As the NBA season moves into the second half, there are many different narratives throughout the league that are making this year captivating. From the many lowlights that make up the downfall of the Los Angeles Lakers to the always-scorching Miami Heat, there is a lot of action going around the association. However, one of the bigger stories has been the rise of young talent this year. From the neck in neck race for rookie of the year between New Orleans power forward Anthony Davis and Portland point guard Damien Lillard, to the young core of players that make up the Cleveland Cavaliers, the youth are taking the league. However, there are those who are not as highlighted, but still deserve our attention. They are the late first round draft picks or the undrafted rookie out of Russia. This is who is going to be focused upon—the underrated rookie.
For starters, there is Detroit Pistons small forward Kyle Singler. The former 2010 NCAA champion with Duke was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft. However, with the 2011 lockout, Singler chose to go the alternative route—Europe. The Oregon native, formally considered one of the class of 2007’s best high school b-ball players, went to Spain, where he was considered one of the league’s top newcomers. In the fall of 2012, he returned to the U.S., joining the Pistons. Ahead of him in the depth chart was Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye, but that did not deter him. His first start was also the team’s first win of the year, and he shot for 50% from the floor, for 16 points, and grabbed 4 rebounds. Singler has so far averaged nine points/game and four rebounds/game. With the recent trade that sent Prince and Daye to Memphis, it is looking like his starts will increase in the near future.
Secondly, there is a more unknown rookie. A man who has played his time outside of the American spotlights for his entire career: Timberwolves combo guard Alexey Shved. The 24 year-old Russian began his professional career in his teens, playing with top Russian and European team, CSKA Moscow. Over his time with the Russian club, Shved would win 4 league titles and one Euroleague title. During the summer of 2012, Shved signed a three-year contract with Minnesota as an undrafted free agent. Although the T-wolves have the talent, thanks to the injury bug hitting their big stars like Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love the team has had a worse season than hoped. The bright spot has been Shved’s play, although he has averaged 10.5 ppg and 4.4 apg, he has also been playing mostly off the bench thanks to a deep guard rotation. He has acclimated to the league faster than most expected, and hopefully this will contribute to the team’s success in the future.
These are just two of the young players with rising profiles in the league. Other players include Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics (before his injury), Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas, and Orlando Magic power forward Andrew Nichalson. All of these players have been putting in the work to force their ways to starting berths and give their teams hope that the investment in them will be worth it.