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ROOKIE REPORT

Rookie Rankings: Griffin injury throws race wide open

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Oct 28 2009 12:31PM

Well, this changes everything.

If you would have asked me Monday afternoon to name my pick for 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, there would have been no hesitation: Blake Griffin.

Now? Not so much.

With news that Griffin will miss six weeks with a fractured kneecap, the race for ROY has been thrown wide open. Six weeks works out to about 20 games -- or about 1/4 of the season -- and that's not even taking into account the time that the No. 1 pick will need to reacquaint himself with his Clippers teammates and get back into playing shape.

So, which rookie will take advantage and separate himself from the field? What once appeared to be a one-man race with a few longshots just got a lot more interesting.

Here's my best guess for how the Top 10 will look at the end of the season.

NBA.com's Rookie Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Wednesday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Drew Packham, send him an e-mail.

1. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
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00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 4
The only thing working against Evans is this: He plays for the Kings. Evans is going to have a monster year, no doubt about that. Playing big minutes in the backcourt alongside Kevin Martin, I fully expect Evans to average around 18 points, five boards and five assists. But, his team will be lucky to win 20 games and voters may take that into consideration when it comes time to fill out their ballots. Still, Evans is a special player and, if he can improve in the turnover department (he averaged 4.0 in the preseason), he’ll be taking home the ROY trophy come April.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 7
The last four Rookie of the Year winners have been guards (Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Brandon Roy and Chris Paul), so Curry may have a good chance at the top prize. Playing in Don Nelson's system, Curry should put up decent scoring and assist numbers (I'm thinking about 14 points and six assists), but the Warriors are more concerned with the defensive end, where team may try to take advantage of the small backcourt pairing of Curry and Monta Ellis (both are 6-foot-3). "I might be undersized, but I'll hold my own," Curry told the Contra-Costa Times.

3. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 1
At the end of the season, Griffin's injury could end up being his best argument for his Rookie of the Year candidacy. With the top pick in tow, expectations were high in Hollywood. So if the Clippers get out of the gate slow, the return of Griffin -- who brings an energy and desire fans in L.A. (Clippers fans, anyway) have rarely seen. athleticism for a big man -- may be just the spark the Clips need to turn things around. If that happens, what voter won’t see the benefit Griffin brings and give him even more credit as the Clippers' savior?

4. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 6
New coach Kurt Rambis was quick to hand the reins to Flynn, whom Al Jefferson compared to another smaller point guard, Chris Paul. "He's a giant inside that small body," Jefferson told the Pioneer Press. "He won't be denied. That's the type of leader from the point guard position we need for our team." With Rambis' support -- and despite the addition of point guard Ramon Sessions -- this is Flynn's show, which should lead to big numbers and, if Al Jefferson returns to form, more wins for the Wolves.

5. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 10
Ready or not, Jennings is the Bucks' starting point guard on opening night. After coach Scott Skiles chose the 20-year-old over veteran Luke Ridnour, Jennings called it a "dream come true." Jennings showed flashes of brilliance in the preseason, leading all rookies in assists (he should finish the regular season as the top dime man) and showed a knack for the occasional steal on defense. "I am excited, nervous, of course, as all rookies would be," Jennings told the Journal-Sentinel. "I just have to go out there and run the team and stay calm."

6. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 3
It appears Harden will start the season as the backup shooting guard to the more defensive-minded Thabo Sefolosha. Still, Harden should see big minutes as one of the first Thunder players off the bench and could carve a nice role as the leader of the second unit. If he can improve defensively, Harden should take over the starting job and put up decent numbers. With Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook carrying the scoring load, Harden will be able to focus on knocking down spot 3-pointers and should finish with a double-digit scoring average.

7. DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 37
People are very high on Blair these days. Maybe it's because he slipped so far in the draft (37th overall), or maybe it's because Gregg Popovich called him a "gift" earlier in the preseason. Teams were scared away by Blair's bad knees, but if the preseason is any indication Blair doesn't need ACLs and will end up being the steal of the Draft. He may struggle to find minutes, but that wasn't a problem in the preseason as the 6-foot-7 forward averaged 13.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17.7 minutes per game.

8. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 9
DeRozan is the starter in Toronto, but head coach Jay Triano isn't happy about it. "I would love to not start DeMar; the position isn't given to him, and right now, just due to injuries, it's his by default and I want him to earn that spot," Triano said earlier in the preseason. It's not that Triano doesn't see DeRozan's ability (that's hard not to notice), it's that he wants the USC product to be pushed by fellow shooting guard Antoine Wright (who is nursing a knee injury). With starter's minutes, though, DeRozan should average around 10 points and could be a key cog in the Raptors' playoff hopes.

9. Terrence Williams, New Jersey Nets
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0.00.00.00.00.00.00.0.000.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 11
Nets coach Lawrence Frank sees Williams' value -- and he steals a football analogy to describe his skillset. "When you have good players, it's on the coaching staff to figure out how can they maximize their time," Frank said earlier this week. "That's why we'll play some unorthodox lineups to get ... Terrence on the floor, similar to the Wildcat football philosophy." Frank is ready to deploy a four-guard lineup (Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Williams) and loves the frenzy it creates for opposing teams. If Williams can take advantage of that high-energy role, he should put up big numbers. The Louisville product was in the top 10 among rookies in almost every category in the preseason and I fully expect him to end the season with top-10 numbers across the board.

10. Chase Budinger, Houston Rockets
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115.06.01.00.00.00.0.429.000.000
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 44
Along with San Antonio's DeJuan Blair (see above), Budinger may end up as one of the steals of the 2009 Draft. Budinger fell to the Rockets with the 44th pick, and with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady out with injuries, the athletic forward will see decent playing time. He may not put up huge numbers, but his hustle and ability to defend will keep him on the floor. "He's a really solid rookie," coach Rick Adelman said last week. "He can really shoot the ball. He's smart. He's played well since camp started. I've been real pleased with Chase. He really knows how to play the game. His whole success is going to be based on how he learns to defend."

Honorable Mention: Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies: A work in progress who will be judged on his ability to rebound and alter shots in the paint; Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls: Was an energetic presence for the Bulls in the preseason; Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: Should see some decent minutes as Mike Bibby's backup; James Johnson, Chicago Bulls: Aside from his buzzer-beater in London, Johnson showed he is ready to contribute; Darren Collison, New Orleans Hornets: No one better to learn from than Chris Paul

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