By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Dec 17 2008 11:56PM
I'm in Portland this week exploring the Rip City revival going on at the Rose Garden Arena. I wanted to make the best use of the trip as possible and so far it hasn't disappointed as the city greeted me with a blanket of snow and ice, a welcome sight that actually made me feel like Christmas is coming.
Try as I might, I've had a hard time getting geared up for the holiday while living in Los Angeles where "The First Noel" is celebrated by some people who ask for The First Nose Job and "Away in a Manger" plays on the radio of those who drive Away in a Range Rover.
Even the Christmas tree in downtown L.A. that sits across the street from the STAPLES Center, is nothing but a fake rendering of a tree, an amalgam of aluminum and neon-colored LED lights that brings to mind going to an overhyped L.A. nightclub before I think of leaving out milk and cookies for Santa.
Two days in the Rose City has softened some of my cynicism however. Maybe it was the trip to the Nike employee store where I saw the Kings' Kevin Martin going through a rack of baby clothes and carefully selecting a few onesies or perhaps it was stopping by the restaurant chain "McMenamin's," asking a waitress there if they sell any merchandise, having her come back with three t-shirts saying that this was all they had in stock and me replying, "I'll take them all."
It was one of those statements I've always wanted to make, along the lines of "Stop the presses!" announcing to a crowded bar "This round's on me!" asking the love of my life "Will you marry me?" or being able to say proudly in my lifetime that "Philadelphia is home to the World Champions."
OK, so I've crossed two off the list.
Since I've finally found that Christmas giving spirit with eight days left until Dec. 25, it's time to give some play in the Rookie Rankings to not just one player in this week's intro, as I've done with Mike Beasley, Greg Oden and O.J. Mayo in recent weeks.
The Blazers are tied with the Warriors for having the most rookies with four, but since Golden State has sent Richard Hendrix and DeMarcus Nelson down to the D-League already, Portland can claim outright of having the most rookies of any other team.
It's an interesting group, this foursome of Oden, Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum and Jerryd Bayless. Two of them, Oden and Fernandez, are rookies despite being drafted in 2007 and the other two, Batum and Bayless, were selected in '08, but by Indiana and Houston, respectively.
Oden was the No. 1 pick, but Fernandez averages the most points (11.1) and plays the most minutes (26.4) out of the four.
Bayless was the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 29.8 points per game on 48.5 percent shooting compared to Batum's 6.8 on 34.3 percent, yet the virtually unknown Frenchman, Batum, was named a starter at the beginning of the season while the blue chipper out of University of Arizona, Bayless, has only seen the court in 10 of the Blazers' 26 games this season and only logged double-digit minutes once.
Don't forget about their diverse backgrounds, with Oden raised in Indiana and playing ball at Ohio State, Bayless from Arizona, Fernandez from Spain and Batum from France.
Here are some thoughts, notes, observations about each of the four after taking in Tuesday's Portland-Sacramento game ...
Batum (pronounced Bah-Toom) flirted with the top 10 in the Rookie Rankings early on in the season but had fallen off the map, going 3-for-18 in the first seven games of December before breaking through with an impressive night, collecting 12 points and six rebounds to go with a steal and a block.
His scores were all electric, be it filling the lane for a smooth finger roll on the break, tipping in a missed shot with a put-back dunk or drilling a three from the corner.
He had some lapses on defense early and looked exposed by John Salmons on a couple possessions, but he only turned 20-years-old less than a week ago, so we can cut him some slack there.
I played a little word association game with all four rookies, asking each of them to comment on the first thing that comes to mind about each other and then about themselves.
Greg Oden: "Big."
Jerryd Bayless: "Crazy."
Rudy Fernandez: "Fantastic."
I asked him if he meant that he was surprised or if he's a surprise to everybody else?
The Blazers were blowing out the Kings so badly last night that Bayless got to play the last eight minutes at the point. He missed a wide open three from the corner and left it way short on his first attempt. The 6-3, 200-pounder is compact and so is his stroke, he doesn't get a ton of arch on his release. Later on in his run he showcased his ridiculous athleticism with a powerful two-handed dunk after making a move along the baseline.
His final line: four points on 1-for-4 shooting, two points, two assists, one steal, zero turnovers.
After a game a reporter came up to him and joked with him, "One-for-four man, you're killing your shooting percentage!" Bayless responded as straight faced as can be, "I don't even care about that one bit."
