With every year comes a new crop of star players.Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving, along with a pair of Minnesota Timberwolves — Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams — were widely expected to lead this year’s rookie class. Irving and Rubio have met, or even exceeded, those expectations, while Williams has shown some flashes but hasn’t quite developed enough of a feel for the pro game.
The list of first-year players making big contributions on this young season extends well past them, though.
Although the New York Knicks are getting plenty of attention for the ups and downs of their own version of 'The Big Three,' guard Iman Shumpert is quietly putting together a solid rookie campaign. His turnover (2.7/game) and field goal percentage (under 40 per cent) numbers may not be ideal, but at nearly 12 points per game, he's very valuable in coach Mike D'Antoni's fast-paced offence.
We've told you all about the Spanish phenom before. His per game line: 10 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds. Ricky Rubio's play is surprising many league insiders as his outside shooting (44% from three-point range) and on-the-ball defence have vastly improved since coming over from Europe. More importantly, Minnesota is no longer marked down as an easy W on opposing teams' schedules.
Former Kansas Jayhawks big man Markieff Morris is giving the Phoenix Suns quality minutes off the bench. His defensive presence has translated to the pro game, with his per 40 minutes rebounding numbers at a solid 10.1. Throw in 9 points every game and you've got a very good NBA backup.
MarShon Brooks didn't come off the board until the Boston Celtics took him with the 25th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. Luckily for the guard, he was quickly traded to New Jersey, where he's getting a chance to show exactly what he can do. Brooks has been getting more and more starts lately, averaging 14 points and 4 rebounds per game.
Yes, the season is only a few weeks old, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference right now. Thank rookie point guard Kyrie Irving for that. The former Duke star is averaging 17 points and 5 assists per game, while shooting 42% from beyond the three-point line. His first few games in the league include 20 point performances against playoff-contending teams like the Lakers, Jazz, Trail Blazers, and Pacers.
Brandon Knight entered a Detroit Pistons locker room devoid of impact players, which means he's getting plenty of chances (30 minutes/game) to show off some of that promise he provided a glimpse of while at Kentucky. His per 40 numbers of 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists will only get better, especially if he learns to take more contact (excellent 87.5 per cent from the charity strike).
The hoops world began to pay attention to Miami Heat guard Norris Cole when he blew up for 20 points in a win over Boston December 27. For a Miami team that had many questions regarding their depth, Cole's 10 points/game have provided an unexpected, but welcomed, spark plug off the bench.
Kemba Walker wowed us when he took over the 2011 Big East Tournament and led his Connecticut Huskies to the national championship. That national stage made sure he was a lottery pick last summer, going ninth overall to the Charlotte Bobcats. Walker has become somewhat forgotten in Charlotte. He's getting an opportunity to start now, so it shouldn't last for long. His solid 11 points/game should rise as he's still able to get to the line as often as he did in college.
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