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Fran Blinebury

Greg Oden may have a bright future ahead of him but sudden injuries keep holding him back.
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Time to straighten up for these young guns

Posted Sep 6 2010 5:19PM

There are rookies like Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant who make the jump from the college ranks to the NBA look as easy hopping over a puddle. They change uniforms and location, but keep their poise and confidence. They step into the glare of a bigger spotlight, but always find a way to outshine everyone else on the floor.

For such players, there is no such thing as a transition period. However, there are others who find the adjustment more challenging. It takes them time to learn systems and teammates, to find where they fit in and how to contribute. But after two or three seasons to get their feet wet, it is definitely time to jump into the pool and make a bigger splash.

Here are a handful of players from the Draft Classes of 2007 and 2008 who were given solid opportunities and now need to step up their games:

• Michael Beasley: It's time for the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft to put all of his off-court problems behind him and prove that he can come to work every night as a true professional. No one questions his ability to put the ball into the basket or go out and chase down rebounds, only his ability to do those things consistently. In his first two seasons, there have been too many 20-point games followed by disappearing acts. It's one of the reasons why Pat Riley was reluctant to make him such a high pick. Now he's got a fresh start in Minnesota and could give the Timberwolves a nice 1-2 punch up front with Kevin Love if he gets down to business.

• Greg Oden: The Blazers big man has shown that he can be the rebounder and the low post presence that Portland wanted when making him the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. But entering his fourth NBA campaign, he's got to find way to stay on the court. He has played the equivalent of just one season -- 82 games -- out of his first three and now is coming back from a fractured left patella last December. With No. 2 pick Kevin Durant already winning a scoring title, leading his team to the playoffs and becoming a key member of Team USA, it's past time for Oden to deliver.

• Marreese Speights: Now that Samuel Dalembert has been shipped west to Sacramento, the former Florida Gator could get his chance to hold down the middle in the Sixers' lineup. Before a sprained MCL in his left knee took him out of the rotation in November of last season, Speights had showed that he could score, rebound and shoot the ball efficiently. But it was an expanding waistline, a lack of quickness and a defensive presence that was almost nonexistent that kept Speights from ever averaging more than 16 minutes a game. New coach Doug Collins would like to take advantage of the things Speights can do on offense, but only if he can stop people at the other end.

• Yi Jianlian: Now playing for his third NBA team in four seasons, the No. 6 pick in 2007 is still trying to live up to his lofty draft status and the next big thing out of China after Yao Ming. Yi has all of the physical tools to succeed, but does not have anything close to the work ethic of Yao. He never was happy being drafted by Milwaukee and was glad to go to New Jersey. Then it became the fault of then-coach Lawrence Frank that he did not take off with the Nets. He finished last season averaging 12 points and 7.2 rebounds for the worst team in the league, showing glimpses of what he can do. Now it's onto Washington to play with Gilbert Arenas and John Wall. But he's got to lose that sense of entitlement.

• Julian Wright: After waiting two years for him to step up and grab the bull by the horns, the Hornets went into training camp a year ago with Wright slotted as their starter at small forward, hoping their confidence would light a fire. That plan didn't work as the No. 13 pick in the 2007 draft scored in double figures just once in the first seven games and was soon back on the bench. In fact, Wright didn't crack double figures for the second time until March 10. By the end of his third NBA season, the Hornets had given up hope and with new coach Monty Williams on the bench, Wright was traded to Toronto for Marco Belinelli.

• Brandon Rush: After sitting out the first five games of the season to serve his suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy, Rush will have to return to the court and prove that he can keep his head in the game rather than a cloud of smoke. The former star at Kansas and No. 13 pick in 2008 has been less than inspiring with his play and his demeanor in his first two NBA seasons. Coach Jim O'Brien put him in the starting lineup for 64 games last season and Rush produced only 9.4 points a game while shooting just 42.3 percent from the field. He often looked lost and disinterested and rarely like the clutch performer who helped lead the Jayhawks to the national championship in his final collegiate campaign. With an abundance of wing players -- Mike Dunleavy, Dahntay Jones, Paul George -- it's quite possible that Rush will have to re-establish himself as a young prospect in another town if the image-conscious Pacers choose to move him out.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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