The Extra Pass: Rookie Report

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we ask you to put down your TPS report and pick up the Rookie Report:

Since we’re near the halfway point of the season, it’s time to revisit the rookie class and check on some of the bigger names. Who looks like a future All-Star? Which players should be starters going forward? We dissect below:

Sure-fire future All-Stars: Hornets F/C Anthony Davis, Blazers G Damian Lillard

Davis: Despite not having post moves or a reliable jumper yet, Davis has shown incredible instincts on the offensive end. As SI.com’s Rob Mahoney so wonderfully explained, Davis just has a knack for getting open, and his ability to finish on the move has made him a weapon to be dealt with. Davis is averaging nearly 16 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per36 minutes this season with a PER of 20, and that puts him in great company. Only David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning and Ralph Sampson averaged those numbers in their rookie seasons.

Lillard: He looks like the real deal already. His understanding and timing in the pick-and-roll is uncanny for a player his age, but it’s his ability to create space for himself that really separates him from other young point guards. According to Synergy Sports, Lillard is already the 14th most efficient scorer (points per play) in the league in isolation and 23rd in the pick-and-roll. With his separation ability and sweet shooting touch, Lillard’s scoring numbers should only ramp up from an already impressive 18 point per game average.

Borderline future All-Stars: Wizards G Bradley Beal, Orlando Magic PF Andrew Nicholson

Beal: This kid has one of the most beautiful jumpers in basketball. His mechanics are flawless — the elbow is in, the release is high, and his body is straight up and down. Don’t let the rough overall numbers fool you (38 percent shooting) — Beal is starting to figure out his role in the NBA. In the month of January, Beal has averaged 18.8 points a game and 61 percent (!) shooting from behind the arc with nearly three makes a game from deep. With John Wall pushing the pace and sucking in defenses, Beal could end up being the best pure spot-up shooter of this draft class.

Nicholson: Give him more minutes, Jacque Vaughn! Nicholson only plays about 14 minutes a night, but he’s been a killer scorer whenever he gets on the floor. Per36 minutes, Nicholson scores 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting thanks to a jumper that has been every bit as good as advertised. Nicholson has knocked in 33-for-72 (45 percent) of his shots from 16-23 feet, a number that puts him right there with the league’s elite stretch 4’s.

Future 6th Man of the Year candidate: Cavaliers G Dion Waiters

Waiters: What kind of shots does Waiters want to get? All of them. The explosive, burly scoring guard takes 17 attempts per36 minutes — a huge number for a rookie. Since the Cavs moved him to the bench nine games ago, Waiters has beaten up on second units with his big frame, totaling over 15 points in five of those contests. It may be a tad early to pigeon hole him, but turning Waiters into a scoring guard off the bench seems like a role perfectly suited for his skill and discretion.

Future Defensive Player of the Year winner: Pistons C Andre Drummond

Drummond: Let’s make something clear — Drummond is not skilled offensively. His jumper is a joke, his touch outside of the paint is laughable, and he shoots 39 percent from the free throw line. That’s what makes everything more insane, though. Drummond leas all rookies in PER at 22.4, and he’s averaging 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per36 minutes. Those are numbers even the great Dwight Howard didn’t sniff in his first season. In league history, Shaq was the only rookie to post 13-13-3 per36 minutes with a PER of over 22. If Drummond can play this well with no discernible skills whatsoever, imagine how good he can be down the line.

Dependable long-term starters: Bobcats SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Warriors SF Harrison Barnes

MKG: He has a long way to go offensively, but Kidd-Gilchrist is still a self-aware plus defender who will be one of the best rebounding small forwards in basketball for a long time (8.5 boards per36). Yes, his jump shot is completely broken, but MKG does so many things well without the ball that he’ll always warrant heavy playing time.

Barnes: I’m not as bullish on Barnes as most. He plays with blinders on too often, focusing on beating just his man and not on what’s going on around him. That said, Caron Butler has made a nice career for himself playing much the same way. There are reasons for optimism here — Barnes has shown off a nice post game, and his 38 percent 3-point shooting is a nice number in limited attempts — but I just think his ceiling as an all-around player is capped.

First big off the bench: Cavaliers C Tyler Zeller, Celtics PF Jared Sullinger

Zeller: He’s just what everyone said he was — a 7-foot big man who can run the floor and shoot it a little bit. He’ll be a perfectly passable backup center for years to come.

Sullinger: Sullinger is almost like a Zach Randolph; a subpar athlete who gobbles up space and has a knack for pulling in offensive rebounds and finishing with creativity. Sullinger has been a surprisingly good defensive player as well — the Celtics are about 6 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

Drafted to be a star, but a role player going forward: Kings PF Thomas Robinson 

Robinson: The big man from Kansas only does one thing great, and that’s offensive rebounding (3.6 per 36 minutes). Other than that, Robinson has no consistent way of scoring, and defensively, his desire to stay near the glass hurts him from defending bigs who can step away from the rim. He’ll clean the glass, but Robinson hasn’t shown he’s capable of doing anything else at even an average level.

Most likely to get overpaid one day: Blazers C Meyers Leonard, Warriors C Festus Ezeli

Leonard: By the time he figures out the game and develops some actual offensive skill, he’ll hit restricted free agency. Some GM will look at that giant frame and great athleticism and bet he keeps on developing.

Ezeli: It seems like he’ll get a little too much credit for the Warriors defense making the leap under Mark Jackson. He also seems like a player Mark Cuban would love to throw an absurd amount of money at (see: Desagna Diop, Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood).

Second unit leaders: Wolves G Alexey Shved, Knicks F Chris Copeland

Shved: An extremely underrated athlete with good floor vision (5.8 assists per36 minutes), Shved should become a very good third guard once he’s free of the scoring burden that’s been placed on him due to Minnesota’s injury problems.

Copeland: The 28-year-old forward I lovingly refer to as  “created player” because he looks like he was made in NBA2k13 is a natural scoring talent. Per36 minutes, Copeland is averaging 19.6 points per game and is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc. He’s instant offense, even if he doesn’t do much else at all.

Role players that will stick: Mavericks F Jae Crowder, Warriors F Draymond Green

Crowder: A classic 3-and-D guy on the wing with a big motor. If he improves his 3-point shooting (32 percent this year) even more, he’ll be a regular in the league for another ten seasons.

Green: A defensive ace that can rebound very well, Green will continue to warrant playing time so long as he figures out what his role his offensively.

The late bloomer: Bucks PF John Henson

Henson: He needs to develop a much better mid-range jumper and he absolutely has to add strength, but Henson is a mobile, long-armed, shot-blocking big who is rebounding like crazy (12.3 rebounds per36 minutes). He may need to get out from under the shadow of Larry Sanders in Milwaukee, but I’d be shocked if Henson isn’t a successful starting power forward down the line.

Career Athlete: Raptors G/F Terrence Ross

Ross: He’s the best rookie dunker I’ve seen in years. Ross has ideal size for the 2 and a decent 3-point shot (32 percent), but he has no in between game to speak of. That said, Ross won’t be hard up for a home in the NBA — not with athleticism like that.

Out of the league soon: Hornets G Austin Rivers, Rockets F Royce White

Rivers: Pedigree can only take you so far. Rivers has been dreadful this year, and his shot selection and style of play has never meshed with his level of talent. He won’t be an NBA player until he stops taking bad shots, and I’m not sure that will ever happen.

White: Whether it’s fair or not, White represents too much of a risk for potential employers now. It’s a shame — White’s unique point-forward talents would have made him one of the league’s most interesting players. Instead, he’ll likely join the ranks of the “what-if” players that never seem to put it together.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”