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Rookie Rankings: On the Blazers' Trail

By Dave McMenamin,
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 ...

Nicolas Batum

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."

Himself: "Surprise."

I asked him if he meant that he was surprised or if he's a surprise to everybody else?

Line of the Week
D.J. Augustin (CHA)
Dec. 16 vs. CHI
29 points, 7 ast, 1 stl
4-7 3-FG, 13-13 FT, 2 reb

"I'm surprised."

Jerryd Bayless

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 Fernandez

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."

Greg Oden

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."

Greg: "Greg."

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)

Overall Rankings - Week 7

1. O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis
4.2 2.7 1.2 0.1 .472 .405 .885
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 3
Memphis won four games in a row last week before falling to the Hornets, thus justly boosting Mayo back holding the conch for the first time since Week 2. Speaking of Mayo, I read that he prefers Miracle Whip to mayonnaise. Is that even allowed? That would be like if Jon Hamm from Mad Men only ate turkey sandwiches.

2. Derrick Rose, G, Chicago
24 39.0 17.7 4.0
1.0 0.2 .477 .323 .813
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 1
Rose relinquishes the top spot for the first time in four weeks after losing head-to-head battles with both Mayo and Augustin last week. On Wednesday morning I opened up my USA Today to the sports section to read a glowing Rose column on the front page. Later that night the Memphis product had his worst night of the season, going 3-for-16 with three turnovers and a -9 +/- rating in the loss to Augustin and the Bobcats. There's already a Sports Illustrated cover jinx and a Madden cover jinx, is it possible that USA Today is vying to complete the trifecta?

3. Michael Beasley, F, Miami
23 26.7 14.1 5.1 1.0 0.6 0.5 .449 .360 .773
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 2
Beasley missed a game with the flu last week and in the process moved closer to Rose and the apple peeling incident in the race for Oddest Rookie Injury/Illness when he told reporters that, "The only thing I can think of was [the flu is] from my dogs." Insert your own "sick as a dog" joke here.

4. D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte
26 30.0 13.9 1.9 4.5 0.6 0.0 .410 .427 .938
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 9
Thought the addition of Raja Bell, one of Larry Brown's favorite players he?s ever coached, was going to cut into Augustin's playing time? Errrrr, wrong. On the contrary, Augustin is logging huge minutes, playing 40-plus in two of Charlotte's four games last week.

5. Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City
26 28.4 12.8 4.0 4.2 1.7 0.2 .375 .257 .807
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 4
I never thought I'd say this, but the Thunder's garish color scheme is actually growing on me. Click on Westbrook's name to see his picture on his player page. That?s a good looking jersey. I thought good and hard before deciding not to buy Kevin Durant's sneakers at the Nike store the other day because there?s something about the light blue and the strong yellow, orange and red against the black in their color way that really pops out at you. Westbrook's shooting percentages continue to rise while OKC continues to drop games.

6. Rudy Fernandez, G-F, Portland
26 26.4 11.1 3.3 1.9 0.9 0.2 .419 .398 .930
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 24 by Phoenix in 2007
Since we had a little fun with Mayo's name and mentioned Beasley's dog story, how about this story out of L.A. about a different Rudy Fernandez that combines them both? When I heard it teased the other day while watching the news on my TV I almost fell out of my chair. Thankfully, the heinous act wasn't by our Rudy.

7. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis
25 28.7 10.9 6.8 1.4 0.6 1.0 .541 .000 .747
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 48 by L.A. Lakers in 2007
Everybody break out your calendars. It's t-minus five days until Marc and the Grizzlies take on Pau and the Lakers for the first time in their careers. The game is unlikely to drum up Eli vs. Peyton level hype, but this is Marc's chance to start proving that that Pau for Kwame deal last year wasn't highway robbery after all.

8. Mario Chalmers, G, Miami
24 30.8 10.1 2.7 4.3 2.0 0.1 .444 .374 0.709
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 34
Chalmers' 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting to go with seven rebounds, eight assists and a steal against Milwaukee put him in serious consideration for Line of the Week status. Unfortunately for Chalmers, if you scope out the whole line you see that he also had five fouls and five turnovers and the Heat lost by 15, so his near triple-double kind of loses some of its luster.

9. Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey
23 27.1 9.7 7.4 0.8 0.5
.469 .000 .788
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 10
Brook's blocks per game average is first amongst rookies, second in the Eastern Conference and seventh in all of the NBA, only trailing Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby, Chris Anderson, Ronny Turiaf, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson.

10. Eric Gordon, G, L.A. Clippers
24 24.2 8.7 2.0 1.8 1.1 0.5 .439 .373 .796
Last Week: The Next 10 | Drafted: 7
Gordon shot a blistering 18-for-27 in the Clippers' three-game winning streak last week (yes, you read that right, the Clips appear to have turned the ship around) and makes his first appearance in the top 10 since draft night because of it.
RED = Rookie Leader (Must Qualify)

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)



Nathan Jawai (TOR) was cleared to begin physical activity with the Raptors after being sidelined as a precautionary reason after concerns about a cardiac condition arose. The bruising 6-10, 280-pound Australian possesses a 7-5 wingspan and is the latest prospect to hold the "Baby Shaq" torch.
Jawad Williams (CLE) got out of the HNPAMY Club with some spot duty in the Cavs? big win over the 76ers last week. And then there were six.
The HNPAMY (Have Not Played A Minute Yet) Club: J.R. Giddens (BOS)*, Hamed Haddadi (MEM)*, Richard Hendrix (GSW)*, Nathan Jawai (TOR), Sonny Weems (DEN)*, D.J. White (OKC)
* = assigned to D-League

photoLeonard Leads the Spurs
Kawhi Leonard scores a game-high 25 points to lead the Spurs to a win over the Lakers.
photoRight Down Central Avenue
Gary Harris gets the ball beyond the arc and drives right down the lane for the tomahawk slam.
photoWall Throws Down Oop
John Wall pokes the ball away on the defensive end and catches the lob from Otto Porter for the slam on the other end.
photoPut Back For Bogdanovic
Bojan Bogdanovic gets the put back for his new team, the Wizards.
photoWall Finds Oubre For Dunk
John Wall picks up the loose ball and throws it ahead to Kelly Oubre Jr. for the dunk.

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