his November shooting prowess. Denver is one of the very few NBA franchises without a D-League affiliate. That fact alone limits how the team can develop their youth . I wonder how different Murray’s learning curve would be if Malone had the advantage of utilizing a team specific affiliate. For now, Murray remains in my top 5, but his hold on this position is precarious at best.

Number 7 –  Andrew Harrison

Also slipping in production is Harrison, but his Grizzlies continue to defy the odds by winning in spite of injuries to core players. Like Murray, Harrison’s productivity has slipped, although he continues to produce in areas other than scoring.  And like Siakam, he garners higher placement because he’s contributing to a currently seeded playoff team.

Number 8 – Isaiah Whitehead

Unlike some of the rookies on the list Whitehead is in a position to play through mistakes without concerns of it affecting the teams record. Without that type of pressure on his shoulders Whitehead has shown steady progress and is making a case to move up my ladder.

Number 9 – Domantas Sabonis

There have been snippets of spectacular from the Thunder’s starting power forward. However, his lack of rebounding and slow up take on defense are issues making many wonder if starting him is asking for too much, too soon.

The irony is any other year Sabonis would have spent time between the D-League affiliate and garnering reserve minutes. His inconsistency holds him near the bottom of my list, but his occasional scoring out bursts and the teams record keep him in my top 10.

Number 10 – Alex Abrines:

Yep, I know he’s not on any of the pundits list and with the frightening January road heavy schedule ahead this may be a cameo appearance.  That said, his ability to shoot and display of growth (albeit in limited doses) has me thinking if Abrines was playing for a lottery team he’d be a weekly fixture on all the pundits lists. Prior to sustaining injury on New Year’s Eve he had a stretch of positive contributions on both ends of the floor.

RELATED STORY: What to expect from Alex Abrines

From my perspective I’d like to see Abrines minutes increased coupled with decreasing Sabonis’ minutes or moving him to the bench where he can recognize success facing other reserves.

Dec 17, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) during the first quarter at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 17, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Domantas Sabonis (3) drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) during the first quarter at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Specifically the Thunder rookies played games versus the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, New Orleans Pelicans, Boston Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Want your voice heard? Join the Thunderous Intentions team!

Oklahoma City Thunder played three games in week 8, four in week 9 and three in week 10.  Although the rookies have been used in varying degrees, all three players saw more run specifically over this section of games. This was due largely to the absence of Victor Oladipo who was out for all but one of the 10 games (Clippers).

Domantas Sabonis:

Through the 10 games Sabonis averaged 6.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.9 made threes.

Domantas best scoring game was versus the Celtics when he posted 20 points and hit 4 of 6 three pointers. His best rebounding effort came against Portland. Arguably his worst effort came against the Atlanta Hawks. Certainly if Sabonis had faced Dwight Howard’s rim protection one could understand his poor showing, but Howard didn’t play on this evening making his performance and the loss all the more disconcerting.

RELATED CONTENT: Domantas Sabonis’ Chances of Winning Rookie of the Year

Some pundits (including some of my peers at Thunderous Intentions) feel Domo should be relegated to the reserve unit. The question is would Sabonis perform better against other reserve units (likely), but how much would it affect his growth, or more accurately would it stall how quickly he grows?

Another notable factor during this segment of games is Domantas famous father Arvydas spent time together over Christmas.  In a father – son download, Arvydas advice to his son was to begin games with a focus on being more aggressive specifically to start games.  Keep an eye moving forward to see if Domantas takes his father’s advice to heart.

Semaj Christon:

Through the 10 games Christon averaged 3.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Over the course of the season Christon has provided back-up point guard duties with the long term vision obviously being to just get to the point when Cameron Payne can return.

Interestingly these past ten games have arguably been Christon’s best period of the season. It’s a typical situation since Payne’s return will likely mean Christon will head to the D-League.

RELATED STORY: Analyzing the performance and effect of Semaj Christon

Alex Abrines:

For Abrines the injury to Oladipo turned into an opportunity for him to gain playing time. Abrines averaged 8.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.2 assists and rediscovered his long range shot hitting of 22 of 53 attempts or 41.5%.

Progressively over these 10 games Abrines has regained his confidence. And while he was very sharp in the Pelicans game it was the Clippers game where it was clear on both ends of the floor that he needs to get consistent playing time. Unfortunately, this game was also the one in which he got injured.

Bottom line for a team in desperate need of more three point shooters, Abrines is one of the few players on the roster who can provide that asset.

RELATED STORY: The origin story of Alex Abrines

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Toronto Raptors won 123.114. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 14, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Toronto Raptors won 123.114. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Pundits Power Rank the rookies:

NBA – Scott Howard Cooper:

 Week 8 top 10:

  1. Joel Embiid – Sixers
  2. Dario Saric – Sixers
  3. Malcom Brogdon – Bucks
  4. Jamal Murray – Nuggets
  5. Pascal Siakam – Raptors
  6. Brandon Ingram – Lakers
  7. Isaiah Whitehead – Nets
  8. Andrew Harrison – Grizzlies
  9. Willy Hernangomez – Knicks
  10. Marquese Chriss – Suns

 Week 9 top 10:

Only Brogdon and Saric switch spots on Howard Cooper’s list. Domantas Sabonis fell off Cooper’s list in week 8 and remains off week 9. Given how the Thunder performed in week 10, don’t be surprised if he makes a return to the list next week.

