Rookie Review: Part One

By Kevin Pelton
Dec. 15, 2004

face=arial>A month into the season is obviously too short a period to make broad judgments about almost anything. Never before has that been so true as this season, when we find the San Antonio Spurs at the bottom of the Midwest Division and the Denver Nuggets at the top. It's almost enough to make a man swear off predictions for good. (Actually, I think picking Doc Rivers for Coach of the Year on the heels of San Diego Chargers for the Super Bowl and Arizona State to win the Pac-10 in football ought to be enough to do it.)

Nonetheless, your intrepid columnist powers on, undeterred by an obvious inability to predict team performance. Despite the fact that it's still early, it's always interesting to take a look at the performance of rookies, who are always the players whose performance is most difficult to predict. In particular, I'm hoping to gauge the performance of the translation system I used to analyze the NBA Draft this spring with the handful of rookies who have played regularly this season and played major college basketball last season. When available, these statistics will go below the player's rookie numbers. We'll start today with rookies on teams alphabetically through New Orleans, and revisit the rest of the rookies next week.

Boris Diaw, G, Atlanta

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
18.6   3.3  3.7  1.7  0.471   9.5  0.93  0.375  -19

TS% = points/(2*(fga+(.44*fta)))
Pass = 10*(ast/to)*(ast/min)
Eff is per-minute efficiency, my own formula explained here
VORP = (Eff - replacement level [.43])*min

Diaw's overall rating is pretty poor, but there are definitely signs that he could be a useful player. In particular, Diaw's 6-8 frame has translated into some excellent rebounding from the perimeter. His rebound rate would be acceptable from a small forward. Diaw's field-goal percentage (43.9%) is reasonably good for a 21-year-old rookie, and he has looked like an effective defender in the limited opportunities I've had to see him. Diaw needs to work on his free-throw shooting (11-20, 55.0%) and improve his ballhandling if he is to make good on his upside as an oversized combo guard.

Travis Hansen, SG, Atlanta

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 7.1   1.7  1.0  0.4  0.415   6.8  0.51  0.372   -4

Everybody's favorite NBA platinum blonde hasn't gotten much action this season, which wouldn't normally be much of a concern for a second-round pick. However, when said second-rounder is 25, as Hansen is, you have to wonder when exactly the Hawks are hoping to get results. Hansen's sharpshooter reputation didn't bear out statistically, and so far he has just one triple on the season. Fun fact: Diaw and Hansen have birthdays a day apart (Apr. 16 and Apr. 15, fun times in the Atlanta locker room).

Marcus Banks, PG, Boston

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
17.2   5.2  1.9  2.3  0.407   5.4  1.94  0.390  -12

As I expected, turnovers and outside shooting (in)ability have plagued Banks this season. He is in the NBA's top twenty with 4.34 turnovers per 48 minutes, and has shot just 4-for-21 (19.0%) from three-point range this season. Because of his defensive ability, Banks is a rotation player at this stage of his career, but the Celtics will have to live through a lot of mistakes before they get a starting point guard, if ever.

Kirk Hinrich, PG, Chicago

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
25.1   6.8  1.8  4.2  0.497   3.5  2.52  0.396  -10
                      0.525   4.3  1.86  0.447

As you probably know, Hinrich started six games over Jamal Crawford earlier this season, a move I have to hope was done to motivate Crawford, not because now deposed Bill Cartwright thought Hinrich was the superior player. Hinrich's numbers were tough to translate because he played primarily off the ball as a senior at KU. Thus, while his translated assists are vastly underrated (3.7 in 35 minutes, predicted), so too are his turnovers (2.1 in 35 minutes, predicted, 2.75 in 25 minutes actual). Hinrich would rank fourth in the NBA in turnover rate if he qualified (the actual list includes eight rookies in the top 30, surely not a coincidence), indicating that the move back to point guard has been a bit overwhelming for Hinrich. At the same time, an average of nearly six fouls per 48 minutes seems to indicate Hinrich has struggled with the quickness of opposing guards. On the plus side, Hinrich has demonstrated NBA three range (35.7%), something I questioned.

LeBron James, PG, Cleveland

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
40.2  16.9  6.9  6.4  0.466   8.2  2.75  0.454   18

Hype? What hype? Even with 40.1% shooting and 3.74 turnovers per game a month into the most anticipated rookie season in at least a decade, James has shown he was deserving of all the accolades and more. Playing the NBA's most challenging position at the tender age of 18, James has been nothing short of astonishing. If you consider him a point guard, and I think most everyone does, James is the best rebounding player at his position and about an average ballhandler already. For all the questions about James' shooting, he's made a respectable 32.7% of his threes -- at least enough to keep defenders honest. It's still early, and one of the most important tests for any rookie is whether he can stay at his peak physically and mentally through the grind of an 82-game schedule, but at this point James looks like he could rule the NBA for years to come.

Jason Kapono, SF, Cleveland

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
12.3   4.4  1.5  0.4  0.521   5.9  0.43  0.456    3
                      0.521   7.0  0.83  0.436

Slightly less heralded than his rookie teammate, Kapono is off to a nice start to what could be a lengthy career as a three-point specialist. Though my system has nailed his true shooting percentage so far, it certainly couldn't have predicted the manner in which he's done it, shooting 7-for-13 (53.8%) from three and 9-for-27 (33.3%) from inside the arc. Is he shooting twos while doing headstands? It's probably a sample size issue, but intriguing nonetheless. Kapono is probably going to become the next Tracy Murray (also a UCLA grad), which, in hindsight, is not a bad second-round pick at all. The cautionary note: After getting off to a great start with the Bruins, Kapono never really seemed to improve.

Josh Howard, SF, Dallas

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
13.9   5.7  3.8  0.9  0.418  13.0  1.24  0.477    9
                      0.504  10.1  0.49  0.461

That Howard has been playing regular minutes for the contending Mavericks has been one of the more pleasant rookie surprises this season, though it shouldn't have been too surprising based on his college numbers. With Dirk Nowitzki out, Howard has seen more action, playing 20 minutes or more in his last four games and 30 minutes last night against Los Angeles, when he grabbed an astounding 14 rebounds before fouling out. I thought Howard was going to be a good rebounder, but he's been phenomenal on the glass. Howard has also added plenty of assists, steals, and blocks, which is why he's been so valuable despite shooting 36.8% from the field. Howard's upside isn't huge, but he should be a nice reserve for a long time to come.

Marquis Daniels, G, Dallas

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 6.5   4.1  0.7  0.8  0.568   5.3  3.75  0.576   11
                      0.498   5.8  1.59  0.449

Because he's an undrafted rookie on the Mavericks, Daniels hasn't had many opportunities this season, but it's hard to ignore the ridiculous numbers he's putting up: 10 points in eight minutes in his second NBA game against the Jazz; 54.1% shooting; nine assists against three turnovers. Everywhere he's been this season -- summer league, preseason, garbage minutes -- Daniels has just put up numbers. I really think there is something here. Daniels can handle the ball well enough to play the point, but, at 6-6, has plenty of size and scoring ability to play the two. All he needs is the opportunity.

Carmelo Anthony, SF, Denver

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
35.2  18.3  6.7  3.1  0.487   9.1  0.92  0.482   33
                      0.466  10.3  0.48  0.447

Let's start by discussing how much credit Anthony should get for the amazing resurgence of the Nuggets. Certainly nowhere near all of it; like the New Jersey Nets a couple of years ago, the Nuggets are winning "by committee". Eight Denver players are playing at starter level, which is an amazing number. Jon Barry continues to be associated with great bench groups wherever he goes, which has to reflect well on him. At the same time, as I mentioned before the season, Anthony is the face of this Nuggets team. That's been more literally true than I imagined. Like Anthony, the Nuggets as a team aren't shooting very well. In fact, their opponents are shooting much better than them, 42.0% to 41.2%, and committing only slightly more turnovers. Denver has made up part of that difference with threes, but most of it by taking and making 111 and 96 more threes than their opponents. Anthony has shot a team-high 111 threes, which is why his 39.3% shooting shouldn't be too big of a concern. At the same time, Anthony is going to have to learn to create easier shots for himself if he hopes to become the All-Star he has the potential to be.

Francisco Elson, C, Denver

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
20.8   6.2  5.6  0.7  0.553  13.0  0.27  0.494   23

Outside of Flip Murray, Elson has to be the surprise of the season. A heretofore largely unknown 1999 second-round draft pick out of Cal, the Nuggets brought Elson to the US after he spent four years in Spain. There was nothing in Elson's NCAA numbers (a modest 5.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a senior) to indicate he was capable of being an NBA starter, but he seems to have blossomed in Spain. Elson has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, making shots, grabbing boards, and blocking a few shots. The one cautionary note I can think of is how similar the Elson story seems so far to the Marc Jackson story a couple of years ago. That one, alas, has not had a particularly happy ending.

