Chairman of the Boards
Join Date: Dec 2008
Thorpe: Who's at the head of the Rookie Class?
Here's the top 10.
Ranking the rookies before the season relies on a simple formula: Talent plus opportunity equals overall production. Much guesswork remains in terms of predicting opportunity, as teams are still filling out their depth charts, so we'll tweak this list as the offseason moves along. And we'll add more second-rounders once we get a better idea of which ones will actually make a roster.
Until then, here's my first 2009-10 rookie report:
The top 10
1. Blake Griffin, Clippers
His combination of talent, powerful athleticism and passion for the game is unique. And he can be a culture changer for a franchise in desperate need of one.
I once heard Christian Laettner, then starring for back-to-back NCAA championship runs at Duke, explain that the key to his success was that he "played poor." No description better defines Griffin's style -- he plays with an attitude that seems bent on proving he belongs, despite being rich in talent.
2. Tyreke Evans, Kings
Evans is playing for a team in need of talent upgrades, especially at the point guard spot. So it is hard to imagine anything less than 30 minutes a night for this scoring machine.
Similar to Derrick Rose's situation last season, Evans can expect the offense to revolve a good deal around what he does best. The Kings will post him up, spread the floor for him and feature him as the clock winds down on numerous occasions. With his craftiness, length and skill as a finisher, he could lead the rookie class in points per game.
3. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves
As of today, he's the starting point guard for a team that has great talent inside (and two big bodies to use as ball screens). Flynn has great charisma on the floor, and he can use his jets in both the half-court and full-court game.
Considering the Wolves don't have a backup point guard who demands playing time, Flynn may lead this rookie class in minutes played. And with his confidence and talent, he'll put up very productive numbers. Unless … Ricky Rubio decides to suit up for the Wolves, too.
4. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
No player impressed me more during the summer league than he did. He played like a bigger version of Courtney Lee -- he was smart with the ball, didn't force things and played off his teammates very well. Those attributes are perfect for his role on the Raps, who look very similar to last season's Magic.
DeRozan can simply make plays within the system and let his veteran teammates carry the tougher work until he evolves into the quality starter he seems destined to become.
5. Brandon Jennings, Bucks
If Ramon Sessions stays in Milwaukee, Jennings will fall out of the top 10. But because Sessions is expected to leave, Jennings projects to play major minutes. And he's too talented not to put up some impressive numbers.
Jennings plays like a true point, looking to score only if it's the best option. And he showed in summer league that he can make players better, especially in transition. As I watched him play in Vegas, I kept thinking, "Who wouldn't like playing with this guy?" If Jennings accepts the tough love he'll get from Bucks coach Scott Skiles, he will be a candidate for rookie of the year.
6. James Harden, Thunder
I think Harden is the second-best American player in this class, but he's competing for playing time with Thabo Sefolosha, an up-and-coming player who does many of the same things Harden does. The Thunder need to develop both guys, which means Harden probably won't get the minutes that the guys ahead of him on this list will.
Still, this gifted passer plays the game beautifully, with a veteran's pace and intelligence, so he'll be productive in the time he gets. Should Sefolosha falter, Harden immediately would become a ROY contender.
7. Stephen Curry, Warriors
On one hand, Curry might have been the second-most disappointing rookie in Vegas (though he was second by a long shot to Hasheem Thabeet), shooting poorly and with seemingly no thoughts behind his actions. But on the other hand, he found a way to contribute in other areas.
Curry will figure out a smarter way to play offense (his coach will help), so it seems likely that he'll end up performing solidly this season.
8. Earl Clark, Suns
As I tweeted from Vegas, it'll be very hard to keep Clark off the floor this season -- primarily, and perhaps a bit ironically, because of his talents on defense. Clark can defend bigs and wings, using his length, quickness and excellent feel for the game. With Phoenix's front line in flux, it looks as though he'll earn ample opportunities to show he deserved to be a high lottery pick.
He's also an excellent passer and a perfect fit in the Suns' offense.
9. Tyler Hansbrough, Pacers
He showed in Orlando summer league that what we saw from him at UNC for four years is what we'll get going forward; he's a beast of a player. He's better off coming off the bench, where his energy will be even more valuable.
One item of concern: Hansbrough relies on getting to the free throw line a great deal, and that might not happen often as a rookie. He's better off focusing on finishing rather than trying to get the whistle. He also will be a factor in the Pacers' transition game, as he rarely fails to race the floor.
10. Jordan Hill, Knicks
Like Clark, the current lack of an identity on the Knicks' front line suggests that Hill will get minutes. And he's the type of player who will perform better when surrounded by veterans who understand spacing and timing. Hill will compete at a high level, and his size and agility combined with his effort will translate well to the Knicks' system