Amico Report: Lillard leads rookie gems

One full month into the NBA season is usually a good time for a quick rookie review. Keep in mind that some players don’t show their real potential until their third year — some even later than that.

For instance, Lakers point guard Steve Nash didn’t become a regular starter until his fifth year in the league. In Nash’s first four NBA seasons, he averaged 3.3 points, 9.1 points, 7.9 points and 8.6 points, respectively.

Now, he’s a former back-to-back MVP and on his way to the Hall of Fame.

So one month isn’t always a good gauge. As a general rule, rookies shoot poorly and struggle mightily to defend. Almost everyone in the NBA was a major star as an amateur. Playing in the NBA is like playing in an All-Star game 82 times a year.

It only makes sense for first-year guys to need some adjustment time.

Let’s take a look:

Damian Lillard, PG, Trail Blazers. The No. 6 overall pick is second on the team in scoring (18.8 ppg) and first in assists (6.2). Most nights, he looks like a young Isiah Thomas. Colleges such as Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina are the usual NBA meat markets. But this season’s rookie of the year just might be a little man from little Weber State.

Anthony Davis, PF, Hornets. The top overall pick has struggled to stay on the floor with an assortment of injuries, having played in six games. That’s a slightly troubling sign — although former Knicks great Patrick Ewing only played 50 games his rookie season. The Knicks finished 23-59 that year. Davis may be looking at a similar situation, but when he’s played, he’s fared pretty doggone well (16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds). That bodes well for the future.

Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers. When Waiters is at his very best, there may not be a more explosive rookie. The fourth overall pick has been a streaky perimeter shooter and finisher, but is a fantastic passer and supremely confident. And just to tell you a little something about his value — he’s averaging 20.5 points in the Cavs’ four wins, and just 13.5 points in the losses (and 15.2 overall).

Bradley Beal, G, Wizards.
Beal entered the draft as a sharpshooter expected to make an immediate impact and help turn the Wizards into playoff contenders. Instead, the third overall pick is making around 33 percent of his shots and the Wizards can’t win. In his defense, he’s had to try to survive without the help of injured point guard John Wall all season. So there’s plenty of time. Beal just hasn’t been the instant impact man the Wizards envisioned.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Bobcats. When it comes to being an athletic slasher with all the intangibles, MKG looks to have come as advertised. Too soon to tell, though, if he’ll ever really be more than that. If not, the Bobcats probably still won’t complain — as Kidd-Gilchrist is averaging around 11 points, 6.5 rebounds and providing tons of hustle after struggling early.

Harrison Barnes, SF, Warriors.
The seventh overall pick is averaging 9.9 points and shooting 46 percent from the field. When you consider most of his points come from deep on the perimeter, that’s not too shabby. But perhaps more than anyone mentioned above, Barnes looks like a true rookie. You never really know what you’ll get from him one night to the next. Occasionally, he’s great. Sometimes, he’s invisible. But the promise is there.

Thomas Robinson, PF, Kings.
Hard to put a positive spin on this one, other than the fact the Kings don’t seem to know how to use anyone these days. They’re the new Clippers. Anyway, the fifth overall pick has struggled considerably, averaging 5.0 points and almost as many missed games because of suspension (two) as rebounds (3.8).


Alexey Shved, G, Timberwolves. Very solid in 24 minutes per game. Averaging 9.9 points.

Jeff Taylor, SF, Bobcats.
Decent shooter and perhaps best perimeter defender of his class.

Kyle Singler, F, Pistons. Surprising second-round pick in 2011 may turn out to be better pro than collegian.

Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors.
Another 2011 guy (No. 5 overall) coming along nicely as true center.

Brian Roberts, PG, Hornets. Backup point man out of Dayton benefitting from a couple years overseas.

Austin Rivers, G, Hornets. Not bad, but not as good as up-and-coming vet Greivis Vasquez, who plays a similar style, but better.

Andrew Nicholson, PF, Magic. True power forward already does a little of everything pretty well.

Tyler Zeller, C, Cavaliers.
Pretty athletic and has had some nice moments. Should be good for a long time.

Jae Crowder, F, Mavericks. Surpassing expectations via true grit.

Andre Drummond, PF, Pistons. Large and athletic. But highly inconsistent.

John Henson, PF, Bucks. Should be pretty good once he figures out pro game. Has all the tools.

Jared Sullinger, PF, Celtics. Would be contributing more on a bad team. For now, stuck behind Kevin Garnett.


There’s been lots of talk among Cleveland fans that perhaps the Cavs should trade center Anderson Varejao “while he’s hot.” Varejao is indeed off to a career start, but the problem with this thinking is non-contenders with assets don’t want to trade them, and most contenders don’t have the assets.

One contending team loaded with young players it’s not using and the always-tempting draft picks: Oklahoma City. The Thunder, however, are playing well and have no interest in making a trade at this time, according to a team source.

Veteran guard Derek Fisher made a positive impression coming off the bench in his Mavericks debut over the weekend. “Derek Fisher solidifies the (second) unit, he keeps us tight and he’s a proven veteran,” was how Mavs forward Elton Brand described it.

The Lakers tied a franchise record by making 17 of 33 3-pointers in Sunday’s 113-103 home loss to the Magic (more specifically known as Dwight Howard’s former team). Welcome to the Mike D’Antoni era.

If the Jazz placed Alec Burks on the trading block, it seems he’s played his way off of it. Injuries forced the second-year shooting guard into minutes, and he made the most of them. “I just can control what I can control,” Burks told the Deseret News. “Just played hard when I’m out there and see what happens; let everything else take care of itself.”

Larry Bird talked of the rivalry with Magic Johnson on an NBA TV special, and Bird was quick to admit their friendship didn’t solidify until their playing days ended. “He was my main competition,” Bird said. “I didn’t want to hang around him.” Times sure have changed, huh?

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO