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ROOKIE REPORT
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Hasheem Thabeet is making a bigger impact in Memphis of late.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Rankings: A good start to 2010 for this trio

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Jan 27 2010 10:35AM

The new year has been good to several rookies.

The new decade has brought new opportunities for many first-year players, thanks to increased playing time with their respective teams.

Even guys who were seeing plenty of playing time already are seeing their roles increase. Stephen Curry, a fixture at the top of these rankings has averaged 39.2 minutes in the new year, raising his season average to 33.8. Curry has certainly made the most of it. In January, Curry is averaging 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 47.9 percent from the field (50.9 percent on 3s) and 87.5 percent from the line.

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But Curry isn't the only one making the most of the new year. Here's a look at just three of the many rookies whose minutes -- and production -- are up.

Hasheem Thabeet has been more aggressive in January -- especially on the defensive end, where the Grizzlies need him most. In the Grizzlies' recent 86-84 win over the Thunder, the UConn center had nine rebounds and four blocks in a career-best 23 minutes, drawing praise from teammates. "I told him, 'That's what you're here for. That's what you're going to get paid to do,'" Zach Randolph told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He just has to control that paint. He doesn't have to score the basketball. He just has to do what he did the last game. It's the best I've ever seen him play."

A.J. Price has seen his role, and minutes, increase in January. The Pacers point guard has averaged 20.4 minutes in 14 games this decade, averaging 10.4 points (ninth among rookies this month) while helping the Pacers go 7-7. His emergence as the backup to Earl Watson has made T.J. Ford expendable.

Jordan Hill is finally starting to get playing time for the Knicks, averaging almost 13 minutes per game in January. He's been aggressive on the boards and had one of his best games against the Lakers with eight points and seven rebounds. "Every time we've given him minutes he's responded pretty well," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni told The Record last week. "He's surprised us a little bit."

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
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4037.120.84.84.91.50.5.458.253.791
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
Not even Evans thought he would be this good, this fast. "I thought I'd probably come in and average 10 or 11 points (per game) and make sure I get better and better every year," Evans told Chris Perkins of Hoopsworld.com. "I can get better if I keep working hard. The sky is the limit for me." Evans stepped up Tuesday to help the Kings stop a seven-game slide with 23 points, six rebounds and four assists.

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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4334.114.04.04.51.90.3.455.428.849
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
With Monta Ellis on the bench with a sprained ankle, Curry has taken over as the team's leader. In the three games since Ellis was injured, Curry has averaged 28.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Ellis is a fan favorite in Golden State, so it's unlikely the Warriors will deal him before the trade deadline, but Curry's recent play proves the team has a bright future with Curry in the backcourt if management were to go that route.

3. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
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4334.317.73.66.31.20.4.382.390.827
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 10
In his second showdown with Wolves rookie Jonny Flynn, Jennings once again got the last laugh. The first meeting, Nov. 6, Jennings struggled from the field, going 4-for-16, but the Bucks pulled out the 87-72 win. Saturday, Jennings had a career-high 13 assists to go along with 18 points as the Bucks once again ripped Minnesota, this time a 127-94 win. "Tonight, everybody was clicking," Jennings said. "I was getting assists early, and it just opened up the whole game for everybody."

4. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
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4629.814.22.44.21.10.0.420.339.824
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 6
Before Tuesday's blowout loss to the Knicks at MSG, Flynn had been having a pretty good week (back-to-back 20-point games on 57 percent shooting). Unfortunately, Flynn had a clunker Tuesday with as many turnovers (six) as he had points while going just 3-for-11 in the field. Granted, no one played well for the Wolves in the 132-105 loss, but you'd think the Syracuse product would have been a little more ready for the Big Apple.

5. Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets
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3819.19.71.90.90.60.1.433.362.750
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 43
The Hornets showed their confidence in their rookie Monday by shipping Devin Brown to the Bulls for Aaron Gray. Brown had started 37 games for the Hornets, and Thornton, who has played well of late, will likely see an increased role. In his first game as a starter, Thornton had 19 points while going 8-for-12 from the field (3-for-5 on 3s) in the Hornets' 98-97 win over the Trail Blazers on Monday.

6. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
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4423.19.93.32.21.00.2.391.377.813
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 3
Harden may be coming off the bench, but he's continuing to be one of the biggest reasons for the Thunder's turnaround this season. In three games this week, Harden averaged 10.3 points and 4.7 rebounds and had a steal in all three games. It's easy to forget about Harden among all the Thunder talent, but coaches obviously recognized his play by giving him the nod for the Rookie Challenge.

7. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
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4227.612.24.81.40.70.3.475.396.633
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 23
The Kings ended their seven-game losing streak Tuesday night, but Casspi didn't have much of an impact. Casspi has been mired in a shooting slump, especially from three-point land. During the Kings' seven-game slide, Casspi was just 3-for-24 from beyond the arc, a paltry 12.5 percent average. In the Kings' win Tuesday, Casspi played just 12 minutes, scoring one points and missing all four shots from the field.

8. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
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4324.58.56.30.60.61.0.489.000.625
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: 26
The Bulls have won three in a row, and Gibson is a big part of it. As I've noted in the past, Gibson is fighting through a case of plantar fasciitis, but it hasn't slowed him down. In the three wins, Gibson is averaging 10.0 points and 9.7 rebounds. In the Bulls' 104-97 win over the Rockets, Gibson played a season-high 43 minutes, finishing with 16 points and 14 boards for his fifth double-double.

9. DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
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4318.37.16.60.70.50.6.540.000.506
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 37
In the six games since Blair's breakout 28-point, 21-rebound game on Jan. 13, the Spurs' center has hit double digits in rebounding in four of the games. Unfortunately, the Spurs have lost five of the six games. What's worse is that Blair -- a 54 percent shooter on the season -- has struggled with his shot, going 21-for-50 from the field (42 percent) and 3-for-10 from the line. The Spurs have three more games at home this month to figure things out before heading on a brutal eight-game, three-week road trip.

10. Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
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4127.88.45.40.70.60.3.474.250.687
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: 39
It's been apparent throughout the season that Jerebko has won over Pistons coach John Kuester with his production. So with Tayshaun Prince's recent yelling match with Kuester over playing time, it's worth comparing the two players' stats. Jerebko: 41 games, 27.8 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.7 apg, .474 FG, .250 3PT; Prince: 11 games, 31.5 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg, .398 FG, .167 3PT. Prince has been fighting injuries and it's only an 11-game sample size, but this is clearly one of Prince's worst seasons, while Jerebko has done nothing but hustle and prove he's worth every minute Kuester gives him.

Honorable Mention: DeMar DeRozan, Raptors: Averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in last two games, but his exlusion from the Rookie Challenge (as I predicted last week) will certainly irk his fans; Rodrigue Beaubois, Mavericks: Filling in for Jason Kidd, who was out for personal reasons, Beaubois had 13 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in the Mavericks' 50-point rout of the Knicks.

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