Darko Milicic, C, Detroit

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 2.4   0.0  0.4  0.0  0.000   8.5  0.00  0.190   -4

One of the themes I like to emphasize in this column is how important production as a young player is, that 'projects' don't exist in the conventional sense. Based on this, some of my two readers might expect me to be doom and gloom about Milicic. However, my concern is with players, like Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who get the opportunity and don't produce. 17 points and three shots is not an opportunity, so we're simply going to have to avoid making any judgments on Milicic. Certainly, ability is reflected in playing time, but with Detroit's veteran depth up front and Larry Brown's general distaste for rookies, it's way too early to be concerned.

Mickael Pietrus, SG, Golden State

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 4.5   1.3  1.8  0.5  0.512  18.7  2.22  0.525    2

Likewise, Pietrus' stats are not particularly useful. I somehow doubt he is the equal of Ben Wallace on the boards, which his rebound rate would seem to indicate (through 18 minutes). Pietrus did play pretty well during the preseason, but I think the main thing we can glean from his rookie numbers is asking whether the Warriors really needed to draft another swingman after taking starters Jason Richardson and Mike Dunleavy the last two years.

Chris Kaman, C, L.A. Clippers

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
17.8   6.5  5.6  0.8  0.505  15.2  0.17  0.445    4

Granting that my expectations weren't very high, I've been reasonably impressed by Kaman's performance thus far. Looking at his per-game numbers, one might get too good of an impression of Kaman, as he has been extremely inefficient so far. Kaman's 44.5% shooting is not impressive for a center, and he's turned the ball over like crazy this season, ranking second in the NBA in turnover rate. The other negative is, unsurprisingly, fouls. Kaman is averaging 8.7 fouls per 48 minutes, which he'll have to cut when he becomes good enough to warrant more minutes. On the plus side of the ledger, Kaman has been a beast on the boards and has been surprisingly difficult to stop at times. If he can improve his decision-making in the post to bolster his shooting percentage and his turnover rate, Kaman can certainly be an above-average starting center.

Luke Walton, SF, L.A. Lakers

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 7.5   2.1  0.8  0.9  0.499   5.1  3.74  0.441    1
                      0.437   7.7  3.78  0.406

Seeing action, albeit not much, in 16 games this season with the Lakers crushing all comers, Walton has acquitted himself quite well. He has been as good of a passer as advertised (delivering an outstanding feed to Shaquille O'Neal almost immediately after entering last night's game), while also scoring with reasonable efficiency. Walton wouldn't be overwhelmed if he was forced into the Lakers' rotation tomorrow.

Dahntay Jones, SG, Memphis
Theron Smith, F, Memphis

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
10.3   2.3  1.3  2.3  0.389   6.2 15.81  0.421    0
10.0   0.0  3.0  0.0  0.000  14.4  0.00  0.136   -3

Ah, the fun of small sample sizes. Jones is putting up a historically great pass rating, while Smith has been outstanding on the glass but hasn't scored (a feat that has gotten considerably less attention than Milicic's time without scoring). That they've played just 41 minutes between them may have something to do with it, as Jerry West's attempt to acquire as many players of the same ability as possible keeps his three rookies (Troy Bell is the other) from seeing any action. I actually did get the chance to see Jones play against the Sonics, when he came in during the fourth quarter specifically to defend the aforementioned Flip Murray. Jones got beat a couple of times and, if I recall correctly, threw up an airball, but he came up with a big block with the score tied. Jason Williams followed with a three, and the Grizzlies got the win. Jones could be useful as a situational sub. Barring trades, however, it's tough to see any of these guys playing much in the near future.

Dwyane Wade, PG, Miami

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
35.3  13.6  4.5  4.4  0.442   6.1  1.61  0.424   -3
                      0.508   6.7  1.72  0.480

Wade has pretty clearly been the disappointment of this year's rookie class so far, doubly so to me since he's on my fantasy-league team despite my general anti-rookie policy. While there was evidence in their college statistics that a lot of rookies would struggle with their shooting, that wasn't really as evident for Wade. His 50.1% shooting at Marquette wasn't phenomenal, but it couldn't have been expected to translate to 38.7% shooting with little three-point range. I can't help but wonder how much being responsible for the Heat's offense, at least when paired with Eddie Jones, has hurt Wade. Turnovers have also been a major problem, with Wade averaging nearly three and a half per game, which was more predictable. Wade had the highest translated turnovers per game of anyone in my spreadsheet of college players from last season. I had hoped, however, that he'd get more than 4.4 assists per game. Wade has shot better of late, including 6-for-9 against Detroit in his last game, so I'm reasonably optimistic he'll get to 40% by season's end. However, it's tough to see him making a push for Rookie of the Year that many expected.

