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ROOKIE REPORT
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Brandon Jennings might have a good shot at winning the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Rankings: A Skills Challenge matchup to watch

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Feb 3 2010 4:47PM

The Rookies' hopes of ending their seven-year losing streak to the Sophomores got a little brighter Tuesday.

Derrick Rose, last season's Rookie of the Year, was excused from the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge since he will be playing as a reserve for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game.

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And while we'll miss the one-on-one matchups in Friday's game, one rookie will still get his shot at the sophomore. Brandon Jennings was one of three point guards selected to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, which was won last season by Rose. Jennings joins past winners Steve Nash (2005) and Deron Williams (2008) as Rose's challengers.

While Jennings lacks the experience of the three other players, you have to like his chances. He may be the quickest of the four guards, which will allow him to get through the course quickly. As long as he can connect on his passe (Rose said Tuesday the bounce pass is the toughest part of the course) and stay cool under pressure -- which we've seen him do all season -- Jennings could become the second straight rookie to take home the Skills Challenge trophy.

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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4236.920.54.65.01.50.5.457.250.796
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
Evans is starting to feel the bumps and bruises that come with playing in the NBA. Evans bruised his hip against the Jazz on Friday and struggled in Saturday's game against the Bobcats, scoring four points in 29 minutes, his fewest minutes since Nov. 8. Evans then missed Monday's game in Denver with a sore right ankle. Evans is playing it safe, though. "You've got to take care of your body because it's a long season," Evans told the Sacramento Bee. "If you go out there and play hurt, you can mess it up and make the injury worse. That last game (against the Bobcats), I couldn't give it my all. I just didn't feel comfortable being out there and couldn't really play hard."

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
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4734.314.23.94.71.90.3.454.433.862
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
After the first two months, it looked like Tyreke Evans might sweep the Player of the Month honors. Then January came, and Curry got hot. In 15 games, Curry averaged 19.1 points (on 48 percent shooting), 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds in 15 games. Curry has continued to mature -- even though his teammates still refer to him as "Middle School" -- and assistant coach Keith Smart says it's all about adjusting. "The adjustment that a lot of young players have to go through is the pace of the NBA -- not only the basketball games," Smart told the San Jose Mercury News. "Then, finally, your body adjusts to the NBA and everything that goes along with that -- practices, weight training, back-to-back games, the routine you have day in and day out. I think that finally settled in for him, and he was able to settle down."

3. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
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4734.217.23.66.21.20.3.380.387.814
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 10
Jennings was named Rookie of the Month in the Eastern Conference for the third straight month on Monday. Three players have won it three times since the award began in 2005-06, but no one has won it four. Jennings has a good shot, but he got off to a poor start Tuesday. Jennings had possibly his worst game yet, scoring a season-low two points on 1-for-7 shooting. "Everybody is telling me, do this, do that," Jennings said after the game. "If I'm not playing defense, then it's defense one day. If I'm not scoring, then everybody is looking at me like, 'Why are you not shooting?' It's just a bunch of stuff. Right now I'm playing my game, which is getting my teammates involved. When I do that, we're successful, I feel like."

4. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
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4929.614.02.54.31.10.0.421.346.822
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 6
Now that he's taken the first charge of his career, Flynn is ready for more. In a practice report on Wolves.com, Jonah Ballow detailed a recent drill in which players were required to take three legitimate charges. "It takes a lot. I got my first charge against the Clippers; the whole bench stood up and was pretty happy for me," said Flynn, who helped the Wolves to back-to-back wins for just the second time this season. "It just takes a lot, you have to be willing to stand in there and withstand the hit. A lot of people can do it; I'm going to start taking more charges because I'm quick enough to get to spots." Just another arrow in the ever-expanding arsenal.

5. Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets
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4221.010.62.20.90.60.1.433.383.771
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 43
Not a bad week for Thornton. In four games, Thornton averaged 19.2 points and 5.0 rebounds while going 11-for-22 from 3-point land. In the Hornets' 109-100 loss to the Suns, Thornton nearly helped New Orleans overcome a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit. The LSU product scored 15 of his career-high 25 points in the quarter while knocking down all three 3-point attempts."I felt like I had to take it upon myself and go out there and make plays, " Thornton said. "My shots started to fall, and I knew if we got back into the game before a certain amount of time, we had a chance."

6. Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
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4527.612.24.81.40.70.3.481.396.656
Last Week: 7 | Drafted: 23
You can bet Charlotte's Stephen Jackson has learned a little about Casspi since their first meeting. In November when the two last played, Jackson (then a member of the Warriors) bristled over a question about the Kings' rookie. In their most recent meeting, a 103-96 win for the Bobcats, Casspi defended S-Jax at times and finished with 14 points to Jackson's 13. After the game, he brushed off any beef with Jackson. "We both play hard and I have a lot of respect for him because he is a great player," Casspi said. "It's great competition and just fun." On a sidenote, Casspi was 10-for-11 from the free-throw line to improve to 66 percent after a slow start to the season.

7. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
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4822.89.83.22.11.00.2.385.379.807
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 3
Harden is looking forward to ending the rookies' losing streak in the Rookie Challenge -- and doing it against teammate Russell Westbrook, who was chosen for the sophomore squad. "[The rookies] will definitely win," Harden told the Oklahoman. Westbrook, who was a part of the rookie squad last season, is confident it will be eight in a row for the sophs. "They don't have a chance," Westbrook said. "Look at our team and you make the prediction. They really don't have any bigs." Harden slips in the rankings this week after going just 10-for-31 from the field.

8. Darren Collison, New Orleans Hornets
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4217.87.01.93.50.70.0.412.297.868
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 21
Collison's time as Chris Paul's fill-in got off to a bad start. Friday night, after Paul left with a knee injury, Collison flubbed the final possession, failing to get a potential game-tying shot off in overtime. But Collison more than made up for it in his next two games. Saturday, Collison had 17 points, a career-high 18 assists and a game-clinching dunk as New Orleans overcame a 21-point deficit to rally past the Grizzlies. "His own play and effort created things for others," Hornets coach Jeff Bower told the Times Picayune. "I was glad to see him come back today and play an outstanding game. It was a great victory for us on the heels of (Friday's) difficult defeat."

9. Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
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4422.39.12.23.40.80.0.490.431.784
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 18
Lawson may have been snubbed for the Rookie Challenge, but he gets the consolation prize of returning to this writer's top 10. It's not much, but Lawson seems to be snubbed due to lack of playing time and, more likely, because the roster requires four guards, four forwards and a wild card. With so many rookie guards playing well, the coaches were forced to take a forward (in this case Jerebko, most likely). Still, Lawson continues to prove just how valuable he is to the Nuggets' success. When Billups rests, the Nuggets don't skip a beat. In fact, they actually gain a step because of the energy Lawson brings. He might not be playing next Friday in Dallas, but he's on a winning team, and you can bet Lawson would take that over a Rookie Challenge invite any day.

10. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
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4624.98.36.50.70.61.1.485.000.625
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 26
I've mentioned in the past that Gibson is fighting through plantar fasciitis, but fighting might be an understatement. On a recent stop in San Antonio, Gibson and Joakim Noah visited the massage therapist who used to treat coach Vinny Del Negro's same foot problem. "There was a lot of yelling," Gibson told the Chicago Daily Herald. "Especially when Jo went in there the first time. I thought mine was bad. He was like, 'What are you doing? What are you DOING? I was in a lot of pain, but you just deal with it. It was real beneficial." Whatever the therapist did, it must have worked -- Gibson had a career-high 15 boards two days later in the Bulls' 96-86 win in Oklahoma City.

Honorable Mention: DeJuan Blair, Spurs: Drops out, but still ranks second in rebounds. Averaged 7.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in three games; Jonas Jerebko, Pistons: Falls out of top 10, but had a solid 16-point, nine-rebound game in Pistons' fifth straight setback, a 91-86 loss to Magic; Lester Hudson, Grizzlies: Scored career-high 13 points (2-for-5 on 3-pointers) in Grizzlies' 95-93 win over Lakers; Chase Budinger, Rockets: Back-to-back double-digit scoring games while hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers; Jon Brockman, Kings: Had the first double-double of his career with 11 points, 11 rebounds (in just 22 minutes) in Kings' 112-109 loss to Denver; Serge Ibaka, Thunder: Had at least two blocks in all four of OKC's games this week;

Dropped out: Jerebko, Blair

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