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NBA Rookie Prospect Report: Lillard's Impressive Debut

Fred Katz

Fred Katz

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in 5th grade, but he maintains that his per 36 minutes numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at ProBasketballDraft.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

We're one week into the NBA season and so far 20 rookies are averaging at least 15 minutes per game. Here are some quick thoughts on those rookies, ranked in order of worst fantasy value to best.

20. Pablo Prigioni, G, Knicks—Prigioni is an Argentine, pass-first guard who is also a 35-year-old rookie. He is not going to score much, but he has a chance to up his minutes total playing behind an older Jason Kidd. However, once Iman Shumpert returns later in the season, there might not be many minutes for him.

19. Festus Ezeli, C, Warriors—Ezeli has been getting some minutes with an injured Andrew Bogut riding the pine. Bogut is a historically injury-prone player so it's possible that 28-minute totals, like the one Ezeli had Saturday night, could sporadically happen throughout the season.

18. DeQuan Jones, G, Magic—Jones went undrafted in June's draft, but started his first career game against Phoenix on Sunday. He played only 16 minutes, but playing for such a poor team could put him in a situation to earn more minutes as the season progresses.

17. Tyler Zeller, C, Cavaliers—Zeller has played with a lot of energy and actually posted a career-high seven rebounds in Saturday's loss at Milwaukee. Working his way into a starter's role, however, seems like a long shot, especially with the way Anderson Varejao has played thus far.

16. Meyers Leonard, C, Trail Blazers—Leonard has hardly been the aggressor offensively. He has attempted only two shots in his 55 minutes played, and we expect that style to keep up. The rookie is still a raw offensive player who had stretches in college in which he would vanish from games.

15. Austin Rivers, G, Hornets—Rivers makes this list because of his 29 minutes per game, but his performance so far has not justified so much playing time. Of course, three games is not - and should not be - enough to make a rotation change, but Rivers has looked slow and indecisive in his small NBA sample size. He is only 5-for-25 (20 percent) shooting the ball right now, and as long as he remains primarily a point guard, his troubles could continue.

14. Kim English, G, Pistons—English is one of the highest ranked second-round picks on this list for good reason. He was an elite outside shooter at Missouri, and that seems to have carried over to the league. He's shoot 2-for-4 from three in two of his first three career games.

13. Kyle Singler, F, Pistons—Detroit seems to be perfectly happy letting its rookies actually get in the game. So far, Singler has been one of the beneficiaries of that plan. He is fifth among rookies in minutes per game (22.0) and is averaging 8.7 points per game while shooting an impressive 10-for-16 over his three contests.

12. Thomas Robinson, F, Kings—Robinson could end up as one of the best players from this draft, but the stars don't look aligned for him in his rookie season. The Kings' roster is nothing short of ridiculous looking, and for some reason Jason Thompson and James Johnson are getting significantly more burn than Robinson early. Meanwhile, guys like DeMarcus Cousins and Chuck Hayes are going to command a lot of the bigs' minutes all season.

11. Alexey Shved, G, Timberwolves—Shved hasn't shot well in his first three games, but he filled up other stat columns against Toronto on Sunday, posting four rebounds and four assists to go along with his eight points. That 2-for-6 shooting night will improve. When it does, Shved could have some value.

10. Jared Sullinger, F, Celtics—Sully has looked exactly like what everyone expected: a quality player who will be able to contribute on a good team. He won't win rookie of the year, but he can help in the points, rebounds, and maybe even the blocks column if he starts to get some more minutes, which is possible considering the amount of regular season games Kevin Garnett could sit out.

9. Andre Drummond, C, Pistons—Yes, another Pistons' rookie. Drummond is only averaging 17.7 minutes per game, but he is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game (18.4 percent rebound rate), and his defense has been more than strong. His blocks numbers are elite when you consider his 7.2 percent block rate or his 3.4 blocks per 36 minutes.

8. Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers—Waiters hasn't been particularly efficient, but he is third amongst rookies in minutes per game and is in a situation in which he will have the ball in his hands often. His 11 field goal attempts per game will probably not trail off. Meanwhile, he could provide steals production, as well.

7. Jae Crowder, F, Mavs—Crowder isn't just getting burn, but he is also getting freedom. He has been aggressive offensively, taking 7.7 field goals per game. Meanwhile, he is attempting 4.0 three-point attempts per game, almost as many as he took in college in fewer minutes. Crowder is a strong rebounder as well, so if he continues to play in this role, he could end up as the strongest second-round pick from last year's draft.

6. Bradley Beal, G, Wizards—Beal hasn't been able to find the bottom of the net in his first two games as a pro, but he is getting opportunities. With John Wall (knee) out, Beal will be one of the biggest offensive leaders on this Washington team, regardless of his 2-for-13 shooting start.

5. Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors—Barnes looks like a player that might be able to contribute in a multitude of ways. He looked best against Memphis, when he shot 2-for-5 from three, but watch out for fouls dictating his minutes. He has had five fouls in two of his three games.

4. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors—Valanciunas is a big, athletic seven footer, who is getting a premiere role with the Raptors. He is averaging nine field goal attempts in his 19.3 minutes per game. Meanwhile, he is rebounding and defending well, averaging 10.6 rebounds per 36 minutes and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. As his playing time goes up, he could become an elite rookie.

3. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Bobcats—Kidd-Gilchrist shot only 1-for-7 in the Bobcats' opener against the Pacers, but he came back with a strong 13-point, five-rebound, five-steal performance against Dallas. The youngest player in the NBA seems mature and intelligent beyond his years when it comes to basketball decisions. Look for more lines like the one he posted against the Mavericks.

2. Anthony Davis, F, Hornets—Davis looked like everything his biggest fans hoped when he stepped on the floor for his first regular-season NBA game last Wednesday, posting 21 points, seven rebounds, and shooting 9-for-9 from the line. The concussion he suffered against Utah should keep him out for a few games, but in the long term, Davis promises to be one of the best overall forwards out there.

1. Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers—Lillard has looked nothing short of incredible to start his rookie season. He has scored at least 20 points and has accumulated at least seven assists in each of his first three games. Portland is running its offense through him, which means that total shots won't be an issue and, knowing Lillard, neither will his ability to rack up assists.

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