One of the best parts of the end of the NBA regular season – or worse, depending on your preference – is seeing the tanking teams empty the bench and playing many guys we have never seen before. The Portland Trail Blazers have been doing it for two weeks. The same goes for Indiana fast bowlers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder feels like a full list of youngsters who rotate basically every two nights.
Playing in some of these non-drafted players and G League major tournaments does not always lead to beautiful basketball, but at least allows teams that are spectators and talent appraisers to see if they have any diamonds. The past week has seen many newcomers take advantage of playing time, and for some it could become a bigger character next season.
Let’s move on to this week’s rankings. Keep in mind that these will only reflect a new player’s performance on a week-to-week basis, not the joint season. These are not the best new rankings of the year. Once it’s straightened out, here’s a look at some of the best rookies in the league.
Featuring four straight 30-point games over the past week and a half, Green is in a complete tear at the end of his new season. As the Rockets came out of the playoff controversy, they allowed Green more freedom and allowed things to run a little more through him. As a result, we saw a dominant version of Greens all season.
Against the Kings, Green gets what he wants. His cunning handle, using various shortcuts and hesitations, grabs a defender at his heels and records it at the edge or pulls it above an intermediate jumper. This past week shows what a complete unleashed green will look like, where he hits his defender and throws 3s – and creates them – at an absurd rate and he flies to the edge with the ability to work the ball or the ball.
Looking at Houston’s record this season, it may not be a whole lot for some who think Green’s figures on the lottery team are empty calories. But Green entered his new season incredibly green, and we saw a systematic improvement from the No. 2 overall selection. He fired the ball at an absurdly inefficient rate to start the season, but last month he caught fire and shot 48 percent off the field and 40 percent off the 3-point area from the start of March. He turns the ball low, is very aggressive as a rebounder and often finds his teammates for help. Green will end his newcomer season on a high note, which is good news for the Rockets team as it looks to build around its young rising star.
Barnes continues to build his case for this year’s Rookie to ensure the bet comes to the regular season finals. Last week, he added his application by becoming the first rookie in his class to record 1,000 points and 500 rebounds this season. He is the 22nd newcomer in league history after Luka Tonzi, averaging 15-plus points, seven rebounds and three assists. Oh, he’s the only newcomer to make the top five in every major statistics category this season.
After confronting the Raptors on Sunday, the former Toronto Great Kyle expressed his admiration for Lori Rookie.
“He’s a great talent” Said Lori. “His passion and effort, he’s a special talent. He will be one of the people who will lead the franchise and the cornerstone of the franchise. He fits right in here, no matter how hard he plays, no matter how passionate he is in the game. He will only continue to excel.”
Everything Lori said was right on the nose. There is no new player this season as Barnes did for Toronto this year. He helped Toronto win games on both sides of the field, with his versatility as a defender defending all five levels and the ability to create scoring opportunities with or without the ball in his hands. Against Magic last week, he finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and showed why you should always wear a body when the shot for the raptors rises.
Five of Barnes’ eight rebounds came in the attacking mirror, which he converted into six points. His ability to hunt down returnees during aggressive attacks is one of the main reasons why Toronto are second in the league in second chance points (16.4) per game. This is something that can come in handy in the playoffs for the Raptors, especially if they face a team that is not good at retrieving the ball.
In a season where the Nuggets missed two of their top three players, Bones offered to give Highland Denver the spark plug they needed. He has been quietly delivering a decent number of knuckles all season, but his production soared in March. Highland scored 12 points in 12 of 15 games, averaging 14.3 points, 4.3 assists and 3.0 rebounds, while ridiculous 51 percent off the field and 47 percent off depth. He was joined by Nicola Jogic and Michael Porter Jr. Only new to owner history Average double figures in points throughout a month, while shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent over long distances.
He has a clean jump shot and more confidence, which means by mixing together he will not be afraid to get his own shot. Highland moves incredibly well without the ball in his hands, teases defenders and flies around off-ball screens, and the jockey will undoubtedly find him in the open view of the perimeter.
Nearly 60 percent of his shot attempts came from outside the curve, but he was capable of keeping the ball on the deck and picking up a defender from the triple. He is capable of throwing with deceptive handles and slow defenders, and he has those skills in the back pocket when his finishing rate is around the edge or pale from midfield compared to shooting numbers taken from long distances. It is needed.
Mitchell has been playing really well in the final extension run of the season, especially since he was pushed into the starting lineup. What he went through last week really stands out, he always executed corner kicks with the subtlety and accuracy of finding his teammates in the shooting pocket.
While not much going well for the Kings this season, Mitchell’s growth is a bright spot to be created next season with Sacramento. His advancement as a facilitator could turn the Tyrese Haliburton business into a bad move, especially if De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Mitchell all gel together.
He is one of the many Thunder Rookies who has used the opportunity he had on a team that waved the white flag during the season. He had 24 points in a shocking victory over the Phoenix Suns last week. It’s true that the Suns did not play Dendre Ayden or Devin Booker, but, hey, the win was a win and with a great record in the league, Surrell could have hung up 24 points. Charr got his 24 points from the Thunder bench, and wasted little time as he went 9 for 12 from the field and 5 for 6 from depth.
Respectful notes: Lindy Waters III, Oklahoma City Thunder (17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds); Keon Johnson, Portland Trail Blazers (15.3 points, 3.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds); Terry Taylor, Indiana Pacers (13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds)