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Dave McMenamin

Rookie Rankings

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Rookie Rankings: It's Tourney Time

By Dave McMenamin, NBA.com
Posted Mar 20 2009 2:17PM

Chicago's Derrick Rose might be the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year, but even if Rose does take home the trophy, Miami's Mario Chalmers, ranked here in the Next 10, will always have one win over him.

Chalmers' 3-pointer in the waning moments forced last year's NCAA Championship game into overtime and lifted Kansas to an epic comeback win over Rose's Memphis squad.

The 2009 NCAA Tournament begins this week and in a way, so too do the 2009-10 Rookie Rankings. You can be sure to see a few dozen of the players competing in the tourney over the next few weeks making their start in the NBA next year.

With that in mind, we brought in our good friend and college basketball expert Adam Stanco of NaismithLives.com to try to match the needs of the teams in the league bound for the lottery with the talent that will be on display in the tournament.

NBA.com: Let's start with the Wizards. They don't have one glaring need. The good news is they (should) get back Gilbert Arenas playing combo guard and Brendan Haywood at center next season. They drafted a big in JaVale McGee last season and acquired a young point in Javaris Crittenton as well. I think they're set at guard and center. They could use a slashing, athletic forward coming off the bench. What's out there? Then again, they could have one of the top five picks judging on their record, so which one of the can't-miss prospects fit them the best?

Stanco: This draft is interesting because it's Blake Griffin up top and then everybody else. The Oklahoma sophomore stands 6-foot-10 and is as athletic as you'll find at the forward position, but unless the Wizards win the lottery, they won't have him next year.

Louisville's Earl Clark seems to fit the bill perfectly. He's incredibly athletic, lean, and remarkably long. In fact, anyone who sees him in person is usually stunned by the sight of him. Quite a few people have relayed anecdotes about watching Louisville and spending the entire game straight up staring at Clark. He's under produced in college, but that might just be a result of how much is expected of him. He's a physical oddity with a body built for the next level.

I also love Clark's teammate, Terrence Williams. While Williams isn't nearly as impressive physically as Clark, his basketball IQ is through the roof. Williams is explosive, yet he's also one of the best passers in college basketball. He could be a little more assertive offensively and Rick Pitino says he'll be a great pro once he really starts to develop a jump shot. A scary thought considering that he hit 46 threes on the season.

Some other interesting names to think about are Jordan Hill and Chase Budiner of Arizona, Gerald Henderson of Duke, and the two standout forwards from Wake Forest, Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson.

NBA.com: The Raptors are a mess. Based on talent, they're set at point guard (Jose Calderon) and power forward (Chris Bosh). Based on commitment, they have their center too (Andrea Bargnani). You have to think Shawn Marion will be out of there and Anthony Parker's time, even if he his re-signed, should be over as the starting two guard. I know Arizona State's James Harden is the best two in the tourney, who's another guy that is ranked a little bit lower, seeing as Toronto isn't at the very basement?

Stanco: I've fallen in love with Henderson. As a pro prospect, that is.

He's a junior by name -- his father [Gerald Sr.] was a 13-year NBA vet -- and by class and he's developed tremendously over his three seasons in Durham. He was always one of the best leapers in college, but he's added a mid-range jumper to his arsenal this season. He's also started to figure out how to take over games, as anyone who saw his 35-point explosion against Wake Forest in February can attest to.

Henderson started the season slow, but everything clicked in December and he's been flying up draft boards ever since. He should be available in the early teens.

NBA.com: Sacramento has been four totally different teams from the start of last season with Mike Bibby and Ron Artest, to the finish of last season with no Bibby, to the start of this season with no Bibby and no Artest, to now with nobody besides Kevin Martin, Bobby Jackson, Kenny Thomas and Francisco Garcia that has played three full seasons with the Kings. This team needs the best player available, but they already have Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson as young, developing bigs. Take Blake Griffin anyway?

Line of the Week
Kevin Love (MIN)
March 17 at SAS
17 pts, 19 reb, 1 ast
7-11 FG, 3-5 FT

Stanco: Any team with the first overall pick needs to take Blake Griffin.

Adjust your team around his strengths, if need be. He's that good.

Some compare him to Amar'e Stoudemire, but even that's a little misleading because Amar'e can't start your break after grabbing a rebound. Griffin does it at Oklahoma all the time and he usually makes great decisions in transition.

