Clippers' Blake Griffin cream of the rookie crop

Blake Griffin could end the season as the league's best power forward. Sam Smith will take his toughness over Chris Bosh. He'll be a better defender than Amar'e Stoudemire and more physical than Carlos Boozer.

John Wall’s been all the rage so far, and justifiably so. It feeds the basketball imagination, as we know in Chicago, when a rookie comes in with that sort of speed and explosiveness and makes the game even faster.

Wall has had the matchups already, with 2009 Rookie of the Year Derrick Rose and 2010 top contender Brandon Jennings. Wall hasn’t disappointed, averaging 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, though even Jennings wondered if the Wizards were trying to wear out Wall already since he is averaging more than 35 minutes per game, most in the league.

"He's good," Jennings said after they played last week. "He's real fast with the ball, of course. He pushes it well and he sees things a lot of rookies don't see. I just hope they don't try to burn him out too much, man. He's playing a lot of minutes right now and it's only preseason. I tried to tell him after the game, 'Just take your time. You've got to remember there are 82 games.'”

But I’m making my second straight preseason Rookie of the Year prediction for the Clippers’ Blake Griffin.

You tend to be forgotten when you are Oden-ed, or injured before you get to play in the NBA, as Griffin was last season. But he’s back and he’s something to see. How about former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro starting jobs with first Rose and now Griffin?

The 6-10 Griffin, who hits the floor an awful lot and has to stay healthy, of course, could end the season as the league’s best power forward. I’ll take his toughness over Chris Bosh. He’ll be a better defender than Amar’e Stoudemire and more physical than Carlos Boozer. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the preseason in less than 30 minutes per game. Among rookies, he is first in scoring and rebounding, third in blocks and second in steals. Plus, we know Vinny plays a short rotation, so Griffin will be playing big minutes and is a stat stuffer across the board.

"He is an incredible athlete with incredible speed, and when he dribbles, he looks like a guard," Nuggets coach George Karl, going for his 1,000th win this season, said last week after Griffin had 24 points and 14 rebounds against Denver. "I think there will be a growth period for him, but I think he'll be special.”

The Hawks Jordan Crawford has put up some big numbers in preseason, and had 30 against Wall, which tells you something there as well. But Crawford is a shooting guard and Atlanta has another named Jamal playing for a contract this season, plus Joe Johnson on a bigger one. Jordan’s not getting much time on that team and will fade away.

DeMarcus Cousins has been putting up some good numbers with the Kings at 16.4 points and 9.6 rebounds, and is a legitimate post big body. But he’s still got a bit much good natured goofy in him, and in that losing environment it’s going to be a tough year. Derrick Favors looks farther away that I thought, and still looks headed for the Nuggets at some point. The No. 2 overall pick, Evan Turner, has been posting decent numbers across the board, but is, curiously, not a shooting guard. He seems to need the ball in his hand and seems better at point guard or point forward, which will take some juggling for new coach Doug Collins. So his rookie season could be bumpy.

I haven’t seen all the rookies, but after an injured start Wesley Johnson looks good.

I don’t see many rookies getting significant playing time. Dallas has been using Dominque Jones a lot, but he has to develop a shot and that team is awfully deep with veterans. I liked what I saw in Larry Sanders, and with all the injuries in Milwaukee he could get some time. Greg Monroe’s going to get time in Detroit with so few big men, but looks way overmatched. The Jazz is bringing Gordon Hayward along slowly and the Clippers aren’t using Al-Farouq Aminu. Among other top 10s, Ekpe Udoh is injured and Paul George is backing up the Pacers’ best player, though he’ll get some time as they’ll fall out quickly and use young players. Undrafted Manny Harris has put up good numbers with Cleveland’s decimated team, but they’ll get guys back and he’ll likely sit.

So the top five rookies should look something like Griffin, Wall, Johnson, Cousins and Turner.

