With one of the best rookie classes in recent memory, it is a privilege that I bring to you these Rookie Rankings. First and foremost, contrary to other rankings you may see across the wire, these “rooks” will be judged by their individual performances, as well as their team’s success. So, if you are a 20-point scorer on a 20-win team, like Kevin Durant was a season ago, you very likely could be docked from serious consideration come season’s end. Follow along now as we track the best that the ’08 class has to offer.
1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Pros: The transition from college to the pros has been easier than expected for Rose, who is making a smooth transition from setup man to scorer, notching close to 18 points per. Rose also benefits from playing in a large market with lots of exposure. It also helps that his team is in contention for a playoff berth. One thing is true, the kid is running the team like he’s a vet, so it will take a strong doing for someone to supplant him as the Rookie of the Year.
Cons: Three things: 1) Chicago may be asking him to score too much, so his assist numbers may drop throughout the season, 2) The kid will be going against the game’s best at PG on a nightly basis, and he probably won’t be looking this good every night, and 3) With the early season success and the bright light exposure, people may be enamored with DRose’s game, but there’s that ever-looming “Rookie Wall.” He may not be phased, but a lot of young rookies slow down toward the season’s end.
2. O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
Pros: Hands down, O.J. Mayo is the best scorer in this year’s class. This rook can get his shoot off from anywhere on the court and he knocks down a high percentage from the perimeter—about 41 percent from behind the arch. The kid is the truth offensively, and you know this because he walks into the League averaging 20 per like it’s nothing. Every GM, opposing players and coaches around the League say he has “a grown man’s game.” If he can sustain his numbers, or better yet elevate to 25 ppg for the second half of the season, he maybe the only legit challenger for ROY honors.
Cons: O.J. will receive a lot of hype around the League, like he has since junior high (thanks SLAM), but with him in Memphis there is no way his coverage will equal DRose. Not enough televised games, and far too little team wins to catch enough buzz around the League. The only thing that would help his candidacy is if he balls ridiculously and puts the team on his shoulders to make a playoff run. Everyone with me now (wait for it…wait for it…wait for it…Ha!).
3. Michael Beasley, Miami Heat
Pros: Beasley is having the typical rookie year. He’s decent in most categories but not great in any. Still, 13.6 points per outing is a nice debut, and if Shawn Marion gets moved then you have to figure B. Easy’s numbers will shoot up.
Cons: I hate to say it, but what Beasley was able to do last season at Kansas State will be in the back of everyone’s minds all season long. He dominated on the college level, and when he was taken at the No. 2 pick (over O.J. Mayo), you expected for him to do the same in the pros. The thing is, he’s about a foot shorter than everyone thought—I exaggerate—and he has fallen in love with his own outside jumper. Not to mention that if anyone is talking about the Heat, they’re probably talking about Wade.
4. D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats
Pros: Augustin probably won’t get a lot of pub, but he has stepped into the starting PG role at times this season and straight balled. Arguably the best natural point in this year’s class and a nice 3-point shooter, Augustin will be under the radar all season, but his Bobcat squad competes night-in and night-out and he’s a big reason why. If he brings his numbers up to around 15 points and 6 assists by the end of the season, he should receive strong consideration. Judging by his 29-point effort against the Bulls last week, he could be getting those numbers more regularly.
Cons: He’s coming off the bench for the Charlotte Bobcats, ‘nuff said!
5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Pros: Westbrook is a very athletic point guard and an up and coming defender, making up for his poor shooting ability. He adjusted decently to playing the PG position full-time for the first time every in his life, at least enough to take the starting spot away from Earl Watson.
Cons: Aside from being a poor shooter, he also plays the point for the laughing stock of the League, a team that will more than likely challenge for the worst record in league history. Nothing against you Russ, but you probably won’t be able to overcome the record like your teammate K.D. did a season ago.
6. Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
Pros: Meet the Spanish version of Manu Ginobili. This dude is that special, when he wants to be. He is fearless, with a better than average jumper and deceptive athleticism (just ask Dwight Howard).
Cons: Fernandez’s best problem is on his own team. Everyone expects so much out of Greg Oden that they aren’t ready to say that Rudy is actually the best rookie on the squad. Add to the fact that Brandon Roy has stepped his game up, meaning Fernandez will just be considered a really nice player until he explodes for routine 30-point games.
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Pros: Pau’s younger brother is making a name for himself. The big-bodied banger is a force in the middle of the paint, and he is offensively gifted enough to be an eventual 15-point, 10-rebound a night guy.
Cons: See O.J. Mayo’s cons and add in the fact that he plays with O.J. Mayo.
8. Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Pros: Chalmers is a very nice defender at the point position, already with a 9-steal game under his belt. He also shoots a decent percentage from deep.
Cons: He’s not even the best rookie on his team.
9. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Pros: Lopez will be a servable big in the League for a long time to come. He has a nice finesse game, and he will eventually be bringing down 10 boards per game to go along with scoring double figures.
Cons: Even with him up in Jersey, he will be out of sight and out of mind, due to quiet numbers. If a big is going to win this award, they’re going to need off the charts type of numbers, and he will never have those types of stats.
10. Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings
Pros: Thompson looks like a nice building block for the future. He is a long and athletic big, who is still trying to figure it out, but his numbers indicate that he will fulfill his potential.
Cons: No one is paying much attention to the Kings, especially now that Reggie Theus is gone. Even if they were, he wouldn’t be doing enough to challenge for the top spots in ROY consideration.
Rookies on the fringe: Be it by standout games or consistency, these are players that could move into the Top 10 over the course of the season (order 11-15): Anthony Morrow (Golden State); Kevin Love (Minnesota); Greg Oden (Portland); Courtney Lee (Orlando); and Luc Mbah a Moute (Milwaukee).
Further consideration: Eric Gordon (L.A. Clippers); Anthony Randolph (Golden State); JaVale McGee (Washington); Brandon Rush (Indiana) and George Hill (San Antonio).
Right now, it looks like a 1-2 race between Rose and Mayo, with Rose having a slight lead. It’s a long season, so expect surges throughout the year.