2011 NBA Draft: Biggest Steals so Far

Six of the top seven picks from the 2011 Draft are seeing only marginal minutes. The #1 overall pick Kyrie Irving is starting, but the six picks that follow him before Brandon Knight (31.5 mpg) are either not yet in the league (Jonas Valanciunas) or still coming off the bench for their respective teams.

That said, there are a good number of guys taken after them in the draft who have made far more significant contributions. #9 overall pick Kemba Walker is seeing good minutes (29.2 per game), and #10 overall pick Jimmer Fredette has had his share of minutes, though not by any means a lot (13.2 per game).

We'll take a look at four guys who have outperformed expectations so far. Three of the four have received opportunities to start at some point this season, while Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors has yet to crack the starting lineup.

#11 Golden State: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson put up 21.3 points per game in his senior year at Washington State, while shooting 39.8% from behind the arc. His percentages this year have been even better. Through 25 games, Thompson is 37 of 74 (50%) from downtown.

Thompson is also shooting 47.8% from the field. His per-36 stats project to 16.3 points and 3.2 threes made. He's been a key member on a Warriors team that is within striking distance of the Playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Unlike the other three rookies who I feel have been steals, Thompson may be showing his skills off in the NBA Playoffs. It's far from cemented yet, as the Warriors are still on the outside looking in approaching the half way point of the year, but Thompson showed in the NCAA tournament last year in March that he is capable of shining on the big stage.

Thompson is currently only seeing 16.8 minutes per game, and while he has posted double figure scoring in four of the last five Warriors' games, he is still not receiving more than 21 minutes a night in any game, making his ascent blocked by the talented Warriors backcourt.

#13 Phoenix: Markieff Morris

I've favorably compared Markieff Morris to a young Shawn Marion. Morris is seeing 20.4 minutes a game and getting 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks in that time. Per-36, that works out to over a steal and over a block per game (1.1, 1.1). He also hits 1.6 threes per-36 and posts 13.2 points per-36 and 8.7 rebounds.

Compare that to Marion's per-36 from his rookie year in Phoenix, when he posted 14.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks…without the threes (0.1 per game). Marion did not add the three point shot until his third season in the league, so Morris has a step up on him there.

Remarkably, Morris' twin brother Marcus went the pick right after him to the Houston Rockets and hasn't seen a lick of playing time. So far, Morris seems like the one that is going to pan out, but we're not going to pass any definitive judgements until Marcus gets some playing time.

#15 San Antonio (via Indiana): Kawhi Leonard

As I wrote last week, Kawhi Leonard has drawn high praises from San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who favorably compared Leonard's defensive skill to Spurs legend Bruce Bowen, whose number 12 now hangs in the rafters.

Fortunately for the Spurs, Leonard may be an even better scorer than Bowen, who was mostly limited to corner threes throughout most of his NBA career. Leonard is posting per-36 scoring of 10.4 points on 44.9% shooting. Bruce Bowen's career high per-36 scoring was only 9.4 points, so we are already looking at a better scorer, even if he never improves a lick (unlikely).

Even in only 23.8 minutes per game, Leonard is still stealing the ball 1.2 times per game, and his per-36 steals work out to 1.8 per game. That, along with a decent three point shot (35.3% on 1.2 attempts per game this season), should make Leonard a very valuable swingman moving forward, and he compares favorably to the Indiana Pacers' Paul George, who put up very similar (though slightly better offensively) numbers as a rookie last season and is now making a huge impact.

#17 New York: Iman Shumpert

Shumpert was originally projected to be a late second round pick, but his amazing athleticism and work ethic impressed scouts at the NBA Draft Camp, and his stock shot up in the weeks leading up to the draft. The Knicks made it known they wanted Shumpert, and lucked out in getting him.

Shumpert started out the season, after returning from injury that is, on fire. In his first game returning from injury, he posted 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists in about 30 minutes of play. He went on to score double figures in the next seven of the Knicks' next eight games, including a now tied career high of 20 against the Phoenix Suns, when he shot 8 of 14 from the floor and picked up 4 steals. Shumpert's last outing, against the Timberwolves, he scored 20 points on 9 of 16 shooting, again also getting four steals.

I wrote about two weeks ago on January 29th that Shumpert appeared to be hitting the wall according to Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, who said he wanted to "make sure he (Shumpert) could recover." To me, and many others, that signaled the decline of Shumpert.

Shumpert scored only 6.6 points per game over the next five games following that piece, and I went ahead and dropped him in all but keeper leagues where his value is much greater considering his early performance.

It looks like that may have been a mistake as Shumpert has scored 17, 12, and 20 in his last three games while shooting 50% from the floor and getting 3.0 steals per game. That kind of production easily makes Shumpert a top 50 pick, and he'll be top 50 next year as he will be better prepared to play a full season, and one that isn't condensed at that.

#25 New Jersey (via Boston): MarShon Brooks

How good is MarShon Brooks? Other than Kyrie Irving, he has outscored all rookies, and he wasn't even taken until the end of the first round.

Though he has been injured some, in the 19 games Brooks has played, he has posted 14.0 points per game, and his per-36 scoring is 17.8 per game. He's hitting 44.2% from the floor on 11.9 attempts per game and also getting 1.1 steals per night to go with his 1.1 threes (which he shoots at a 36.2% clip).

To those who follow the NCAA, it really isn't coming as much of a surprise. Brooks was the Number two overall scorer in the nation last year in his senior year at Providence, as he posted 24.6 points per game on 48.3% shooting from the floor.

Truly, his NBA upside may be that high, as well. He has shown the ability to get good shots almost at will and his shooting percentage may be higher if he hadn't been forced into so many late shot clock shots. With Brook Lopez returning soon, Brooks should see an increase in efficiency.

Brooks has already posted six 20+ point games in the 19 games he has played and though his minutes haven't been as high the last three games (20.3 minutes per game during that stretch), he is obviously a fixture in the future of the Nets, along with Deron Williams should they be able to retain him. Brooks, like Shumpert, makes a viable fifth keeper in keep-five leagues.

Note: Second rounders Chandler Parsons (pick #38), Jon Leuer (pick #40), Isaiah Thomas (pick #60) and are all making decent impacts on their respective teams, as well, but I chose to focus on first rounders in this piece.

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Updated Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012