No rookie is turning a bad team into a good team this year the way David Robinson did for San Antonio last season. This year's group of first-year NBA players comes as advertised - solid but unspectacular.
His late signing and a recent leg injury have slowed the progress of the head of the class, New Jersey's Derrick Coleman, but he's played enough for the Nets to realize they aren't sorry they took him. He's the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.The 6-foot-10 Coleman is averaging 15.3 points and 10.2 rebounds, and his 28 points and NBA season-high 23 rebounds in a 98-92 victory over Philadelphia on Nov. 27 was a rookie highlight show.
"He's going to be unbelievable," Pistons assistant Brendan Malone said. "He does it all - scores, blocks shots, rebounds. He's outstanding."
"I am the franchise," Coleman said. "If you want somebody who is versatile and can play any position on the court, then I'm the man."
That versatilty also has made a valuable player of Sacramento's Lionel Simmons, one of four Kings' first-round picks.
Simmons has started at both forward positions and also at guard in recent games as rookie teammates Travis Mays and Anthony Bonner moved into and out of the lineup with injuries. Rookie center Duane Causwell also is starting for the Kings.
Both Simmons and Mays are averaging 15 points per game, and Bonner scored 16 and 18 points in two of Sacramento's three victories that gave the Kings their first three-game winning streak since 1989.
Kings coach Dick Motta has said Simmons, the seventh player taken in the 1990 draft, and Mays, No. 14, should be All-Stars within two years. Mays, in 15 games, has five 20-point games.
Gary Payton, the No. 2 pick by Seattle this year, has started every game for the SuperSonics and already is among the league's best in steals. But he's averaging just 8.3 points on 43.5 percent shooting and this week was on a streak of scoring 10 points or less in nine consecutive games.
Chris Jackson of Denver, the No. 3 pick, started fast in Nuggets coach Paul Westhead's fast-paced system, averaging 19.3 points in his first six games, then tailing off to 7.8 in his next 10 outings.
That prompted general manager Bernie Bickerstaff to suggest Jackson should "stop bitching and work and play basketball." Bickerstaff said his advice to Jackson is to "focus on what Paul Westhead wants. You can't feel sorry for yourself."
On Wednesday night, Jackson responded with a season-high 27 points.
Similarly up and down in the first quarter of the season were Orlando's Dennis Scott and Miami's Willie Burton.
Scott, the No. 4 pick, is leading the NBA in 3-pointers, including a league-high six against Golden State on Nov. 30.
But typical of his season were Orlando's opening four games. He scored a total of nine points on 3-for-18 shooting in the first three, then scored 28 in the fourth.
Since then, Scott has had five more games with 20 or more points and three games with two or less.
Burton, the ninth pick in 1990, scored 25 and 24 points as Miami won two of the first four games he played, then added 21 against Houston on Nov. 17. At that point of the season, he was the Heat's leading scorer with a 17.5 average.
In his next 14 games, Burton averaged 8.6 points on 34.8 percent shooting.