Griffin is also incredibly difficult to double-team because he's unselfish and creative as a passer. The rest of the Sooners are constantly benefiting from open looks he's provided.

His post footwork need some polish, yet that will come with time. Right now he simply spins by, backs down, or leaps over whoever is guarding him. His toughness is legendary, as we all saw when he flew into the crowd to save a loose ball in his first game back from a concussion.

But my favorite part of Griffin is that he truly loves the game. Teammates say he works harder than anyone they've ever seen and it shows. Many projected him as a lottery pick last year and he's twice the player now that he was then.

NBA.com: First, the Clippers need to get healthy. If they can accomplish that, they trot out one of the top 10, if not top five, backcourts in the league with Baron Davis and Eric Gordon. Combine that with the frontline of Al Thornton, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman and they're good 1-6. Then they get as thin as Tayshaun Prince. Rookie Deandre Jordan and Mike Taylor and backup guard Mardy Collins are the only players locked into contracts next year. Steve Novak will probably be brought back, but that still leaves a lot of holes. Camby is getting up there and they could try to move one of those bigs in the offseason. I think Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet could work.

Stanco: Thabeet's a great call.

He's actually the only guy not named Blake Griffin that teams could talk about as the first pick overall. That's not to say he's guaranteed to go second, but rather that he has rare ability.

Thabeet could start tomorrow on a playoff team and make an impact defensively. His defensive talents are well documented. Everyone knows that he's one of the best shot blockers in the history of the Big East (averaging 4.3 blocks per game during his three-year career), yet even more impressive is how he simply terrorizes the opposition. Louisville freshman Samardo Samuels literally looked scared to shoot the ball when he faced the 7-foot-3 Tanzanian in early February. Samuels is a talented post player, yet he was held scoreless -- and took just two shots -- against Thabeet.

This kid is obviously raw offensively, but he just keeps getting better and better. He picked up basketball at a late age and his coaches say that's prevented him from picking up bad habits.

NBA.com: Indiana needs backcourt depth. Jamaal Tinsley should be out of the picture by next season and nobody is going to miss Travis Diener. Last year's darling, Stephen Curry, should be on the board where the Pacers draft. I know he's in the NIT and not the NCAA Tournament, but is he legit or a project? His lack of size concerns me.

Stanco: Curry is slight in stature, but I stopped doubting this kid a while back.

First, no one in the ACC thought he'd be able to play right away so they didn't bother recruiting him. He responded by having a tremendous freshman campaign and capped it off by dropping 30 on Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.

Last year everyone said he wouldn't be as successful because teams would be ready for him, especially come tourney time. Well, he scored 128 points in four games (against strong defensive teams in Gonzaga, Georgetown, Wisconsin, and Kansas) in one of the best individual performances we've ever seen.

But the doubters didn't give in. When Davidson coach Bob McKillop switched Curry from shooting guard to point guard prior to the start of this season, there were grumblings that he'd fall on his face. Instead, he led the nation in scoring at 28.6 points a game and averaged almost six assists a game. [ESPN analyst] Bob Knight even said that he's one of the best collegiate passers he's seen in a long time.

You could join the list of doubters, but not me. I've seen more than enough.

Besides, the league is filled with excellent, undersized combo guards. And one of them -- that's right, I'm talking about you, Mr. Arenas -- happens to be a friend of yours, Dave, and don't I recall people saying the same thing about him?

NBA.com: Maybe Steph and I will have to blog together next year. Back to the bottom feeders: Minnesota has one franchise guy in Al Jefferson and then a bunch of role players. The Timberwolves also have three first round picks saved up. Give me a lottery pick with star potential, a mid-first rounder and late first rounder that you think could step in right away and help a team.

Stanco: Arizona State's James Harden has star potential.

At 6-foot-5, he has great size and he does so many things for the Sun Devils. He can attack the rim or shoot from deep, yet he also sees the floor exceptionally well. He's a southpaw who goes left a little too much, yet that's something he will improve upon. I just love his demeanor. He's always poised and has a natural leadership quality that makes others want to follow him even when he's not saying anything.

As for a mid-first rounder, how about Budinger? Budinger was a volleyball star in high school and it shows in his balance. He plays with great fluidity and timing. He also shoots really well from deep and stays remarkably poised regardless of the situation. However, 'Zona fans have been waiting for three years to see him absolutely dominate. They haven't seen it yet.

For a late-first round pick, I'm going with Wake Forest's James Johnson. I get the feeling he'll slide.

