Rookie Of The First Trimester: Nikola Mirotic, Chicago
A draft for the ages, huh?
The NBA's much-hyped Class of 2014, as a collective, is in the midst of a thoroughly forgettable and deflating introduction to the pros. Only two rookies -- Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker -- are scoring in double figures. And that's with Wiggins leading all rookies at a mere 12.6 points per game, with Parker, after going No. 2 overall, suddenly out for the season after a knee tear that has sadly shelved him just like No. 3 pick Joel Embiid (foot), No. 4 Aaron Gordon (foot) and No. 7 Julius Randle (leg).
So you could make the argument, in this climate, that we should have skipped this category entirely for Trimester purposes. The problem there is that some youngster is eventually going to win Rookie of the Year honors in late April or early May, no matter how underwhelming his production might be, so we're somewhat duty-bound to try to identify a leader at the one-third stage.
Which brings us to Mirotic.
Perhaps he's not a rookie in the truest sense after spending more than half a decade in Real Madrid's system before finally matriculating to Chicago, but what qualifies as big league production from Mirotic in the month of December -- averages of 10.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and .419 shooting from 3-point range -- is enough to put him in the lead.
Who else could we conceivably propose here? Wiggins and Nerlens Noel have shown occasional flashes, as has Noel's Philly teammate K.J. McDaniels, but none of those more celebrated recent draftees is clearly on an upward career arc at this juncture.
As of Christmas morning, Mirotic was the only rookie in circulation with a PER above the league average of 15.0, sitting at a promising 18.2. No. 11 overall pick Doug McDermott was actually supposed to be Chicago's marquee rookie, but McDermott's own Year 1 knee woes have helped open the door for his 23-year-old fellow rook to establish himself as a rotation player.
It also doesn't hurt Mirotic's Trimester cause that his new Three-kola nickname, meant to be shouted with the gusto of the guy in the Ricola cough drops commercials, is pretty catchy.