You know what’s great about the NBA All-Rookie Team? Positions are irrelevant. So instead of the All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams and the All-Star squads that get selected every year, only the most deserving players make it without having to worry about doing silly things like calling Chris Bosh a center even though he takes about as many 20-foot jumpers per game as Monta Ellis.
Through the first half of the season, the rookie class has been fairly deep but unspectacular. I found at least 17 players that could earn consideration for the All-Rookie First and Second teams, but very few players who were absolute locks to make the First Team. Some players have performed much better than their Second Round draft status would have suggested (Mario Chalmers and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute). Meanwhile, there have been a few First Round disappointments (Michael Beasley, Joe Alexander and Robin Lopez, for example). Here are the best rookies of 2008-09 (so far).
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (11.4 pts, 7.9 reb, 1.9 blk, 48% FG, 82% FT)
Everyone’s been ready to hand Derrick Rose the Rookie of the Year trophy since the preseason, but Lopez has been the best rookie so far. While Rose was handed the reins of a relatively talented (albeit horribly coached and put together) Bulls team, Lopez had to leap past Sean Williams and Josh Boone to get any run with the Nets. Lopez cracked the starting lineup in game No. 8, and hasn’t left since, or even missed a game. He’s also improving, averaging 14.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game over the last month, raising his shooting percentages to 50.3% from the field and 90.7% from the line. He isn’t just the ROY, he’s the second-best center in the Eastern Conference this season.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls (16.7 pts, 6.3 ast, 3.5 reb, 46% FG, 79% FT)
It’s often said that point guard is the hardest position for rookies to master (although I would argue center is more difficult unless you come into the league as a physically dominant player like Shaq or Yao), and Rose has been up to the challenge. Lightning quick and absolutely fearless, Rose has also been extremely durable, starting every game and going over 40 minutes 19 times this season. Once he extends his range to the three-point line, we’re looking at a future All-Star.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies (19.1 pts, 4.0 reb, 2.8 ast, 1.0 stl, 1.8 3PM, 44% FG, 87% FT)
Forget what Bill Simmons said in his recent “underrated” column, which completely centered around his slobbering man-crushes on Kevin Durant and Manny Ramirez and made fun of the fact that “93% of the American population has a sports column or blog,” even though he started out as a blogger. What’s the matter Bill, are you tired of the guys at Kissing Suzy Kolber ripping you like you’re the next Peter King? Simmons talked about Mayo’s “me-first act,” which is a little ridiculous since Mayo plays on a team with something like nine true point guards and still averages more assists per game than his beloved Durant (2.6). Of course, Simmons seems to be extremely bitter about living in L.A. recently, so maybe he just grew tired of Mayo during his year at USC. The truth is, Mayo has the smoothest game of any rookie by far, has proven he can score in the NBA without being a tremendous athlete, and like Rose has played an incredible number of minutes (37:36 per game, 13 seconds more than Rose). He’s slowed down some over the past month or so, but since the defending champs are looking at Stephon Marbury as their midseason savior this year don’t think for a minute Simmons wouldn’t take Mayo on his beloved Celtics.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City TeamAndMascotStealers (14.4 pts, 4.8 ast, 4.3 reb, 1.4 stl, 41% FG, 80% FT)
Is there any wonder why the Pac-10 sucks this year? Twelve Pac-10 players were selected in the 2008 Draft, and an amazing six in the first fifteen picks. After watching Westbrook at UCLA, I’m actually shocked he’s shooting over 40% from the field in his rookie season, especially while having to run the point whenever Earl Watson isn’t on the floor. Westbrook is the best defensive rookie besides Mbah a Moute as well, and he plays far more minutes than his former Bruin teammate. The Durant/Westbrook/Jeff Green combo is one of the more exciting young trios in the game; too bad Seattle never got a chance to watch them grow up.
Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers (13.7 pts, 2.3 reb, 2.4 ast, 1.0 stl, 1.4 3PM, 43% FG, 86% FT)
Here’s where positional flexibility really helps. Instead of having to squeeze Jason Thompson, Kevin Love or Beasley on the first team, we’re able to build a very Warrior-like four guard/one center lineup. Gordon is probably the only person in the Clippers organization to benefit from the year they’ve had – as the injuries have mounted, Gordon gets more and more time on the floor. The worries about Gordon coming out of college have been unfounded; he’s not fat and he can get his shot off at any time. After barely playing at all in the first couple weeks of the year Gordon has been an explosive scorer at times, as his 41 points against OKC on Jan. 23 would show. Gordon has also shown he’s more than a jump-shooter, getting to the line 7.1 times per game in January.
