Thread: Insider Request
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Old 02-10-2010, 03:09 PM   #5
Original ISH CLTHornet
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Default Re: Insider Request

When you look at the rosters of the two teams in the Rookie Challenge, there is a noticeable difference: The rookie class is dominated by guards, while the sophomore class features a lot of talented big men.

However, when we combine these two classes, something else jumps out: The stark difference in talent level between the rooks and sophs. It's not a huge surprise since people talked about how talented the 2008 class was and how shallow the 2009 class was prior to each draft.

But take a look at this list and you'll get a better idea. I'm ranking the top rookies and sophs together, based on the value I see in them now and going forward. Here's my top 20:

1. Brook Lopez, Nets
It's almost ironic that the top prize from these past two classes is a starter on possibly the worst team in NBA history. But that's how rare and valuable a franchise center is. Don't let the Nets' record fool you; Lopez is good enough to push a lot of teams into title contention.

Lopez does almost everything well on both sides of the court and has handled the mess in Jersey as well as can be expected. And there is still a lot of room for growth in his game. Over the next few seasons, I see him becoming a special player.

2. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Now that he's healthy again, we are reminded of what sets him apart from most other point guards. In terms of explosiveness and power, he's the LeBron James of his position. He has a great vibe about him, too -- he's happy to dominate the game but just as happy to watch a teammate take over.

As Rose's court vision and jump shot improve, he'll only grow as a weapon for the Bulls. As it stands now, he's already an All-Star who can propel a team into the playoffs.

3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Gasol probably has less All-Star potential than some of the players listed below him, but no one doubts he can anchor a strong team. His skill set allows a coach to run any number of offensive sets because Gasol can be plugged into so many spots with varied roles.

He's an excellent midrange shooter and a great finisher inside, and he'll be more athletic in the next few years as he learns to utilize his leaner body. On defense, he's a decent shot-blocker who also has an uncanny ability to rack up steals. Teams can spend years waiting to find a talent like Gasol at center.

4. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
One way I like to categorize players is by asking, "Do teammates like to play with him?" For Love, I believe everyone in the league would say yes.

His outlet passes are legendary, so sprinters love when he gets a rebound or takes the ball out after they give up a bucket. He's a great and willing screener, so scorers love using him to get free. And he's added a 3-point shot to his game, so now he helps his teammates by spreading the floor. Not to mention, he's a rebounding machine who can score 20 points in a game when necessary.

5. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
He can't shoot. And he's not a great finisher at the rim, either. But Westbrook still impacts and controls the game on a few levels and has proven to be a key factor in the Thunder's surge. Scary thoughts for the rest of the league.

When a player is as productive as Westbrook is -- despite his youth and underdeveloped skill set -- it's a sign that his intelligence and athleticism are carrying him. As his skills improve, so will his overall impact.

6. Tyreke Evans, Kings
With the Kings sinking back to the bottom of the league (they are 4-20 since the miracle comeback in Chicago), questions are resurfacing about what position Evans should be playing. To me, it's not the appropriate question. Yet.

On a team this bad, he certainly is not hurting the Kings with his ability to score, rebound and be the primary ball handler. If the team ever figures out how to defend the paint and begins to win half its games, then the question of Evans' best position has more meaning. And when that happens and he settles into whatever his permanent spot ends up being, he has the game to shoot up this list.

7. Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Most 20-year-old basketball players in America are playing their sophomore season in college. Randolph, meanwhile, has been a very productive and efficient NBA player. If this list were based purely on upside, he'd be ranked even higher.

Questions still exist about his lack of maturity and whether he's better as a 3 or a 4, but I love the improvement he showed before he got hurt. He's one of the most versatile big men in the game and, if he ever learns to shoot the ball well, could be an All-Star someday.

8. Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
Despite yet another season-ending injury, Oden is still highly regarded as a basketball player because we know what he can do in this league when healthy. He's like Yao Ming, who also has trouble staying healthy but won't be traded anytime soon because he's just impossible to replace.

Oden can rebound, defend and finish in the paint. And he's a great teammate with a good-natured personality. That is a very rare package to find, especially in a 7-foot, 285-pound frame. Had Oden stayed healthy up to this point, he'd be No. 1 or No. 2 on this list.

9. Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley has settled into his role as a solid scorer and capable rebounder in Miami. But there are those of us who think he could be a high-level scorer in this league if he played in a different system that didn't feature one of the world's best offensive talents.

However, that is not suggesting he'd be better off elsewhere. He is certainly benefiting from learning how to play a more complete game. After all, he has multiple 20-and-10 games this season and has made progress with defense, decision-making and ballhandling. Still, if he does not learn to compete on every possession, his potential decreases substantially.

10. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
I'm not sure which of Mayo's talents is most impressive -- his ability as a deep shooter, his competitiveness or his willingness to play off of Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph on offense when he clearly could be a 20-plus ppg guy. Finding shooters who can defend with toughness and finish at the rim is not easy -- typically two of those three traits is the best a team can do.

Mayo likely won't be the best player on a playoff team, but he's good enough to be the best player in a playoff series. And he might get that chance in April.
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