NBA Rookie Ratings: Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings are Untouchable.

December 18, 2009

by Jack Maidment

Barring a succession of spectaculars from Blake Griffin when he returns from injury in the new year, the Rookie of the Year award would appear to be a firm two horse race.

After a quarter of the season Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans sit comfortably atop the Rookie mountain, separated from their peers by their consistently superior performances.

No one else is even close to the level of these two first year point guards, both of whom have become the faces of their respective franchises.

1. Tyreke Evans

To install a sense of hope in the fans for the future of the Sacramento Kings is a very special achievement for the #4 pick. When he was chosen not even the most smiling of optimists could have predicted a 11-13 record.

Last year’s NBA worst are now sat just below .500 and they have Tyreke to thank for it. His stat line of 20, 5 and 5 with 1.6 steals has carried a Kings team that has little experience but much promise.

Gilbert Arenas said that as one of the League’s bigger guards he felt small going up against Evans and it is this size and physicality that make him such a tough opponent: if fellow rooks Stephon Curry and Brandon Jennings struggle with their shot they are usually in big trouble, but Evans’ body allows him to switch straight into attack mode.

It is his consistency that has him above Jennings and it will in all probability lead him to the ROY award.

2. Brandon Jennings

Missing out on the #1 spot by a whisker, there is no rookie more fun to watch than Jennings who has put the Bucks on his back, propelling them to a surprising 11-12 record.

When Jennings is hot he is simply un-guardable. His shot, which was scrutinised heavily leading up to the Draft, has proven more reliable than forecast and his quickness, if anything, was under rated, allowing him to attack the rim with ease and with little regard for his slight frame.

At this point, there is no better scorer than Jennings; he leads all rookies with an average of 21.1 ppg while also disproving the pre-Draft notion that he was a selfish player, with a rookie best 6 dimes a game.

When Jennings plays well the Bucks win and it is his occassional tendency to go missing in games that has him second.

Evans’ is consistently good while Brandon is inconsistently great.

3. Jonas Jerebko

The Detroit Piston’s #39 pick is this weeks best of the rest and the fluctuating performances of everyone outside the top 2 makes it entirely possible that he will not be here next time.

8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds hardly scream ‘deserved of recognition’ but Sweden’s first ever NBA player finds himself at #3 not for his stats but for what he has brought to his team.

In the absence of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince, Jerebko has been the personification of hustle, making plays and helping the Pistons win games.

He works so damn hard on the floor that he is a guaranteed fan favourite at The Palace: what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in determination.

4. Johnny Flynn

Flynn is gradually getting to grips with the triangle offense implemented by Kurt Rambis and as he does so his numbers are steadily increasing.

Playing in a new and utterly unfamiliar system left the Syracuse man looking a little lost and turnover prone but his game winning performance against the Utah Jazz has seen his stock rise.

His 14.2 ppg and 4.3 apg may not quite be enough to banish all thoughts of longing for Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota fans, but they are a good place to start.

Kevin Love’s recent return to the Wolves’ front court alongside Al Jefferson should allow Flynn to get even better, running with a big man tailor made for the triangle, passing skills and all.

5. Taj Gibson

In limited minutes Gibson is finding major ways to contribute to a Chicago Bulls team struggling for production from their starting 5.

He leads all rookies in rebounding with 6.1 a game in just over 20 minutes of playing time.

Throw in 8.3 points and just over a block a game and the 6’9 forward out of USC is doing everything he can to show he deserved to go higher than #26 overall.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Tyreke Evans, The Next Derrick Rose?

October 11, 2009

rekeby Jack Maidment

Whose the best? This guy is.

Or at least that is what countless General Managers around the League would have you believe. As far as guards go, Tyreke Evans is the most highly regarded and highly rated in this years’ rookie class.

Sure Johnny Flynn is nice and what he did at Syracuse last year, especially in their major 6 overtime win over Connecticut, was as close to heroism as you are ever likely to see. And sure, Ricky Rubio may be The Next Big Thing out of Europe and the best young player not playing in the NBA. And nobody in this draft can score like Stephen Curry from the guard spots, who has many a coach purring over the abilities that made him the 7th overall pick coming out of Davidson College. James Harden may well be the player who can contribute to his team the most in the back court.

