By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Jan 6 2010 1:45PM
Based on the emails I receive each week, the biggest debate among my readers is this: Who is the biggest steal of the draft?
Usually, the question is phrased in the form of an insult, in all caps, as in, "WHY ISN'T CHASE BUDINGER ON YOUR LIST" or "DEJUAN BLAIR IS THE STEAL OF THE DRAFT. YOUR (sic) AN IDIOT."
I get the drift, and it is a fun debate, especially since this draft has a plethora of "steals". I realize that Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans could be considered steals, but for this exercise, we're going to focus solely on the second-round picks. Let's take a look at the candidates (beginning with the lowest drafted player):
Chase Budinger, Rockets (44th pick)
Budinger was the early leader for steal of the draft after giving the Rockets energy and hustle off the bench. Budinger hasn't played since he injured his ankle Dec. 19, but his 8.2 points per game in just 18.5 minutes per game put him among the most productive rookies.
Marcus Thornton, Hornets (43rd pick)
Thornton has been a pleasant surprise for the Hornets and scored in double-digits in six games straight in November. With Jeff Bower taking over as coach, Thornton's playing time increased and you can bet Hornets fans are happy with this low-cost, second-round pickup.
Jonas Jerebko, Pistons (39th pick)
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Jerebko. He's been on my rankings since late November and it's hard not to love his hustle and energy. With injuries to Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton, Jerebko has made the most of his opportunity, winning over fans (if you don't believe me, check out this video) and his teammates while averaging 8.7 points (eighth among rookies) in 28 minutes per game.
DeJuan Blair, Spurs (37th pick)
After being projected as a lottery pick by many Web sites, Blair fell to the second round when the Spurs nabbed him with what Greg Popovich called a "no brainer". Blair is currently second among rookies in rebounding with 5.7 per game and first in rebounds per 40 minutes. Blair's got a strong case.
Sam Young, Grizzlies (36th pick)
Young is 12th amont gookies in scoring at 7.9 points per game -- and he's doing it in just 17.0 minutes per game. That puts him fifth amont all rookies for points per 48 minutes (22.3).
It's early, yes, but my pick for steal of the draft at this point in the season would be Jerebko. The impact he has had on the Pistons has been obvious and the fact that he's from Sweden makes it that much of a shrewd move. His energy and ability to play various positions will keep him in the league a long time and only help his case as the steal of the 2009 Draft.
So what do you think? Which player do you think will be the steal of this draft? Who am I overlooking?
(And yes, you can write in lowercase.)
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. You can also follow him on Twitter. For past week's rankings, click here.
Honorable Mention: Wayne Ellington, Timberwolves: Three straight games scoring in double digits this week (averaged 13.0 points and 4.7 rebounds); Sam Young, Grizzlies: Had 22 points in the Grizzlies' 128-103 rout of the Suns. In two games, averaged 16.5 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Jeff Pendergraph, Trail Blazers: Had eight points and 14 rebounds in 103-99 win over the Clippers; Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies: In Memphis' 128-103 win over Suns, Thabeet had 10 points, five boards and three blocks. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: Had two double-digit scoring games this week, averaging 8.0 points on 56 percent shooting.
Dropped out: Tyler Hansbrough
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