Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics G
2014-15 Stats: 20.4 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 31% FG, 24% 3FG
Inside Scoring: C- Before he was sidelined with a sprained ankle, Smart struggled to score from everywhere, including close to the tin. His ineffectiveness around the bucket is partially due to some overzealous forays into the paint; otherwise, it’s courtesy of poor execution.
Outside Shooting: D Aside from a 4-of-9 outing against the Toronto Raptors, he’s shooting the ball dreadfully. His three-point game is unpredictable, and his mid-range shooting is nonexistent. Literally.
Passing/Playmaking: B- Smart played alongside Rajon Rondo for much of the first two weeks, so we’re not going to grill him too hard for small assist numbers. However, he’s averaging one turnover for every assist, which is undesirable. He’s inefficiently aggressive at this juncture in his career.
Rebounding: B It’s great to see Smart mix it up in the paint and grab the occasional offensive rebound (he averages 1.8 O-boards per 36 minutes). His strength and length help tremendously on the glass.
Defense: A Bleacher Report Celtics columnist Michael Pina said it best: “Marcus Smart just doesn’t look like a rookie on defense.” He’s a sturdy, speedy one-on-one asset, and he’s also a clever off-ball defender. His timing and confidence are superb for a 21-year-old, and the Celtics are a much better defensive unit when he’s playing.
Overall Grade: B-
Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat PG
2014-15 Stats: 21.1 MPG, 4.1 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 37% FG, 27% 3FG
Inside Scoring: C So far, Napier has had trouble adjusting to the length and athleticism of NBA defenders. He’s struggling to sink a respectable number of driving baskets for the Miami Heat, and 11 percent of his close-range attempts are blocked, according to 82games.com.
Outside Shooting: C- Erratic shooting often plagued him in college, and now it’s really hurting him in the pro ranks. It’s important to note the small sample size; however, Napier needs to make things easier for himself at times.
Passing/Playmaking: A- He isn’t racking up the assists. Nevertheless, he’s keeping the defense honest, generating opportunities for the Heat and making sound choices with the rock. He’s finished a couple games at point guard, and he’s limiting the turnovers (just 2.2 per 36 minutes).
“Shabazz Napier keeps making the right decisions,” said B/R’s Ethan Skolnick. “He’s making it impossible to remove him from Heat rotation.”
Rebounding: B Napier isn’t a prolific backcourt rebounder like he was in college, but that’s to be expected. He’ll still scrap for the ball when he’s in the vicinity.
Defense: A He’s doing more than holding his own in isolation. Napier is also making some impressive plays as a helper, making calculated ambushes from the weak side and backing up his comrades at the right times.
Overall Grade: B
K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers F
2014-15 Stats: 23.7 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 48% FG, 42% 3FG
Inside Scoring: B+ McDaniels has put his trampoline leaping and long arms to good use for the Philadelphia 76ers. He can score acrobatically and emphatically above the hoop, and he plays fearlessly.
Outside Shooting: A Through seven games, the youngster has drilled 8-of-19 from three-point range, which is great news considering outside shooting wasn’t his strongest suit entering the draft. He hasn’t done much from mid-range yet, however, and he’s not consistently capable of creating his own jumper.
Passing/Playmaking: B No one will confuse McDaniels as a brilliant orchestrator, but his explosive slashes and unselfish style of play produce some timely assists.
Rebounding: B- Since he spends most of his time corralling playmakers and pursuing turnovers, he doesn’t stay home often enough to collect a sizable portion of rebounds. It’s not as easy to hop into the paint and crash the glass as it was in college.
Defense: A With his ranginess and talent, McDaniels has immediately shown he can guard multiple positions. He’s got a knack for contesting (and rejecting) shooters, and his pre-shot activity makes it difficult for teams to execute basic offensive sets.
Overall Grade: A-
Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets SF
2014-15 Stats: 25.3 MPG, 4.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 29% FG, 28% 3FG
Inside Scoring: D Although he sometimes finds crafty ways to get to the hoop, Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou is having trouble scoring around the basket thus far. His shot chart with the Houston Rockets reveals that he’s well below league average on close-range attempts.
Outside Shooting: D His mid-range shooting has been nonexistent through seven games, and his three-point shooting has been woefully inaccurate. Papanikolaou was a solid outside shooter in Europe, so it may just take a little time for him to adjust from NBA three-point range.
Passing/Playmaking: A This is where Papanikolaou has impressed us. He’s dishing 4.5 assists per 36 minutes, and you can tell he’s not your average rookie when it comes to seeing the floor and finding his teammates. His 21.2 assist percentage reflects his smarts and instincts. Rahat Huq of ESPN Truehoop’s Red94.net notes the youngster’s solid transition to the NBA.
“Papanikolaou just seems to have an innate feel and understanding of the game…It’s clear so far that this is a highly skilled player. At first glance, this is a very deft, savvy player who will pay huge dividends this season.”
Rebounding: B For a wing player, he crashes the boards pretty well. He’s not ultra-athletic, but he knows how to hunt and leap for an offensive board or take care of business on the defensive end.
Defense: C+ Papanikolaou is solid when it comes to timing and effort, and he’s plucking 1.8 steals per 36 minutes, which is superb. He’s also overmatched frequently by explosive athletes, which is something he must learn to counteract his entire career.
