People watching with DeMarcus Cousins
The Wizards are currently in the midst of the “easy” portion of their schedule. During this 10-game stretch they play nine games against teams with losing records. Starting on Dec. 27 they played Houston (17-21), Indiana (15-20) twice, New Orleans (22-16), Philadelphia (15-23), New Jersey (10-27), Charlotte (14-21) and Sacramento (8-27), with Minnesota (9-30) and Toronto (13-24) still to come. In addition to the Wizards getting a chance to improve their record (they are 3-5 so far), I thought it would be a good chance to see some talented rookies, the nine teams account for eight lottery picks….or maybe not.
To say this draft class has been a disappointment so far is an understatement (I’m not including Blake Griffin since he wasn’t part of this draft class). Compared to the last two drafts, this year’s picks are not getting as much playing time, and when they do, they are not performing. Just eight rookies average at least 20 minutes per game this year compared to 17 last year and 18 the year before. When they do get on the court they aren’t producing at the same rate, John Wall is the only rookie with a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of at least 15 (15 is the league average). The 2009 draft class had nine players who had a PER of at least 15 and the 2008 class had 12.
John Wall and Landry Fields (a second-round choice of the New York Knicks who is putting up the best rookie season by a Knick in 23 years) are really the only rookies having good years. DeMarcus Cousins is a special case. He’s averaging 12 points and seven rebounds per game, but his PER is a slightly below average 14. That's respectable for a rookie on a bad team, but after seeing him in person last night, I now think Cousins is even more of a head-case then I had originally thought. During a crucial timeout late in the game, instead of listening to his coach, he was focused on some of the female Kentucky fans behind the bench. He argued with the refs, complained about most of the calls that he was involved in, and his body language was pretty bad for most of the game. He made Blatche look like Grant Hill. I look forward to Ron Artest’s critique of what Cousins needs to do to be a better teammate. Talent-wise, Cousins can be dominating as he may be one of the strongest post players in the league (although his actual post moves are still pretty raw), poor JaVale got tossed around by Cousins so much he looked like Jeff Van Gundy trying to guard Alonzo Mourning's leg.
Among the other lottery picks, Eric Bledsoe is having a decent year, although to look good next to Baron Davis you just need to be able to run up the court without getting out of breath and not spend your free time producing lame movies. Wes Johnson also seems to being playing better. The other 10 lottery picks, including top-five picks Evan Turner and Derrick Favors, have ranged from bad to irrelevant. Typically there are a few late first-round/second-round/undrafted gems in a rookie class such as Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton and DeJuan Blair (sorry Ernie, was that to soon?). This season only Fields has put up anything noteworthy from that group.
While many of these players will improve as the season goes on and they get more playing time, a lot of them will also see their statistics drop as a result of the “rookie wall” effect, so the net impact could be a wash. Historically the “rookie wall” was attributed to college or high school players playing more games then they have before. Another reason for the “rookie wall” effect is the more widespread use of video study and comprehensive scouting. By midseason most teams have played at least once or twice and in the second half of the year, teams have a better handle on rookie’s tendencies and weaknesses. Smart coaches and players will exploit that. The test of a good rookie is being able to adjust your game accordingly. This class is already probably better then the awful 2000 draft class, but they’ve still got a ways to go to live up to recent drafts.
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