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ROOKIE REPORT
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James Harden is one player we'd like to see make the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge roster.
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Rankings: One challenging roster to concoct

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Jan 20 2010 4:59PM

The All-Star break is just three weeks away which means just one thing (at least in my world) -- the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge.

And when they say challenge, they mean it -- in more ways than one.

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The rookies have lost the last seven matchups with the sophomores, but the real challenge may fall on the assistant coaches around the league, who have to narrow the field to just nine players.

The assistants will receive their ballots Thursday and have until Monday to vote for four frontcourt players, four backcourt players and one wild card.

So, in the spirit of lending a helping hand, I offer up my nine-player roster for the Rookies.

Starting Five
PG Brandon Jennings
SG Tyreke Evans
SF Omri Casspi
PF Taj Gibson
C DeJuan Blair

Bench
G Stephen Curry
G Jonny Flynn
F Jonas Jerebko
WC James Harden

The starting five was pretty easy to nail down, but the final two spots (Jerebko and Harden) weren't as clear cut. Jerebko gets the nod in the frontcourt because of his size and hustle while I give Harden the nod over Ty Lawson because a shooter and defender would be more crucial than a fifth point guard.

With a team loaded with backcourt talent, it will be interesting to see how the roster is juggled in the game. Will the rookies go with a small-ball lineup of four guards and a big man to shake things up? And how will the rookies match up without a true center? The sophomores could feature a pair of 7-footers in the Nets' Brook Lopez and the Grizzlies' Marc Gasol, so the rookies' leading rebounders -- Blair, all 6-foot-7 of him, and Gibson, 6-foot-9 -- will definitely have their work cut out for them.

The results of the voting will be announced Jan. 27.

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%
3637.420.85.05.01.50.5.459.247.788
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
The Kings have lost nine of their last 10, and not even the return of Kevin Martin has helped. The Kings have lost all three games with Martin sharing the backcourt with Evans. In those games, Evans has averaged 23.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Still, Paul Westphal has complete trust in Evans, who gave the Kings their only win of 2010 by hitting a game-winning jumper over Denver's Kenyon Martin on Jan. 9. "I think that he's handled everything so well, you tend to heap things on him," Westphal told the Sacramento Bee. "But it's a concern, for sure. It doesn't necessarily stop me from giving him a lot of responsibility, but it's something to think about. You wish that you had the type of team where you could take it a little slower, but we don't."

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3932.912.93.94.51.80.3.459.439.847
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
Curry's grasp on the No. 2 position this week was a loose one, but he had one of his best performances against the reigning Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, to solidify his spot. In the Warriors' 114-97 win over the Bulls on Monday, Curry had 26 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He also knocked down five 3-pointers and completely outplayed Rose -- on both ends of the floor. "He's turned into quite a defender, actually," Warriors coach Don Nelson said of Curry, who helped force Rose into 7-for-19 shooting. "He was not very good when he first arrived. But he's worked hard on it, followed our game plan and he's a pretty darn good defensive point guard right now. ... He's the total package."

3. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3934.418.03.66.21.10.3.386.395.816
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 10
The Bucks have lost five of their last six, which can't be sitting well with Jennings, who is set on leading the Bucks into the playoffs. In four games this week, Jennings' struggles from the field continued as he connected on just 35 percent of his shots. The most glaring miss came at the end of regulation in the Bucks' 101-98 overtime loss to the Rockets on Monday. With the game tied, Jennings let the clock run down before pulling up for a three-point attempt, which didn't sit well with coach Scott Skiles. "We wanted Brandon to turn the corner and either get his own shot or try to create something," Skiles said. "Probably coming out of the timeout, he made that decision: 'I'm going to step back, go 1-on-1 and take this shot. He had hit a couple big ones of the same variety earlier, but we need a better shot than that." To his credit, Jennings made the correct decision in OT, finding a wide-open Luke Ridnour for a shot to tie, but Ridnour's shot rimmed out.

4. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4229.914.22.34.11/20.0.416.348.816
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 6
All that "rookie wall" talk was getting to Jonny Flynn. "You have a couple bad games, everybody throws 'rookie wall' at you," said Flynn, who recently struggled through a four-game road trip in which he shot just 27 percent (15-for-55) from the field. "But it was just bad games. My legs feel good. My mind feels good. I'm fine." Well, everything but his left eye is fine. In his best performance to date, Flynn bounced back from a hard fall to the floor that left him with a noticeable shiner to help the Wolves rally to a 108-103 win over the Sixers. Flynn had career highs with 29 points and nine assists and sparked a comeback from a 20-point deficit. "My eye was actually shut on the bench," Flynn said. "I still look like I've been in a (Mike) Tyson fight or something."

5. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3828.212.64.91.40.60.3.474.417.643
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 23
Casspi's youth was on full display this week when he showed his frustration over a lack of playing time. In the Kings' 98-86 loss to the Sixers, Casspi was less than pleased after being pulled by coach Paul Westphal. "I think Omri is super-competitive, and we want players who are super-competitive, but we've got to control our emotions, too," Westphal told the Sacramento Bee. "He got a little upset about coming out of the game. Everybody gets upset about coming out of a game, (but) he is in a fight for playing time as well as in a fight with the other team. You have to focus your fight towards the other team and do as well as you can and make the most of your playing time." Casspi, who averaged just 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in three games (all losses) this week, was apologetic. "I've been on the team 40 games, and even when I had bad days, I never had an argument or fight with nobody. (The outburst) was part of the game. I got frustrated a little bit in the third quarter. I didn't really feel involved in the offense."

6. DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4017.67.26.30.70.50.6.563.000.520
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 37
"I don't know how he does it." That's what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had to say of Blair after his 28-point, 21-rebound performance this week in a win over the Thunder. (It was the first 20-20 game for a rookie since Tim Duncan had 26 and 21 on March 22, 1998.) "I wanted to come in strong," Blair said after the 109-108 overtime victory. "I didn't get much playing time [against the Lakers] so I wanted to be an energy guy tonight. No one has given me anything in this world or in this game. I'm just trying to earn respect." In four games this week, Blair averaged 13.5 points and 14.5 rebounds and earns a spot in the rankings for the first time since Nov. 17.

7. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
4122.89.83.22.11.00.2.393.371.798
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 3
Harden had a pretty productive week for the Thunder, who went 2-2 with wins over the Heat and on the road in Atlanta. Harden scored in double figures in all four games, averaging 12.0 points while going 6-for-12 from three-point land. The Thunder are turning heads with their turnaround this season, and Harden has proven to be a reliable sixth man. While some may wonder what the Thunder would look like with Tyreke Evans or Stephen Curry in the backcourt, it's hard to argue with the Thunder's record -- 23-18, which already matches their win total from last season.

8. Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets
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3418.39.32.00.90.60.1.419.363.720
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 43
Thornton last graced these rankings Dec. 2, but his recent play has earned him a return engagement. The second-round steal for the Hornets has scored in double-digits in six straight games and hit at least one 3-pointer in eight straight games. Thornton is fifth among rookies in both 3-pointers made (41) and percentage (.363) and has proven to be a reliable scorer off the bench for the Hornets, who at 21-19 are fighting to get into playoff contention.

9. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3924.38.56.20.60.71.0.495.000.595
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 26
Last week, I mentioned that Gibson has been fighting through a case of plantar fasciitis. This week, Gibson explained just how bad the pain has been. "Getting up in the morning, you can't even put your foot down," Gibson told the Daily Herald. "It's just tough to walk. Imagine when you're jumping around in basketball all day long. Coach Vinny (Del Negro) had it most of his career and he told me for a lot of guys, that's a career-ending injury. So it's best to get on top of it right away and just take care of it." Despite the pain, Gibson hasn't missed a game and still averaged 9.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in three games this week.

10. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
3827.88.55.40.60.60.3.468.254.704
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 39
While Casspi let his lack of playing time get to him, Jerebko is taking his minutes in stride. Jerebko saw his playing time dip with the return of Tayshaun Prince, but he's since been re-inserted into the starting lineup, and the Pistons have won three of their last four. "I just got to be ready when Coach calls my name," Jerebko told the Detroit Free Press. "I just practice and stay ready. I know I'm a rookie, and I'm going to take what time I can get." Pistons coach John Kuester is eating up Jerebko's attitude. "With him, he had gone through that stretch, and sometimes, you got to sit back and watch what's going on, and now he's in the mix," Kuester said. "He's a major part of what our future is with the Pistons. He's got a big chance to be very, very good."

Honorable Mention: DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: Not only got the nod for the Dunk-in, but averaged 13.6 points on 52 percent shooting in three games this week; Ty Lawson, Nuggets: Dropped out of Top 10, but returned from four-game absence by scoring 11 points in 27 minutes on Sunday in win over Jazz; Jodie Meeks, Bucks: Had 21 points in 31 minutes of action in Bucks' loss to Blazers. Was 3-for-7 on 3-pointers and could see his role increase with Michael Redd done for the season; Austin Daye, Pistons: Had 16 points and six rebounds in second career start, a 99-91 loss to the Knicks; Chase Budinger, Rockets: Averaged 14.5 points and was 5-for-9 on 3s In Rockets' last two games this week; Wayne Ellington, Wolves: Had back-to-back 17-point games and averaged 13.6 points in three games this week; Serge Ibaka, Thunder: Continued his solid play by closing out this week with back-to-back 10-rebound games; Jordan Hill, Knicks: Has been very active on the boards and defensively since seeing bump in playing time. Averaged 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in last two games; Sundiata Gaines, Jazz: D-League call-up hit game-winning 3-pointer to beat the Cavs. Check out David Aldridge's story for more on the rookie out of Georgia

Dropped out: Ty Lawson, Wesley Matthews

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