Overall Grade: C+
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves SF
2014-15 Stats: 27.3 MPG, 9.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 43% FG, 40% 3FG
Inside Scoring: B Save for a couple of drives and some intermittent transition buckets, Wiggins hasn’t been overwhelmingly successful near the rim. He’s shown the ability to slash along the baseline for layups, but he’s not a consistent interior scorer yet.
Outside Shooting: B+ From three-point range, we’ve only seen a small sample size (2-of-5), yet he gets a solid grade due to his catch-and-shoot efficiency (60 percent) and his ability to create separation for pull-up jumpers.
Passing/Playmaking: C Wiggins averages just 1.3 assists per 36 minutes, which is pretty low for someone whose usage percentage is 18-plus. He’s still getting a feel for Minny’s offense, and he’s not yet comfortable creating and finding teammates.
Rebounding: C+ It’s not surprising that he’s a so-so rebounder, considering his slight frame and predominantly perimeter role. No one is impressed or dismayed with his 4.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Defense: B+ Through the season’s first couple of weeks, Wiggins has already squared up against some cagey offensive weapons, including the likes of star veterans Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade. He fell for a few pump fakes, but he’s often used his explosiveness and energy to compensate for his mistakes.
Overall Grade: B-
Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers PF/C
2014-15 Stats: 28.4 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 45% FG
Inside Scoring: C+ The rangy big fella is confident with the ball, and he tries hook shots with either hand. However, his offense isn’t a sure thing unless it’s a dunk. The majority of his shots are within a few feet from the hoop, yet his field-goal efficiency isn’t up to par.
Proof that he’s not a major threat yet? He’s earning just 1.2 trips to the free-throw line per contest.
Outside Shooting: C Noel hasn’t taken many outside jumpers at all, nor has he launched a triple attempt. Even for a big man, his long-range abilities are still in the early stages of development.
Passing/Playmaking: A Compared to most rookie post players, he’s a splendid passer. He’s almost always alert to any cutters or shooters who are open, and he dished five assists during Philly’s loss to the Houston Rockets. He’s sometimes a little overambitious as a playmaker, but Brett Brown must love the heads-up distribution.
Rebounding: B- His style of play isn’t conducive to a high volume of rebounds, especially on the defensive side. Even so, he must find a way to haul in more than 7.1 boards per 36 minutes. He started the season with back-to-back 10-rebound outings, then failed to eclipse five caroms in his next two games.
Defense: A+ The blocks and steals are great numbers, but they only tell a fraction of the story. His activity and mobility covers so much space and deters foes’ chances for high-percentage opportunities. Per 100 possessions, the Sixers are 13.8 points better defensively when he’s on the floor, according to 82games.com.
Overall Grade: B
Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks F
2014-15 Stats: 28.8 MPG, 10.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 42% FG, 25% 3FG
Inside Scoring: C+ Parker has done some damage as a transition finisher and sporadic slasher. In the half court, however, his scoring has been inconsistent. He’s shooting just 29 percent on drives to the rim, although he’s looked better during his last few outings.
Outside Shooting: C+ The Milwaukee Bucks staff surely hoped he would convert at a higher rate. He’s 4-of-11 on long two-pointers, which is so-so, and he’s worse from three-point range. His size, soft touch and solid footwork suggest eventual improvement.
Passing/Playmaking: B- When you look at the stat sheet and see less than one assist per game, you’re wondering why Jabari doesn’t have a C or D in the passing department. But he often creates the initial shift in the opposing defense, resulting in a swing pass and bucket. His passes don’t often result in assists, yet they frequently lead to Bucks points.
Rebounding: B+ He’s not a bad rebounder for a combo forward. The strength and athleticism is there, so he’s highly effective when locked in. His 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes pace is ahead of rookie numbers posted by the oft-compared Carmelo Anthony (5.2) and Paul Pierce (6.4).
Defense: C For the most part, Parker has displayed commendable effort defensively and has plucked a handful of steals. Unfortunately, he’s frequently out of position and isn’t alert during key situations away from the ball.
Overall Grade: B-
Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic PG
2014-15 Stats: 28.8 MPG, 7.3 PPG, 6.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 35% FG
Inside Scoring: C+ As you can tell from his shot chart, roughly two-thirds of Elfrid Payton’s field-goal attempts are in close proximity to the rim. It’s one of the only places he feels comfortable taking shots. However, he’s having trouble scoring efficiently because teams are clogging the lane and anticipating his drives.
B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman explains, noting Payton is “having trouble creating high-percentage looks for himself without a jumper.”
Outside Shooting: D Regarding that jumper: It simply isn’t a legitimate weapon for him yet. He seldom pulls up for a mid-range toss, let alone a long two-pointer or triple.
Passing/Playmaking: A The Orlando Magic drafted Payton for his playmaking prowess, and he has lived up to the billing in that department. He’s dishing 6.0 assists per game, as he’s thriving as a drive-and-kick and pick-and-roll quarterback. Most importantly, he’s quickly learned to connect with the squad’s greatest target: Nikola Vucevic.
Rebounding: B+ Using his long arms and bounciness, Payton snags a healthy number of rebounds for a point guard.
Defense: A- Excellent alertness and top-tier physical tools have served him well on the defensive end. He’s not as strong as Marcus Smart, but he owns similar predatory instincts which have helped him regularly disrupt opponents.
Overall Grade: B+