Cutting down on the second act

-- There was a bit of a dustup last week over the new technical foul call rules for players who act out a bit too much. The players’ union filed a complaint, though you wonder if anyone would have woken them up if the game wasn’t in New York. If a player overreacts in Oklahoma City is there really a noise? Kevin Garnett was ejected, and you could call it the Garnett Rule with all his bellyaching over the years. Unless you called it the Duncan Rule, or Kobe Rule, or Wade Rule or LeBron Rule. Yes, you get the idea. Shaq got a technical, and I will defend the big guy. He rarely complains anywhere near the level of physical abuse he takes. Yes, he delivers his share, but he’s not the problem. First of all, the league isn’t changing this, so the fellas better get used to it. Second, I saw the tape they show the players and there is plenty of complaining still permitted. They’re not taking the emotion out of the game. They trying to take out the poseurs. The league is just trying to cut down on the second act of Henry VIII, which goes on too often when one of the golden children is called for a foul. Good for the league. Though it should help the Heat defense as Wade may actually begin running back on defense for a change instead of complaining every time he throws himself into the defense like an NFL runner trying to cross the goal line. Same with Duncan and Paul Pierce. It’s going to be the most fun watching Boston, which is the team leader in this stuff. As coach Doc Rivers noted dryly: “We lost two of our more talented tech players for right now (retired Rasheed Wallace and injured Kendrick Perkins), but eventually we’ll get it.’’ It’s why you have greater respect for guys like Ben Gordon. Yes, the Bulls had to move him to even get a sniff of free agency, and no, they haven’t replaced him yet. “I’m all for it, and I think it will make the game go a lot smoother,” Gordon told Detroit media last week. “There are times when guys are complaining a bit excessively. It kind of slows the game down. It messes with the flow of the game. I won’t struggle with it, but I’m hoping some guys who are used to arguing with refs and trying to beg for calls and stuff, hopefully it will affect their game a little bit more. It will give me an extra edge.” I do miss Ben’s honesty and in appreciation I wear a long sleeve t-shirt in the winter under a golf shirt, a look I picked up from Gordon. I call it “the Ben,” though it hasn’t caught on in Paris. France or Texas.

Wizards need to do something with Arenas

-- The internet Bogus Blockbuster of the Week last week was some sort of bizarre four-team deal supposedly proposed by Portland that would have gotten them Chris Paul and had them giving up just Andre Miller. Heck, if you’re going to propose stupid stuff like that, why not go for LeBron or Dwight Howard? We thought the Paul rumors had gone away since Paul, unlike Carmelo, has lately professed unvarnished commitment to New Orleans. But if you’ve been watching the Hornets this preseason you’ve seen a team in a mess. That Emeka Okafor trade was a disaster as he’s exactly the wrong player for Paul. Adding Trevor Ariza sounded nice, but he can’t shoot. Okafor took a game off against Atlanta, so they started Aaron Gray, who had two points and a rebound in 17 minutes, so they signed D.J. Mbenga. The point is I can’t see Paul putting up with this. If the Hornets get off badly, will they look to cash in? I’d doubt it for now, but they don’t look like a playoff team. Which brings me to my blockbuster. Actually, I have to admit in advance it won’t work and wouldn’t happen. There, that’s full disclosure for you. But it focuses around Gilbert Arenas, who had another eventful week with faking an injury so teammate Nick Young could play. Arenas is something of a mentor to Young, so you better avoid Young as well. Young, we know is a shooter. Ouch, I know I shouldn’t have done that. Anyway, Arenas said Young is a classic street ball player and these NBA offenses just inhibit him. Better go out and trade for that guy. I digress. It’s clear, as I wrote last week, for John Wall to have any sort of career the Wizards have got to get rid of Arenas, who, by the way, can play from what I’ve seen when he isn’t pretending to be hurt. He conveniently got hurt after he pretended to be hurt, or so he said. This obviously isn’t going away for Washington. He is owed $80.1 million from the Wizards for the next four seasons, so the Wizards next conversation with him has to be: “OK, Gilbert, how much will it cost for you to go away?” Of course, he is owed $80 million, but if he stays in Washington his career is over as he’ll be 32 in four years. And isn’t your career worth something? Isn’t a $60 million payment enough to get by on? I know, I’m way too logical to think like an NBA player, but the Wizards have to be having those conversations with Arenas’ representatives, assuming he has some, by now. So can you trade him? No way, of course, we assume. But I believe physically he is close to where he was and he does need the ball and can be a big time scorer again. Say you’re Denver and want to clean out. Carmelo is from Baltimore and say you like some Wizards’ pieces, like Andray Blatche and Yi. Maybe you take Gilbert and get a few pieces and some picks, and most of your loonies like Kenyon Martin and J.R. Smith are off the books after this season. Move Chauncey to two and make him a mentor for Gilbert, and maybe Carmelo buys Baltimore and with Wall who knows. Nah, it won’t work, but they’ve got to do something with Gilbert.