Week 10 top 10:

Howard Cooper’s list retains his top 3 of Embiid, Brogdon and Saric. Other notable jumps were Siakam to fourth as well as Hield moving to 8th while Ingram falls off the list altogether.

  1. Joel Embiid – Sixers
  2. Dario Saric – Sixers
  3. Malcom Brogdon – Bucks
  4. Pascal Siakam – Raptors
  5. Jamal Murray – Nuggets
  6. Isaiah Whitehead – Nets
  7. Andrew Harrison – Grizzlies
  8. Buddy Hield – Suns
  9. Marquese Chriss – Suns
  10. Willy Hernangomez – Knicks

Dec 30, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) dribbles in the second quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

USA TODAY – Al Neuharth-Keush:

USA TODAY writer Al Neuharth-Keush marks his weeks a week behind where the other scribes place them. Therefore consider his rankings of week 7 to be week 8 and so forth:

In week 7 the Bucks Brogdon makes his entry to the list:

1.  Joel Embiid – Sixers

2. Dario Saric – Sixers,

3. Malcolm Brogdon – Bucks

MUST READ: Shocking similarities between 2016-17 Thunder and 1988-89 Bulls

week 8, top three Rookie ranking finds 4 members making his list with a tie for second:

1.  Joel Embiid – Sixers

2. Dario Saric – Sixers, Malcolm Brogdon – Bucks

3. Buddy Hield – Pelicans

In week 9, Neuharth-Keush drops Hield from his list, moves Brogdon to second and Saric to third.

Dec 20, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Terrence Jones (9) looks for an opening past Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) and forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) and forward Dario Saric (9) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

CBS Sports – Ananth Pandian:

Like Howard-Cooper list Ananth Pandian of CBS Sports list shifted. Over the 3 weeks several players climbed up the ladder, some fell and still others replaced rooks who had been on his list  consistently.  Making a triumphant return to the list in the past 2 weeks is Thunder rookie Domantas Sabonis.

Week 8:

  1. Joel Embiid – Sixers
  2. Jamal Murray – Nuggets
  3. Malcom Brogdon – Bucks
  4.  Brandon Ingram – Lakers
  5. Dario Saric – Sixers
  6. Pascal Siakam – Raptors
  7. Isaiah Whitehead – Nets
  8.  Andrew Harrison – Grizzlies
  9. Willy Hernangomez – Knicks
  10. Buddy Hield – Pelicans

Week 9:

  1. Joel Embiid – Sixers
  2. Malcom Brogdon – Bucks
  3. Dario Saric – Sixers
  4.  Brandon Ingram – Lakers
  5. Buddy Hield – Pelicans
  6. Isaiah Whitehead – Nets
  7. Jamal Murray – Nuggets
  8.  Andrew Harrison – Grizzlies
  9. Domantas Sabonis
  10. Pascal Siakam – Raptors

As per his 9th listing of Sabonis, here’s what Pandian had to say:

A consistent starter for Oklahoma City, Sabonis was left off the rankings last week due to a stretch of bad shooting performances. Yet Sabonis snapped out of his slump and scored a career-high 20 points in the Thunder‘s 117-112 win over the Celtics on Friday. He remains one of the better shooters on the Thunder, shooting 44.7 percent and 41.6 percent from beyond the arc.

RELATED CONTENT:  Billy Donovan has the Most Difficult Job in the NBA

Week 10:

  1. Joel Embiid – Sixers
  2. Malcom Brogdon – Bucks
  3. Buddy Hield – Pelicans
  4. Dario Saric – Sixers
  5.  Andrew Harrison – Grizzlies
  6. Isaiah Whitehead – Nets
  7. Brandon Ingram – Lakers
  8. Pascal Siakam – Raptors
  9. Jamal Murray – Nuggets
  10. Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis fell down a spot on Pandian’s list due to a poor week of shooting:

Like Murray, Sabonis has also struggled with his shot as of late. He failed to score in the Thunder‘s 98-94 loss to the Bucks on Monday and has only hit one three in the Oklahoma City’s last five games. Sabonis is one of the better shooters on the Thunder, so to put it mildly that is a problem. His overall strong shooting numbers — 49.3 percent and 39.3 percent from three — keep him in the rankings this week.

Nov 18, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Alex Abrines (8) drives to the basket in front of Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Harris (12) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Share your picks:

That wraps up the New Year Rookie Report. Moving into 2017  keep an eye on Alex Abrines’ playing time. If he continues to get consistent minutes he could find himself on other pundits listsbesides mine.

Furthermore, the return of Cameron Payne may bode well for the Spaniard to become a weekly top 10 entrant.

As for Christon it’s likely Cameron Payne’s return will be immediately followed by the rookie joining the Okalahoma City Blue, the Thunder D-League Affiliate.

Finally, watch to see if Sabonis can discover consistency in this shot, start games with more aggression (as per Papa’s directions) and continue to increase his rebounds per game.

Now that you’ve seen 4 sets of top 10 picks, how do they measure versus your list? Are there players who should be making the list or conversely removed? I invite you to share your top-10 list with Thunderous Intentions in the comments section.

Get ahead of the game by adding the FanSided app and selecting Thunderous Intentions and be alerted the second our articles are posted.  Visit the app store or link here.

This article originally appeared on