Udonis Haslem, PF, Miami

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
30.9   7.9  7.7  1.2  0.478  11.9  0.32  0.419   -6

I wrote about Haslem recently, so I'll spare the full treatment. I will point out that he's struggled some lately, seeing his rebound rate drop off quite a bit. I don't really think he's below replacement level, but continuing to start him may be asking too much at this point. Haslem may be more comfortable and effective off the bench.

T.J. Ford, PG, Milwaukee

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
26.5   6.1  3.9  5.9  0.382   7.0  5.39  0.387  -19
                      0.426   4.7  6.50  0.410

A couple of weeks ago, there were some comments in the national media giving Ford credit for the Bucks' surprising start, which is about like crediting Greg Ostertag for Utah's success. Sorry, but a player can only be so helpful when they're shooting 31.7% and have a size disadvantage against every opponent they face. Ford can definitely pass, and is near the top of the league in assist rate, but also ranks in the top twenty in the NBA in turnover rate. In terms of shooting, Ford has been even worse than I expected, and my expectations were awfully low. Ford's backers will point to Jason Kidd as an example of a guy who overcame a shooting weakness to be the NBA's best point guard, but Kidd was always a great rebounder and a strong defender. Ford isn't. Shooting is probably the easiest part of the game to develop in the NBA, but it's hard to imagine Ford's scoring ever being an asset, and his height is always going to be a problem for him.

Keith McLeod, PG, Minnesota

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
13.8   3.0  1.0  2.1  0.475   3.5  4.14  0.399   -9

Undrafted out of Bowling Green in the 2002 Draft, McLeod was originally cut by the Wolves, then re-signed when Troy Hudson went on the injured list. He really struggled at first, but has held his own lately. McLeod has shot 27 free-throw attempts against his 45 field goals attempted, a nice ratio, and has an assist-turnover ratio of 2.71, which is good for a backup point guard. He's demonstrated enough to be worth keeping an eye on.

Ndudi Ebi, SF, Minnesota

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 1.9   0.3  0.1  0.0  0.143   3.7  0.00  0.190   -3

Uh, not much to go on here. Ebi has played just 13 minutes in what amounts to a redshirt season. That's 13 more minutes than Kendrick Perkins, who was briefly active for the Celtics but failed to get in a game. The third high school rookie not named LeBron, Portland's Travis Outlaw, has played just three minutes. With all three players on playoff contenders, they are merely going to be expected to play hard and learn during practice.

Zoran Planinic, PG, New Jersey

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 8.6   2.7  0.8  1.1  0.410   4.2  1.64  0.393   -4

The Nets picked Planinic with the hope that he could stabilize their point guard position behind Kidd. But while Kidd's former backup, Anthony Johnson, has played surprisingly well in Indiana, Planinic has struggled with the twin banes of rookie point guards, turnovers and poor shooting. That's translated into 34.4% shooting and a turnover rate that would be in the NBA's top ten if Planinic had played enough minutes to qualify. At 21, Planinic is plenty young enough to improve, but the Nets don't seem to be counting on him this year anymore after signing Robert Pack late in November to back up Kidd.

David West, PF, New Orleans

 MPG   PPG  RPG  APG   TS%    R48  Pass   Eff  VORP
 9.8   3.3  3.5  0.6  0.538  16.9  0.55  0.502   13
                      0.528  12.5  3.33  0.487

In limited minutes at the end of the Hornets' rotation, West has been outstanding this season, attacking the boards with ferocity and making 47.9% of his shots. Unfortunately, what most fans probably know him for so far is the layup he missed that could have beaten the Indiana Pacers. That shot aside, West has been a valuable contributor, and put up 14 points and 11 rebounds on Tuesday against Orlando. The only thing holding him back from a bigger role is the Hornets' quality starters up front.

Kevin Pelton is an intern for the Seattle SuperSonics and is responsible for original content on He writes "Page 23" for on a semi-regular basis. He can be reached via e-mail at