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ROOKIE REPORT
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With moves like this, Detroit's Jonas Jerebko has a strong case for the biggest steal of the Draft.
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Rankings: Plenty of choices for 'steal of the Draft'

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.

1. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3037.020.35.35.01.50.5.455.238.781
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
If you were worried about Evans succumbing to the glitz and glamour that come with being an NBA superstar, you can just stop right now. In a great glimpse behind the scenes, Sam Amick of the Sacramento Bee chronicles "Team Tyreke," a group of family members and close confidants whose lone goal is to keep Evans in check. But this isn't your run-of-the-mill entourage. "It's all about him," says Reggie Evans, Tyreke's older brother and legal guardian, who is leading the group by sticking to The Blueprint. "You think I'm afraid to say anything to him? Hell no," Reggie said. "Most (NBA players) have yes men, and they'll let guys go off the deep end, and they're afraid to get cut off (from the inner circle). That's not me. That's not us."

2. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3234.619.03.85.91.10.2.402.403.808
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 10
The Bucks are trying to get Jennings to become more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. While he leads rookies in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.11-to-1), Jennings has seen his scoring dip under 20 points per game. I've said for the longest time that the Bucks are a better team when Jennings is looking to get to the rim. "It's good he's risk averse, but we need him to stay aggressive," coach Scott Skiles told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I want him to be aggressive on everything he's doing, make his decisions on the fly rather than pre-determining, 'I'm going to come off here and pass it back to a big man.'"

3. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
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3227.713.24.71.30.60.3.498.471.632
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 23
Casspi may have had the best week of all rookies. Off the court, he was named The Jerusalem Post's 2009 Israeli Sports Personality of the Year (beating out national soccer star Yossi Benayoun). On the court, Casspi surpassed 20 point in four straight games, averaging 22.5 points and 8.3 rebounds while hitting 53 percent of his shots. Jonny Flynn had a stranglehold on the No. 3 spot since Week 1, but it's hard to deny the impact of Casspi.

4. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
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3529.214.42.24.01.10.1.435.357.810
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 6
It's no surprise that Flynn is key to the Wolves success, but the stats back it up. In Wolves wins, Flynn is averaging 17.1 points a 4.6 assists. In losses, the numbers drop to 14.3 and less than four assists. For Flynn, it all comes down to winning. "I think that's the only way you can judge things," Flynn told NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "When you look at people when their careers are over, you ask if they were a winner or not. There are a lot of people who were great scorers or whatever, but they're not remembered because they didn't win a championship. I want to be known as a winner. Right now, it's tough but I'm going to get there."

5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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3332.112.23.74.51.80.3.454.431.842
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 7
After being embarrassed in Portland last Saturday, Curry and the Warriors were punished with an impromptu -- and physically grueling -- practice. Curry, who was outplayed by veteran Andre Miller, took the "torture" (coach Don Nelson's word) in stride. "We've got to have these (practices) just to get that fire back in us and work on the fundamentals that might have been lost a couple months into the season." Curry responded Tuesday night with 26 points (while going 6-for-6 on threes), six assists and three steals in the Warriors' tough 123-122 loss in Denver.

6. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
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3522.69.52.23.90.90.1.515.442.795
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 18
Put Ty Lawson on a struggling team, and he would no doubt be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. As it stands, he's stuck backing up Chauncey Billups in Denver, who are in the thick of the West playoff race. With Billups out, though, Lawson is proving his worth, quietly becoming a leader. "Injuries have a way of developing a (fill-in's) personality, magnifying or bringing forward a personality that the team respects," Karl told the Denver Post. This week, Lawson had back-to-back games of 23 points and nine assists and capped it off Tuesday with 21 and eight in the Nuggets' 123-122 win over the Warriors.

7. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
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3127.88.55.40.60.70.3.479.260.695
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 39
It's no secret (or surprise) that Jerebko is a fan favorite in Detroit, where fans honor the Swede by wearing headgear of the Norse warriors and the arena blares a Viking horn after Jerebko's big plays. But he's just as much a fan of his supporters in Detroit. "I love the fans over here," he told the Detroit Free Press. "It's always fun to be appreciated. The fans have been taking care of me over here. It's no secret. I just try to go out there and give 100 percent. If the fans like what I'm doing, I'm going to keep doing it."

8. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
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3422.19.63.32.41.00.3.383.356.811
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 3
The Thunder have won six of their last seven, and Harden's roller-coaster ride continues. After two subpar games this week, Harden hit 3 of 5 treys to spark the Thunder to a 98-85 win over the Bulls. Harden single-handedly outscored the Bulls' bench (13-12). His numbers aren't eye-popping, but he's quietly among the top 10 among rookies in almost every statistical category.

9. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
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3324.58.46.30.60.71.0.498.000.559
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 26
Maybe putting Gibson into the starting lineup was the boost the Bulls needed. Gibson has started the last six games for the Bulls, who won four straight before losing their last two. The four-game streak was capped by a 10-point, 12-rebound performance in Chicago's upset of the Magic. "He works," Del Negro told ESPNChicago.com. "He's a worker. And he has a great approach and a great mindset. And he's a team-oriented guy. He's been fantastic. And like I've said before, he's earned everything, in practice and in the games. His defensive help and his rotations, he just has a knack for that, and he's definitely ahead of the curve in those areas for a young player."

10. Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz
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3424.08.02.11.10.50.1.474.313.762
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: FA
Matthews is clinging to the final spot in the top 10, but he's not letting his decrease in playing time get him down. "You can't dwell on being on the bench, being a starter," Matthews told the Salt Lake Tribune. "As soon as you do that, your production goes down, and once your production goes down, then you're not seeing the court regardless." Teammate Deron Williams called the move of Matthews to the bench "frustrating" but the rookie is still getting key fourth-quarter minutes over starter C.J. Miles.

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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