Johnson isn't as highly regarded as his teammate Aminu, but he has a better set of skills. Johnson often pushes the ball up himself and is quite adept at finding the open man in transition. He's also a bit heftier than Aminu and he's also a black belt in karate. He reportedly even won a few world championships in kickboxing as a teenager. The grace necessary to compete in martial arts is evident in the way Johnson plays, despite his big frame.

NBA.com: The Thunder is another team with three first rounders. If I'm an Oklahoma City fan, I'm already so ecstatic with the way my team is coming together with the core of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook that watching the tourney for three more prospects will be sublime. Give me three more guys we haven't touched on. Is Tyreke Evans of Memphis a guy they should consider if they have a top five pick?

Stanco: So, if you're a Thunder fan you're actually thinking about something other than beating the Spurs the other night? I'm surprised those fans didn't rush the floor like college students.

Anyhow, Jeff Teague (Wake Forest), Willie Warren (Oklahoma), and Jrue Holiday (UCLA) are three guys we haven't mentioned.

Teague was terrific early in the season and there isn't much he can't do. He really attacks the rim viciously and can shoot the ball from deep. But he's actually similar to Westbrook in that he's an explosive point guard who can fill it up. For that reason, I don't know how he'd mesh with the guys in Oklahoma City.

Warren is a true shooting guard. The freshman's handle is mesmerizing and his jumper is smooth. Because he plays alongside Griffin, he hasn't learned to dominate. One more year of college would make him a ridiculous prospect, but he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on if he decides to declare.

Holiday is another freshman and he's been really disappointing this season. Some say its because he was overvalued as a prospect, but most say that its because he just isn't the right fit for Ben Howland's system. Also, he probably didn't expect Darren Collison to return to school, forcing him to play off the ball, as opposed to playing the point, the position he'll most likely be playing at the next level. My sources say he's going to declare anyhow.

I'm not that high on Evans. He's definitely talented, but I don't know what position he plays at the next level. He struggled as a shooting guard for Memphis earlier this year and he's had some success at the point, but that's only because he's allowed to launch at will because the Tigers don't really have other scorers. I'd steer clear of Evans until he learns to become a little more unselfish.

NBA.com: The Knicks are an interesting case because who knows if they'll try to extend David Lee and Nate Robinson (or both) as they try to keep cap space open for LeBron James or another big free agent in the summer of 2010. Still, you can't tell me Chris Duhon is the ideal guy for Mike D'Antoni's system. Since you tore the Syracuse bag wide open, what do you think about the Orange's Jonny Flynn? His Big East Tournament has seemed to bump him up from a late first rounder to a fringe lottery guy. Plus, we know he loves playing in Madison Square Garden already.

Stanco: Of course I'm a Jonny Flynn fan. Who isn't? He became a national hero after the courageous performance he gave at the Big East Tournament.

Anyhow, I really like the kid as a prospect. He plays out of control at times, but he obviously plays with a ton of heart and he's talented offensively. Also, his personality is infectious and his teammates seem to love playing with him.

On the negative side, he seems pretty small and the back-up point guards in the league are usually big defenders or strictly marksmen. Flynn is neither.

NBA.com: The Nets have the 1-2 covered with Devin Harris and Vince Carter and some young talent at the 4-5 with Yi Jianlian and Brook Lopez. Patch somebody in there at small forward for me.

Stanco: How about USC's DeMar DeRozan?

He's a 6-foot-7 freshman who can fly. He really struggles to shoot from deep (only 18.8 percent) and he hasn't scored as much as advertised, but I recall another highly-touted freshman who stood 6-foot-7 and jumped out of the gym, yet couldn't shoot from distance (17.4 percent).

That other guy was Gerald Wallace when he was at Alabama.

So maybe DeRozan is worth taking a chance on.

NBA.com: Memphis only has eight players under contract for next season and O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay are the only three out of those eight who are solid starters. Let's talk about the best player available for the Grizzlies that we haven't mentioned already. Outside of the tournament you look to Brandon Jennings or Ricky Rubio, but let's stay inside. Forgetting anybody?

Stanco: How about B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) and Kyle Singler (Duke)?

Mullens is pretty skilled for a big guy, especially considering that he's merely a freshman. He hasn't put up big numbers for the Buckeyes, but he's got enormous potential.

Singler is much better than anybody realizes. The sophomore forward really improved since his first season on campus. I love his range and the fact that in high school he was co-player of the year in the state of Oregon.