Oden on the mend… again

--Greg Oden had swelling in his knee last week, so who knows when he’ll ever play. The Trail Blazers are counting on Marcus Camby, who misses at least a dozen games in his healthiest seasons. Jeff Pendergraph is out for the season and Joel Pryzbilla is coming back faster that Oden from knee surgery, but who doesn’t these days. And Rudy Fernandez is shooting 60 percent on threes in the preseason. It looks like he’s staying unless he can bring the Blazers a big, and good luck with that. Erick Dampier still is hanging around. … The Nuggets have brought in Pete D'Alessandro, the cap guru who helped Chris Mullin make the deals that turned around the Warriors before Don Nelson blew them up again. Maybe something does get done with Carmelo as a result…..The Akron Beacon Journal ran an item last week on LeBron on the Fortune magazine “40 under 40” influential in business. The interesting part was the item began with a warning that it was about LeBron and if people didn’t want to read it they should skip over it. I’m guessing he’s still not that popular back home. … How about Andrew Bogut declaring himself not 100 percent for the year. Gentlemen, start your excuses. You know Scott Skiles had to love that one. Skiles wouldn’t have said that as a player if he had a sucking chest wound with an axe handle that couldn’t be removed. … The Thunder’s Cole Aldrich fouled out of his last two games in brief time and is averaging almost five fouls a game in under 20 minutes. See, it’s not just for Omer. … Acie Law seems to have locked up the backup point guard spot for the Grizzlies as he’s basically outplaying starter Mike Conley. Said coach Lionel Hollins: “I see a kid who has been around the league and doesn't seem to have been given a real good look. He's just been thrown in deals and nobody has taken a look at him to see if he can play or not. That happens sometimes. Hopefully, he's found a home and he'll be that backup point guard that solidifies the second unit. We're hoping it works out. If it doesn't then at least he would have had an opportunity." … Neither of Phil Jackson’s three-peat Bulls teams had home court advantage for the Finals, so Jackson isn’t yet sweating the slow start from Kobe Bryant after knee surgery (shooting 22 percent) and Andrew Bynum out for a few months.

NBA news and notes

--The Knicks look like they’ll start at center Russian rookie Timofey Mozgov, who is first among rookies in blocked shots. … Now it’s the Cavs minus LeBron with the Princeton offense, which sounds nice, but as the 76ers found out you need a real point guard to run that offense. Mo Williams? I did think the Cavs made a nice pickup of Samardo Samuels, who was on the Bulls’ summer league team. … There’s going to be some interesting sorting out with the Magic now that Quentin Richardson is there, supposedly, to play small forward. Richardson has lost 30 pounds since playing for Miami in hopes of helping his troubled back. There’s been talk of Rashard Lewis more at his natural small forward position and perhaps an eventual deal of Brandon Bass, whom the Magic essentially kept from going to the Mavs after the Mavs put in an offer sheet on Marcin Gortat, which proved costly to Orlando. … Dwight Howard trained after last season with Hakeem Olajuwon, whose footwork and post moves were among the best ever for a big man. Howard’s are among the poorest ever. Howard shoots an occasional bank shot, but someone told him to get serious as he’s finally dropped his pregame dance routines and trick shots in pregame layup lines, though the trick for him was making a drop step move. But it hasn’t helped his free throw shooting, 52 percent in the preseason, below his career average. Of course, it was good enough to beat the Bulls by almost 50. … Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich also seems done experimenting with Manu Ginobili as sixth man as the Spurs, yes again, supposedly are on their last run, this being the fourth straight season for it. … The Spurs are looking at DeJuan Blair to start alongside Tim Duncan, who still says he’s a forward. Tiago Splitter has been out injured in preseason and likely will eventually have an Anderson Varejao type role for the Spurs. … LeBron was out with a tight hammy and Wade was out with his tweaked, and point guard Mario Chalmers has a bad ankle sprain and center Joel Anthony has been awful. See, doesn’t that brighten your day already?

--So Anthony Mason is working with Eddy Curry. You’d think Curry has had enough problems with being victimized by people who don’t always respect the law. How many arrests was that for Mason? They mostly were for bar fights, resisting arrest and once inciting a riot in New Orleans, which always reminds me of my favorite line from the movie Stripes when Bill Murray and Harold Ramis were at the Army recruiter: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Answer: “Convicted? Not convicted.” Mason did have a sense of humor, too. While being arrested a few times with the Hornets, he said in an NBA promotion that he “sees a career in criminal justice after his playing career ends.” Really, you can’t make this stuff up….There’s been all sorts of talk of commercial possibilities for those miners from Chile rescued last week as the world watched and cheered. And I kept thinking what great shape they were in given everyone got up in that two feet wide tube. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy noticed as well, telling the Orlando Sentinel: "They wouldn't have rescued me. I could have maybe fit my thumb in there."

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