Rated Rookies: Week 14

DeMarcus Cousins – My goodness, DeMarcus Cousins has had himself a week. Strong performances from the big man in Sacramento’s last two games have given the Kings a victory over the Lakers in L.A. and then a day later, one against the Hornets, snapping their 10-game winning streak. Very nice, especially since the last time Sacramento won both games in a back-to-back was all the way back in October when they swept their third and fourth games of the season.

Cousins was simply sensational, and his play has drawn plenty of praise. Against the Lakers, Cousins finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocked shots. A day later he continued to roll, finishing with 25 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a steal. Against the Hornets he made smart plays and smooth passes, against the Lakers, he was everywhere, doing a little bit of everything as he managed to stay on the floor for 32 minutes with just one personal foul.

Shaking off a disappointing performance against the Bobcats where he fouled out in just 20 minutes, Cousins is slowly piecing it all together. Coach Paul Westphal praised his rookie’s game smarts, saying, “(DeMarcus) is intelligent, he learns. He’s learning what works and what doesn’t. He’s changed some habits offensively.”

Wes Johnson – After appearing on our “Not” list a couple of weeks ago, Wes Johnson has been balling out and his game is back on track. The fourth pick in the 2010 draft was recently pulled from the starting lineup and the move has benefited his game big-time.

Johnson is averaging 9.4 points per game on the season, which is not bad. But since he’s been coming off the bench, Johnson has averaged 16.3 points in his last four games while also seeing a steady increase in playing time. After the benching against the Blazers and then limited minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers, Johnson proved to his coaching staff that he deserves to be on the floor, putting up 19 points, three rebounds, four assists, three steals and two-blocks in a 129-125 loss against the Rockets. Sometimes benching works. Looks like this was one of those times.

Honorable mention: Shout out to Greg Monroe for a monster 15-point, 17-rebound performance against the New York Knicks, getting into double-figure rebounds for the first time in his last six games.

Larry Sanders – If ever there was a rookie I didn’t want to put on this list, it’s Mr. Sanders. (Okay, I hate putting anyone on this side of things, but Larry, Avery Bradley and Xavier Henry were all extra tough.) Coming into this season, I was very high on Sanders and thought he might end up surprising a lot of people. I still think that, but it may take Sanders a bit more time to come into his own than I had originally anticipated.

The past week has been a quiet one for Sanders; in three games, he’s played a total of 22 minutes. He went scoreless in a Bucks victory against the Raptors and had just two points in two minutes against the Nets, but he showed a little of what he has to offer in a win against the Hawks. Sanders scored eight points, grabbed four boards and blocked three shots in just 13 minutes and proved that his athleticism and ability to block shots is always there when the minutes come his way.

While he’s averaging less than 14 minutes a night this season, Sanders is still leading all rookies with 1.3 swats per game. He might be on the “Not” list, but this is more result of his minutes rather than production in those minutes. He hasn’t made a lot of noise yet, but don’t forget about him.

We’ve got a pair of games on Friday night to tune in to for some rookie actions. First up is New York at Philadelphia at 7:00 pm. Landry Fields showed once again that he can play on the big stage, playing a huge part in the Knicks victory over the Miami Heat at MSG last week. He’s been one of the most consistent, mature and impressive rookies this season. On the flip side is Evan Turner, the second pick in the draft, who has been up and down and two steps forward and one step back, playing like a rookie often does. Should be interesting to see them head-to-head.

The second game of the night is New Jersey at Detroit at 7:30 pm. Or, for our purposes, Favors vs. Monroe. Who you got for this one? Personally, I’ve been more impressed with the January that Monroe has put together, especially after those 15 points and 17 rebounds against the Knicks.