The man he shared that honor with? Kevin Love.

NBA.com: Love the trivia. Name one more player to watch who could bolster his draft status.

Stanco: DeJuan Blair.

Nobody was talking about him as a legit lottery pick until he absolutely manhandled Thabeet a month ago. Blair finished with 22 points and 23 rebounds and proved to scouts around the league that he can have his way with an elite, NBA-level shot blocker. No player in the country has seen his stock rise as much after one game than Blair's did against UConn.

He can move it up even more by guiding Pitt deep into the tourney.

And they're going to need him to. The Panthers lost four games this year and Blair fouled out of three of them and had four fouls in the other one.

NBA.com: Finally, give us one first-round tournament game where we'll get to see a positional battle between two potential first-round picks?

Stanco: It's got to be Virginia Commonwealth vs. UCLA ... or what NBA scouts will be calling "Eric Maynor vs. Darren Collison."

Maynor is the mid-major star gone mad. He can score and distribute and he lifted VCU over Duke in the first round of the tournament two years ago. He might just be the best point guard in the country and he'll get his chance to prove it against Collison.

Collison is lightning quick and probably would've declared for the draft last season -- and been selected in the top half of the first round -- had he not been embarrassed by Derrick Rose in last year's tourney. The Bruins' lead guard will be looking for redemption. He knows Maynor isn't just his roadblock for the second round of the tournament, but also for the right to be one of the first point guards taken in June's draft.

Overall Rankings - Week 20

1. Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
67 32.5 15.8 4.9 5.0 1.4 0.2 .405 .291 .824
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 4
Back on Dec. 14, Oklahoma City played San Antonio and Westbrook scored just two points in the loss, dropping his team's record to a dismal 2-23. With eight points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals last week, Westbrook helped the Thunder to a win over the Spurs, his team's sixth win in its last nine games. The 6-3 point guard still has his struggles (he shot just 4-for-17 against the Spurs and had eight turnovers in the game before that against Phoenix) but his and his franchise's turnaround this year elevates him to No. 1, at least for this week.

2. Derrick Rose, G, Chicago
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
68 36.7 16.4 3.7
6.2
0.8 0.2 .460 .235 .796
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 1
If Westbrook rises, that means Rose drops. Even though he helped Chicago to two huge wins against the Hornets and Celtics, he shot just 6-for-20 in those games and added a 2-for-12 clunker against Orlando as well. Here's a tip. Last season, Kevin Durant's shooting percentage and Rookie of the Year chances were plummeting in February and early March so he cut 3-pointers almost entirely out of his diet and got back to basics of layups and midrange shots over the last month of the season. The change worked and Durant finished as the top rookie in his class. After an 0-for-5 week from deep to drop his 3-point percentage to a paltry 23.5 percent, Rose might want to make the same adjustment as Durant did.

3. Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
67 30.3 12.7 7.9 1.0 0.6
1.9
.530 .000 .827
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 10
"People think it's ridiculous, but I think I can be one of the best ever," Lopez told Sami Asad from the blog WeaksideRejection. "I've thought that my whole life." That's heady stuff coming from a player who has fouled out of twice as many games (six) as he's scored 25 points or more in (three), but it's he can back it up with more stretches like he had last week ? 25-for-37 (67.6 percent) ? we might mention him with the likes of Kareem and Wilt someday. Wow, I can't believe I just wrote that. Don't let us down, Lopez.

4. O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
66
37.9
18.7
4.0 3.0 1.1 0.2 .436 .382 .873
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 3
The good news for Mayo? He finally broke his sub 50 percent shooting streak at 17 games by hitting for 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting against Portland. The bad news? He lost the game to the Blazers. Maybe he can learn something from the Grizzlies' win against Detroit the night before the Portland loss. Mayo attempted a season-low seven shots, but Memphis won thanks to the hot hands of role players Mike Conley (20 points) and Darko Milicic (12 points, 11 rebounds). He might lead all rookies in scoring, but he saw that it's OK to defer every once in a while if can help get a win.

5. Eric Gordon, G, L.A. Clippers
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
63 33.4 15.4 2.5 2.7 1.0 0.5 .448 .384 .859
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 7
Gordon followed up back-to-back 17-point efforts against the Nuggets and Nets last week with an unlike him 1-for-8 night against the Warriors. Shooters shoot and Gordon is the purest shooter in all of the rookie class. You can almost guarantee he'll score 20 in his next game against the Wizards. He's just that type of player.

6. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
66 30.8 11.5 7.6 1.8 0.8 1.1
.532
.000 .718
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 48 by L.A. Lakers in 2007
Gasol's Memphis teammate Mayo is fourth on this list, but ESPN.com's John Hollinger would swap their position if he ran the rankings: "It's not just that Gasol is a more efficient scorer than Mayo, shooting 53.9 percent to Mayo's 43.5 percent. The real shocker is in the passing game. Gasol has a higher assist ratio than Mayo, meaning that, compared to Mayo, Gasol creates more assists per possession used. And his assists per minute are close to Mayo's, even though Mayo is often the one initiating the Memphis offense. Throw in the rather obvious edge Gasol has on the boards and it's a no-brainer. The only reason to support Mayo over his teammate is if you're so blinded by scoring averages that you ignore every other column on the stat sheet."

7. Michael Beasley, F, Miami
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
65 24.2 13.3 5.1 0.9 0.5 0.5 .449 .393 .786
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 2
The Heat and Jazz played 63 minutes against each other in Miami's epic 140-129 triple-overtime win over the weekend, but Beasley was only on the floor for 20 of those minutes. Blame it on the sprained foot he's recovering or Erik Spoelstra not trusting him to major minutes yet, but Beasley continues to underwhelm this year.

8. Kevin Love, F, Minnesota
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
67 24.9 10.4
9.0
1.1 0.4 0.6 .463 .133 .780
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 5
As Love continues to earn Kevin McHale's trust and shape and mold his body into an NBA-tested vehicle, watch out. His 10.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game averages can only be consumed properly with a side of, "Oh, wow, he's doing that in just 24.5 minutes per game!"

9. D.J. Augustin, G, Charlotte
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
57 26.6 11.7 1.8 3.8 0.5 0.0 .423 .426 .902
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 9
Augustin's abdominal strain from January still hasn't fully healed, but he keeps humming along. "It's not as bad, but it's still there and it won't get better until after the season is over when I have time to just rest," Augustin told the Charlotte Observer. Minnesota and Toronto never would have guessed that. Augustin torched the Wolves and Raptors for a combined 33 points on 13-for-20 shooting in two games last week.

10. Jason Thompson, F, Sacramento
G MPG PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% 3P% FT%
67 26.9 10.4 6.9 1.1 0.6 0.6 .487 .000 .706
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 12
Thompson bounced back nicely after bottoming out last week, averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games for the rebuilding Kings.
RED = Rookie Leader (Must Qualify)

The Next 10 (alphabetical order): Mario Chalmers (MIA), Rudy Fernandez (POR), Roy Hibbert (IND), George Hill (SAS), Courtney Lee (ORL), Luc Mbah a Moute (MIL), JaVale McGee (WAS), Anthony Morrow (GSW), Anthony Randolph (GSW), Kyle Weaver (PHI)

Noteworthy

Fernandez

Rudy Fernandez (POR) is back on the court after his bruised chest and a right hip pointer sustained after the flagrant by the Lakers' Trevor Ariza, but he hasn't been the player he was all season. The Spanish guard was 1-for-11 from the field and 0-for-6 from three in his first two games back. .
Nicolas Batum (POR) played more than 30 minutes for just the third time all season when he scored a career-high 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting in 32 minutes against the Nets last week. Batum is averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in those three games. .
Mario Chalmers (MIA) didn't get the press that teammate Dwyane Wade did after the Heat beat the Jazz in triple overtime last week, but the rookie was a big part of the win, contributing 23 points, five steals and four assists to the cause.
Anthony Morrow (GSW) scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting against the Clippers last week, raising his average against the Clips to 19.8 points per game. His overall average is 8.6 points per game.

The HNPAMY (Have Not Played A Minute Yet) Club: D.J. White (OKC)
D-League Watch: Sun Yue was recalled from the Los Angeles D-Fenders by the L.A. Lakers; Hamed Haddadi was recalled from the Dakota Wizards by Memphis; D.J. White was assigned to the Tulsa 66ers by Oklahoma City; Darnell Jackson was assigned to the Erie Bayhawks by Cleveland


Korleone Young Drop of the Week: M. Beasley MIA; D. Rose CHI (-1)
Eddie Gottlieb Rise of the Week: R. Westbrook OKC; M. Gasol MEM (+1)

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