But. Before an NBA regular season game is played, with the exception of Sam Presti of the Thunder, 99% of the other teams would almost certainly elect to take Evans on board and into their back court given the chance.

So what makes the West Chester, Philadelphia native such an attractive proposition. It probably isn’t the fact that the man apparently running the point in Sacramento this coming season has never really played the position full time before or that his jump shot needs some work before it can be classed as at least passable.

Despite his perceived deficiencies, the upside of Tyreke Evans is enough to make those in charge of NBA franchises across the land sit up and listen.

A year in college at Memphis will have given Evans a taste for big time basketball but the leap to the pros should hurt nobody more than the next member of the ‘one and done’ club. Or at least you would have though that, especially for a point guard, if Derrick Rose hadn’t poured gasoline all over the League last season before igniting in the Playoffs.

Before Rose, the rule book was fairly sturdy and solid: playing point in the world’s best basketball league is not easy and learning it’s ins and outs takes dedication and patience. After Rose? Anything is possible. If you are an immensely talented guard who has the strength and drive to decimate any defense, preferably out of Memphis, the League beware.

Fortunately for Evans, Sacramento isn’t going anywhere fast with just about the worst roster in the NBA, at least in terms of competing this coming year. That should mean that the 20 year old has the opportunity to grow into the League and the position along with his other young ( and promising) team mates.

The lottery may be beckoning the Kings once again before even a whistle has been blown in anger but with Evans and his, whisper it, potential, they can at least ring their cow bells safe in the knowledge that their will be a future for their team.

That is unless the franchise decides to move.

I guess some things are never certain.


NBA Rookie Ratings: James Harden Is Just What The Oklahoma City Thunder Need.

September 29, 2009

hardenby Jack Maidment

Carmelo Anthony, Ben Gordon, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Pau Gasol, Deron Williams, OJ Mayo.

What do all of these players have in common? All were taken 3rd overall in their respective Draft classes.

Look at the list and think about the amount of talent that has been sniffed at until 1 and 2 are done. Since 1997, with Chauncey Billups heading to the Boston Celtics, the 3rd pick has more often than not been a major addition to the NBA.

Every player taken third in the recent past has not exploded like those above, indeed their have been players who have failed to deliver on the promise that accompanies such a high draft choice: Adam Morrison, Darius Miles and Raef LaFrentz are proof of that.

However, certainly more often than not the guy going third has been fairly studly.

Enter this year’s Mr Number 3, James Harden, taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder with their first draft pick since moving from Seattle.

Harden enjoyed two extremely solid seasons while playing for Arizona State averaging 20 in his second year. Combine that with 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists and you have the epitome of an extremely solid and effective college player.

His numbers don’t scream ‘SUPERSTAR’ like Kevin Durant’s did after his one season playing in Texas. Nevertheless his stats certainly seem to justify his 3rd selection status.

However, the run of great players going at 3 does not welcome the solid numbers of Harden. If you go 3 you need something more. Billups? Arguably the best leader in the League (although admittedly it took him a while to get there). Anthony? Best scorer in the NBA. Williams? Tied best point guard in the L. Gordon? Mr End of Game. Gasol? 3rd best power forward in the NBA with more trophies than he can carry.

You get the idea.

So perhaps Harden will break the run of great 3rd picks with his solid, but not otherworldly skillset. But on a team that boasts Kevin Durant, who will be in the Best Player in the Game discussions after this year, the Thunder don’t need a star. Harden’s ability to get points will help dilute the scoring load that currently rests with Durant, Westbrook and Green. That’s 4 players who can all get 20 a night without too much fuss.

If Harden can fulfil that task for the Thunder, Oklahoma’s third pick will entirely have vindicated his selection.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Hasheem Thabeet has the shoulders to carry the weightiest of expectations.

September 7, 2009

hasheem 1by Jack Maidment

It is up there with all of the other clichés, but it is oh so very true: you can’t teach tall.

Of all the world’s popular games, basketball more than any other (except perhaps sumo wrestling) is best suited to those people with a very specific body type.

That is not to say that a tall player is guaranteed to be a good basketball player and similarly a vertically challenged player is not guaranteed to be ineffective. You only have to look at the success that many players have had despite measuring up at less than 6 feet: Allen Iversen. No elaboration needed.