Mario Chalmers, Rudy Fernandez, Marc Gasol, Love and Thompson
Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin, Mareese Speights, Mbah a Moute and Beasley
Warriors Week that Was (Lost to OKC and CLE [both at the buzzer], Blowout win over LAC)
The Warriors have placed two players on the All Rookie First or Second Teams over the last nine years: Jason Richardson in 2001-02 (First Team) and Marc Jackson in 2000-01 (First team). With all those high draft picks over the past decade-and-a-half, that’s absolutely pathetic…Against all odds (at least if you pay attention to Tim Kawakami and his increasingly self-promoting style of “journalism”), Monta Ellis came back against the Cavs. In two games he’s averaging 15 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. More importantly, according to Free Darko, he’s brought swagger back to Oakland. I’m inclined to agree…Don Nelson was pumping up Anthony Morrow not only for the 3-point Contest during All-Star Weekend, but the Rookie/Sophomore Challenge as well, according to 48minutes.net…In five straight games coming off the bench, Corey Maggette is averaging 21.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, on 52.7% shooting…Marco Belinelli had an MRI done on his sprained ankle that showed a bone bruise, meaning he’s out at least another week…Brandan Wright (shoulder) is out until at least the All-Star break…Baron Davis was a no-show at Oracle on Sunday, staying in Los Angeles to rehab his bruised ego tailbone…Golden State faces a brutal three-games-in-four-days road stretch starting tomorrow at Dallas, New Orleans and Houston…Jermareo Davidson was signed for the remainder of the season over the weekend. Davidson not only looks like the tallest WNBA player ever from afar, but also came up with the funniest moment of the season so far when the mics clearly caught him yelling, “Oh, MOTHERF—ER” before blocking a shot at the end of the Clippers game, leading Ellis, Stephen Jackson and Ronny Turiaf to crack up on the bench. Turiaf, who looked shocked/embarrassed, was seen saying, “Oh, my God.”
BASG Power Rankings
1. (1) Los Angeles Lakers (35-8): Andrew Bynum is getting better by the minute, but can the Lakers handle the most road-heavy schedule in the league the rest of the way?
2. (4) Boston Celtics (37-9): Eight wins in a row was expected; win at Orlando made a statement
3. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (34-8): LeBron, stop trucking guys and traveling – you’re better than that
4. (3) Orlando Magic (33-10): Falling back to earth (a little)
5. (5) San Antonio Spurs (29-14): They win the games they should, but have no answer for the Lakers
6. (6) Denver Nuggets (29-15): Can we throw Melo into that overrated category yet?
7. (8) New Orleans Hornets (27-14): Injuries to Chandler, West have to worry Byron Scott
8. (9) Portland Trailblazers (27-17): Check out Brandon Roy’s dunk on Cheik Samb
9. (11) Houston Rockets (28-18): Has T-Mac finally stopped resting his sore knee?
10. (13) Phoenix Suns (25-18): Only Steve Nash is untouchable as Kerr works to save his job
11. (14) Miami Heat (24-19): On the rise, but rumors of Marion-for-Jermaine and Marion-for-Miller make little sense unless they’re really into expensive, past-their-prime centers
12. (15) Dallas Mavericks (25-19): Finally gave up on offensively challenged DeSegana Diop
13. (12) Atlanta Hawks (26-18): They really miss Al Horford
14. (10) Utah Jazz (25-20): Haven’t been healthy all year; now Kirilenko’s out too (ankle)
15. (7) Detroit Pistons (24-19): Way to be a team player, AI
16. (18) Philadelphia 76ers (21-22): On fire of late, will Elton Brand ruin everything?
17. (24) Minnesota Timberwolves (16-27): Kevin McHale should have hired himself to coach this team years ago
18. (21) Charlotte Bobcats (18-26): Trading J-Rich isn’t ALWAYS a bad idea
19. (20) New York Knicks (19-25): Slowly cleaning up Isiah’s messes (Starbury, Curry, Jerome James)
20. (23) Indiana Pacers (17-27): Forget records, Danny Granger is an All-Star
21. (16) New Jersey Nets (20-25): Lawrence Frank won’t be around next season
22. (19) Toronto Raptors (18-28): Calderon’s return will help, but it’s already too late
23. (17) Milwaukee Bucks (22-26): Michael Redd’s season-ending knee injury sinks their chances
24. (26) Golden State Warriors (14-31): No excuses now, but you know we’ll hear some
25. (27) Oklahoma City TeamAndMascotStealers (10-35): If only Robert Swift wasn’t a complete pile, they would have a great young nucleus
26. (22) Chicago Bulls (18-27): Vinny Del Negro might not be around next month
27. (29) Washington Wizards (9-35): Caron Butler thinks he’s an All-Star…not this year, buddy
28. (30) Los Angeles Clippers (10-34): DeAndre Jordan’s ascendance might lead to a Camby or Kaman trade in the future
29. (28) Sacramento Kings (10-35): Just trade Miller already, even if you can’t get rid of Kenny Thomas’ contract…I’m tired of hearing about it
30. (25) Memphis Grizzlies (11-32): Jeff Van Gundy’s “Worst franchise in professional sports” rant on Sunday was pretty amusing, but the Raiders have that honor locked up