That should give you a little bit of a glimpse into JB, who has a chip on his shoulder the size of the beautiful high definition jumbotron in the Rose Garden that shows highlights made by all of his Blazers teammates who have gotten extended playing time this season.
As for his thoughts on the other rookies ...
Greg Oden: "Special ... He's a once in a lifetime big man."
Rudy Fernandez: "Exciting ... He does things on the court to bring a lot of energy to people; he's just an exciting player."
Nicolas Batum: "Long ... and he makes plays."
Himself: "Just trying to get on the floor ..."
What about when he's on the floor though?
"I don't know, he hasn't been on the floor long enough to make that assessment yet."
But you're a driven guy, you're a confident guy ... I saw what you did on the court this summer ...
"I'm confident, I'm just saying, I can't really make that assessment yet."
There's that chip again. But I like the guy. He's fiery, he's feisty. During the game he was active and cheered for his teammates and said that while sitting on the bench hasn't helped him physically that he has, "learned a lot more sitting on the bench next to the coaches and what not. Learning the things they like to do in different situations. That's what I think I've improved on in this time."
Rudy is just a fun guy and that statement has nothing to do with his Seth Rogan style hairdo. Before the game he was marveling at the snow fall, saying that it was the first time he's ever seen snow and sharing with a couple reporters how he spent his day building a snowman and struggled navigating the icy roads in his Subaru. He was just as engaging with fellow countryman Sergio Rodriguez as he was with Joel Przybilla, the reporters or the locker room attendants.
He scored 12 points in the game and just like Batum, did it in impressive fashion with an alley-oop here, a stepback-fadeaway-off-the-glass jumper there and a double-clutch and-one layup thrown into the mix.
He has scored in double digits in 17 of Portland's 26 games and has knocked down three triples or more on 10 occasions.
His thoughts on the rooks ...
Greg Oden: "Big."
Nicolas Batum: "Future."
Jerryd Bayless: "Strong."
Himself: "Me? Aggressive."
It has to come back to Oden, the man averaging 8.0 points and 8.0 rebounds on a 16-10 team, which would be a pretty good year for any other first year player that didn't have to sit out a year with an injury and have his hype marinate all that time.
Oden hit right on his averages pretty much with eight points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes. He was 3-for-6 from the field, including two impressive dunks.
One of them came on the pick-and-roll with Steve Blake, where Oden set a high screen and then came barreling through the lane to pick up a perfectly placed Blake bounce pass that G.O. tomahawked home.
The other was a particularly telling sequence. Oden was in the short corner faced up to the basket with the ball and only Spencer Hawes standing between him and the rim. After taking a jab step and pausing for a half a second, the Portland crowd started to stir, "OK, here we get to see our No. 1 pick do something other than labor up and down the court!" Oden obliged, employing a drop step move that Hawes adeptly defended by poking the ball away. Oden used his immense reach to haul in the loose ball, while still staying anchored to his excellent post position and finished the play with a two handed slam.
On Sacramento's ensuing possession on the other end of the court, Hawes received the ball in an iso against Oden with a chance to return the favor, but Batum ran off his man to come double and harass Hawes just enough to make him pass back out to the perimeter.
One sequence, two plays -- one excellent individual effort by a Portland rookie and one excellent team effort by a different Portland rookie.
After the game Greg Oden slipped out the locker room behind me before I got to ask him about his rookie teammates.
The whole bit wouldn't work in this story unless I got all four guys, so in a panic I ambled to the exit to find Oden just about ready to walk out the door. He had already fulfilled his media duties, I had messed up, but he let me ask nonetheless.
Rudy Fernandez: "Smiling."
Jerryd Bayless: "Just, hard."
Nicolas Batum: "Quiet."
Did you just say Greg or great?
Oh, OK, thanks.
Just Greg, Rudy, Nicolas and Jerryd. Just four rookies finding their way.
Korleone Young Drop of the Week: Four players (-1)
Eddie Gottlieb Rise of the Week: D.J. Augustin CHA (+3)
The Next 10 (alphabetical order): Ryan Anderson (NJN), George Hill (SAS), Courtney Lee (ORL), Kevin Love (MIN), Luc Mbah a Moute (MIL), JaVale McGee (WAS), Anthony Morrow (GSW), Greg Oden (POR), Anthony Randolph (GSW), Jason Thompson (SAC)
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