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On draft night, did anyone think Tyreke Evans would be this good, this soon?
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Rookie Rankings: Future's bright heading into next decade

Posted Dec 30 2009 7:03AM

With a 2010 upon us, I felt it appropriate to take a quick inventory of the 2009 Draft class as a whole.

While many considered this to be one of the weakest classes, it's clear the next decade will be a good one. Tyreke Evans has established himself as a future (if not now) superstar. Brandon Jennings grabbed everyone's attention with his 55-point night and looks to be a steal at No. 10. And foreigners like Jonas Jerebko and Omri Casspi have quickly made names for themselves.

But the quality of this draft class may be, surprisingly, in its depth. To grasp the impact this class has had, consider this: 24 different rookies have started at one point this season (18 of the 30 teams have started a rookie) and 12 players are seeing at least 20 minutes of action per game.

That's a serious contribution.'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. You can also follow him on Twitter. For past week's rankings, click here.

1. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
The only thing slowing down Evans these days, at least statistically, is a bum ankle. Evans was hurt in the Kings' tough 112-103 loss to the Lakers on Dec. 26 and missed Sacramento's win over Denver on Monday. Evans is doubtful for Wednesday, when the Kings (14-16) can surpass last season's win total with a victory over the Sixers. Over the last two weeks, Evans has gone from extreme high -- helping the Kings overcome a 35-point deficit to stun the Bulls -- to an extreme low -- coming up empty down the stretch in an overtime loss to the Lakers. "It was the worst I have ever played in the NBA," Evans said. "This is definitely the worst I have felt after a game. I had two chances and I really had one chance to win the game and I didn't pull it out."

2. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 10
Jennings has been vocal over the past two weeks, from saying the Bucks will make the playoffs (I have no problem with the confidence) to tweeting immediately after a Bucks win (for which he got a $7500 fine). It's obvious Jennings has been trying to distribute the ball more (he said recently the 55-point game was a "curse" in that everyone sees him as a scorer only). In seven games over the last two weeks, Jennings is averaging 6.7 assists (to go along with 14.4 points) and continues to lead all rookies in the category.

3. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 6
Flynn must be licking his chops for another meeting with Deron Williams and the Jazz. The Wolves have won the two meetings this season, and Flynn and the Wolves welcome Utah to town Wednesday for the third meeting. After seeing Flynn average 22.0 points and 4.0 assists in the two games, Utah's Carlos Boozer was impressed. "He's a stud, man," Boozer told the Salt Lake Tribune. "I didn't know how good he was until we played them. And he played great both games. ... He wasn't afraid of D-Will. You know, we have an all-world point guard and he wasn't afraid of him at all."

4. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 23
Over the last two weeks, Casspi scored in double-digits in six of seven games, while averaging 14.6 points and 4.8 rebounds. Casspi is looking more and more like he belongs, and his play -- along with that of Tyreke Evans -- may have been a big reason for the Kings rewarding president Geoff Petrie with a three-year extension. You can follow Casspi's progress on the newly launched Web site, which features videos, a blog and a way for fans to interact with Casspi.

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 7
During the past two weeks, Curry had two of his best games of his young career. Against the Wizards on Dec. 18, Curry had a career-high 27 points (but the Wizards got the win). Then, five days later, Curry just missed a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists (but Chris Paul and the Hornets got the win). Of course, he followed that up by going scoreless in 11 minutes after being abused by Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo in the Warriors' 103-99 win over the Warriors. Still, Don Nelson likes what he sees out of Curry, especially on the defensive end. "He's doing a lot better than he was at the beginning of the season," Nelson told the San Jose Mercury News. "I know coach (Keith) Smart has been working with him a lot, talking about his stance and not backing up so much in transition. He's doing a lot better. He's taking on the challenge, and he's meeting it."

6. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 39
You know that rookie wall many first-year players hit? When it comes to Jerebko, Pistons coach John Kuester might be waiting in vain. "Boy, Jonas has been a pleasant surprise for us this year," Kuester told the Detroit News. "I keep saying that because I'm afraid he's going to hit a wall someday and I'm going to finally have to yell at him, 'You're not working hard enough.'" Jerebko has 'hard work' in spades, and continues to make a solid contribution, even with the return of Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton.

7. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 18
The Nuggets have lost five of their last six, and Lawson -- who has filled in admirably for Chauncey Billups sidelined with an ankle injury -- knows he'll need to stop up as a shooter to help the Nuggets out of their funk. "I think first, no one really knew about me, so I was getting a lot of things easily," Lawson told the Denver Post. "But now, people are changing their defenses, going under screens and stuff like that, just clogging the paint. I haven't shot it yet, but that's what I've been working on lately. So I've got to adjust to what they're doing. It's probably going to take a little bit of work, but I'm adjusting to the game real well."

8. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 3
Harden has made the most of increased playing time. In the Thunder's last eight games, Harden has averaged 11.6 points and scored in double-digits in five straight at one point. But with so many options in OKC, Harden continues to fly under the radar, thanks to his team-first attitude. "You can never have enough unselfish playmakers," Thunder coach Scott Brooks told the East Valley Tribune. "The thing I like about him is he's unselfish but he can do a lot of things scoring-wise. Some guys are unselfish because they can't be selfish. They can't score. They can't make plays. James can, but he puts his teammates first."

9. Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: FA
Utah's rookie isn't making life on coach Jerry Sloan any easier. With the return of C.J. Miles from preseason thumb surgery, Matthews saw his playing time drop. But, Miles has struggled to get reacclimated and Matthews has done what he's done all season -- be ready when his number's been called. Last Saturday was a perfect example of that as Matthews scored 16 points and grabbed seven boards to help the Jazz beat the Sixers 97-76 on a night when Miles had just two points in 11 minutes. Carlos Boozer called Matthews the "key to the game" and Miles was left answering questions about a position battle. "Wesley has been playing well all year," Miles told the Salt Lake Tribune. "So if a change is made, a change is made. I mean, there were a couple of games where I played a little better and they made a change. So, if it comes down to it, I'm sure they'll do it again. They're going to play whoever is playing well. That's what [Sloan] is supposed to do. He's the coach."

10. Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers
Last Week: -- | Drafted: 13
Hansbrough has finally caught my attention. For whatever reason -- oh, maybe his 36 percent field-goal percentage -- I held Psycho T ouf of the top 10, but the UNC product finally makes his debut in the rankings. In seven games over the last two weeks (he missed Tuesday's game with an inner-ear infection), Hansbrough has averaged 10.2 points and 6.7 rebounds and finished with back-to-back double-doubles. Hansbrough still struggled from the field in that period, going just 20-for-65 (30.7 percent), so if he hopes to stay in the top 10, he'll need to improve from the floor.

Honorable Mention: DeJuan Blair, Spurs: Has started the last five games, averaging 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds; Taj Gibson, Bulls: Saw playing time dip slightly with Tyrus Thomas back, but still averaged 8.5 and 6.3 in last six games; Sam Young, Grizzlies: Has averaged 9.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in last six games (Grizzlies won four of the six); Jeff Pendergraph, Trail Blazers: had 11 points, five rebounds in his fourth game with the team

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