Although this year’s crop of rookies was arguably forgettable during much of the regular season, Day 1 of the 2009 NBA Playoffs served as a launching pad for the best of the bunch, Chicago Bulls PG Derrick Rose. His historic afternoon sent shockwaves through Celtic Nation as the youngster carved up the vaulted Boston defense for 36 points, 11 assists, and a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe. Most importantly, the 41-41 Bulls pulled out an improbable overtime victory on the road.
Rose is just one of five first-year players averaging at least 20 minutes a game so far in the postseason. Was Rose’s big Game 1 the beginning of a rookie revolution, or would they wilt under the pressure?
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Season Improvement: The Chi-town native had virtually identical statistics before and after the All-Star game, but he did post season-high averages of 19.2 points and 7.5 assists (against a season-low 2.2 turnovers) in April’s regular season games.
Playoff Performance: After his huge Game 1, the Celtics’ defense clamped down on Rose and cooled him down to the tune of 14 points and 6 assists per game over the next four contests. Additionally, Rose has been forced into coughing up 5.4 turnovers each time out. Don’t believe any hype about a point guard battle: Rajon Rondo is owning this series with 24.2 points, 10.2 assists, and 10.2 rebounds (FYI: 6-foot-1, 171 pounds). It also should be noted that Ben Gordon is part of the reason Rose’s stats have dropped: he’s averaged 26.3 points and .407 from deep while Boston has focused on his point guard.
Moving Forward: There is no question that Rose has the ability pull the Bulls through to the second round IF he decreases the turnovers. If they make it to the Eastern semis, Rose’s chances of dominating the series don’t look good. They’ll either face Dwight Howard, the human lay-up eraser, or Philadelphia, who are more than athletic enough to pester the rookie into uncharacteristically high turnover totals.
Michael Beasley, Miami Heat
Season Improvement: Over the latter part of the season, Beasley improved his FG% (.497 post All-Star game), 3-point FG% (.462), rebounds (5.7), passing (1.2-1.0 assists-turnovers), and defensive awareness (only 2.0 fouls). He started the last four games of the year and showed why the Heat made him the #2 pick in 2008’s draft, putting up 24.0 points, 11.8 rebounds, and making 56.2% of his shots, including 6-for-10 from deep.
Playoff Performance: Beasley has come off the bench in all five contests, and he saw decreased minutes in each of the first four games of the series (32, 22, 19, and 11 minutes, in order). His production was spotty, but he was snaring 6.0 rebounds and blocking 1.3 shots each outing. In a Game 5 loss, the young forward played a bench-high 24 minutes and recorded 18 points, mainly because of his ability to get to the free throw line and convert (7-for-7).
Moving Forward: Coach Erik Spoelstra is sticking with his veteran forwards in the playoffs. Much like the regular season, Beasley has some great moments before fading into the background for stretches. A big game for him would do a lot for the Heat since Dwayne Wade (who is really hurting) and Jermaine O’Neal are the only Miami players scoring consistently.
Progress reports on three more rookies in the playoffs after the break…
Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
Season Improvement: The 24-year-old Spaniard has been playing professionally for years overseas, so he was not expected to show as much improvement as his one-and-done American counterparts. Although his basic numbers didn’t deviate much from 10.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.0 assists throughout the year, his role as a long-range assassin and passing lane thief has become more clear. He improved upon a .389 3-point FG% before the All-Star break to .421 after on his way to a rookie-record 159 trifectas. Also, Fernandez grabbed 1.7 steals over the last 10 games.
Playoff Performance: Fernandez has been an offensive spark off the bench, shooting .500 both inside and outside the 3-point line for 8.6 points per. He’s corralled 8 steals in the last 4 games, but he’s also turned the ball over 6 times.
Moving Forward: Fernandez may soon be starting for the Blazers because coach Nate McMillan wants another consistent scorer in the starting lineup other than Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Season Improvement: Chalmers was the starting point guard from the get go and has gelled well with Wade. Virtually all of the rookie’s measurable stats have stayed static and somewhat mediocre during the year, except for modest improvements in his free-throw shooting and offensive rebounding. Still, his impact has been felt more outside the lines for the Heat.
Playoff Performance: Chalmers has been getting a lot of steals in the playoffs, picking off the Hawks 13 times in 5 games. Other than that, his play has been underwhelming against the athletic Atlanta defense. His shooting is down to a ho-hum .417 FG% and a bad .294 from deep. He’s playing tense; the result? A 3.8-2.2 assist-turnover rate that is noticeably worse than his season average of 4.9-2.0.
Moving Forward: A point guard who’s shooting poorly and generally being overwhelmed by a defense will not help a team advance. He’s got all of the skills and a decent returning group of veterans who know how to score, so expect a big improvement from Chalmers – next year.
Courtney Lee, Orlando Magic
Season Improvement: Lee became Orlando’s starting shooting guard halfway through the season, so his scoring average made an expected jump (5.7 points in November and December, 10.8 points in February and March) before a weak April. His shooting percentages stayed fairly stable throughout the year (.450 FG%, .404 3-pt FG%), as did his 1.2-0.9 assist-turnover ratio.
Playoff Performance: Dwight Howard inadvertently fractured Lee’s sinus with an elbow in the first quarter of Game 5, knocking the guard out of that contest and at least one more game. In his four playoff starts before then, Lee was shooting a healthy .482 FG%, good for 15.8 points per, and showing an improved 2.5-1.0 assist-turnover rate.
Moving Forward: Lee has been ruled out for Thursday’s Game 6. If the Magic move on to face the Bulls or Celtics, they will need Lee’s solid playoff performance to continue to keep the defense off of Howard.
Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.