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Friday, October 24, 2008
Rookie Watch: Oden begins season at head of class

By David Thorpe
ESPN.com

This year's rookie class is loaded with big names, from college standouts to international stars. And the Rookie of the Year race should be competitive and fun to watch.

With that said, let's take a look at the top 10 rookies heading into the 2008-09 season.

(Click here for my complete Rookie 50 rankings, which I'll be updating throughout the season.)

Also, check out my list of the top 10 sophomores to watch, headlined by last season's Rookie of the Year, Kevin Durant.


1. Greg Oden, Trail Blazers

Oden has played just OK in the preseason, which is to be expected due to his long layoff and the type of knee surgery he's coming back from.

But if the NBA's Most Improved Player award was based on in-season play as opposed to play from one season to the next, I think Oden would be the favorite. When his mind and body catch up to the speed of the game, he should be a monster every night.


2. Michael Beasley, Heat

Scoring has always been easy for Beasley, and I suspect it always will be.

He has the best combination of feel, skills and body in this rookie class. As his effort and awareness on defense grow, so, too, will his minutes.

He's the favorite for Rookie of the Year, without a doubt.


3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies

A stat stuffer, Gasol should get as many starts as any rookie playing in the frontcourt. He can score inside and rebound. He has quick hands and an active mind. I also love his passing ability and craftiness on defense.

His experience playing high-level basketball in Spain is an advantage, too.


4. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies

Of all the rookies who are expected to play a lot of minutes this season, I think Mayo will experience the biggest roller-coaster ride. He is a dynamic player on both sides of the court, but because he relies so much on his jumper on offense, he will surely endure some very low points totals to go along with some huge scoring nights.

If he learns to change speeds better and earns more trips to the free-throw line, he'll jump a level from very good to great.


5. Kevin Love, Timberwolves

Love was acquired by the Wolves based more on talent and less on fit, so it's going to take time to create a good situation for him in Minnesota, which is loaded with beefy inside players. His strong hands will enable him to grab rebounds and score effectively inside.

However, he has not been much of an enforcer, defensively. Still, I like his upside on D, where he can learn to use his excellent feel -- and, hopefully, a soon-to-be-leaner body -- to cover ground more quickly.


6. Derrick Rose, Bulls

The logjam at the guard position in Chicago suggests that, in the short term, Rose might not see huge minutes. But he has shown improvement at handling ball screens (on offense), and his body control on at-the-rim finishes is already at a high level.

He looks to score more than I expected, but should be very effective in that role. He can really be a punishing point guard due to his size and strength.


7. Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers

In just his second NBA preseason game, Fernandez tallied 15 points, five rebounds, seven assists, six steals and six turnovers. Assuming he comes off the bench this season, that's the definition of an energy guy. And with Martell Webster out for an extended period of time, Fernandez has the chance to play a lot more, and maybe even start.

He is a do-it-all type of pro that will be a difference-maker on offense and defense.


8. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Westbrook figures to get serious playing time right away, despite a far-from-ready offensive game. He was drafted because of his defensive talents and his ability to complement Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. And because he's a winner.

Although he will suffer through some real struggles, especially as a shooter, the Thunder want him to develop into a future starter, so playing time is mandatory.


9. Eric Gordon, Clippers

The Clippers will utilize this scoring dynamo off the bench. He looks similar to Ben Gordon, not just in size and position but in how he can impact games. While he often looks to shoot -- he is far from knowledgeable about the term "good shot" -- it is his slashing talent that could earn him a future Sixth Man Award.

He is tough to stay in front of, and has the strength to finish at the rim amid contact.


10. Brook Lopez, Nets

Lopez has the game to make an impact on several fronts. He has shown he can rebound in this league, and has always been a scorer. He has also made some plays on defense in the preseason. With New Jersey's questionable frontcourt (due to injuries and such), Lopez may earn solid time off the bench.

Click here for Thorpe's Rookie 50 rankings and more observations

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.