However, one thing that is assured is that an extremely tall person with very little skill or experience is more likely to be picked up than a shorter player with above average skills: they may not be able to make a jump shot, but their mere physical presence on the court is enough to warrant a roster spot.

This may be the case at pick up games, high school and even college, but height is not enough to assure success at the professional level.

The importance of a physically imposing post presence to success in the NBA has made the drafting of 7 footers a troublesome and unpredictable business. The search for the next Shaq or Duncan or Wilt and the Championships that would surely follow has caused the demise of many an aspiring GM, consumed by the possibility of unearthing that monster of a man who also possesses the craft to do more than just get in the way and occupy space.

The fact that very, very few players come out of college and into the Draft as the finished product leads those in charge to place huge amounts of emphasis on a player’s potential. ‘He is 7-3, imagine what he COULD be!’.

Indeed.

Alas, most don’t work out that way and that is by no means their fault. The pressure placed on a player drafted high to grow as the GM promised he would is simply a case of misguided expectations.

It is with this in mind that Hasheem Thabeet’s rookie campaign will garner much attention and criticism. You cannot go second overall and not expect media attention, but when you were taken ahead of a number of other exceptional players who apparently could contribute more immediately seemingly because you were simply much taller than them is a sure fire way to attract detractors.

Regardless of the alleged politics surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies #2 pick i.e. Ricky Rubio not wanting to play their, Thabeet has much to do to repay the faith placed in him by the franchise. They believe that he will grow and mature into a player capable of dominating the floor, the anchor to their team.

The major positive for the Tanzanian is that he has got to where he is now despite only taking up the game at the age of 15. That would certainly suggest that he has much to learn and that what he has learnt he has done so in a very short space of time. Given a few years to develop and who knows how good he can be.

The expectations of most people, outside of the Grizzlies hierarchy, are that #2 was just too high for a player who brings relatively little to the table at the moment. So few genuine Big Men have gone on to fulfil the promise that their height has the potential to allow that the bar will be low set for Thabeet: nobody expects him to really excel, nobody will have him pegged as a Rookie of the Year candidate despite having gone second overall.

Perhaps that is unfair, but historically the vast majority of NBA giants have failed to ignite the game as those that drafted them may have wished.

No player taken this year will have a harder task than Thabeet in trying to finish where they started. Ranked the #2 rookie at the end of the season?

A tall order indeed.


NBA Rookie Ratings: Can anyone stop Blake Griffin?

September 5, 2009

blakeby Jack Maidment

Consider this. If Blake Griffin does not win Rookie of the Year this season, the start to his NBA career will be deemed a disappointment. Such is the pressure that accompanies a player deemed measurably better than the rest of the Class of 2009.

Conceivably there are only three reasons that Griffin won’t become the latest recipient of the award currently held by Derrick Rose.

Injury.

Capitulation under the immense pressure placed on the #1 pick leading to a major loss in confidence. The least likely.

Eclipsed by the break out of another. Possible? Certainly.

The problem for Griffin is that he is the sole bearer of expectations for this draft.

We heard all year how weak this class was or rather how one player was on another level to his peers.

Entering the draft as the unanimous #1 effectively sets Griffin up for a fall. Anything other than stellar performances and ‘star’ numbers will see his reputation take a major hit.

The rookie deemed ‘most likely to be an All Star’ will be at the forefront of all critics and coverage, scrutinised every night.

It is for this reason that the race for ROY honours will be closer than predicted. All people are susceptible to feel pressure and any slip by the Clipper could be capitalised on by the player that adapts best to life in the NBA.

Make no mistake, the rest of the guys taken from #2 down are talented enough to represent and there will be many who slap the faces of all the General Managers who passed on them draft night.

Their status as underdogs and their desire to belong and hang with the elite will drive the young players play pushing them to new levels of performance.

Those players taken by teams where they will play immediately, for example Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, will have ample opportunity to stake their claim to the top spot.

Those drafted to loaded teams will have to capitalise on their chances when they come along.

For the sake of comment and to banish the ‘Griffin plus everyone else’ status surrounding the 2009 class, let us hope that the ROY race is far from a one horse affair.