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Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Rookie Watch: Rose rises, class could be one of best ever

By David Thorpe
Scouts Inc.

Derrick Rose
D-Rose has climbed to No. 1 in the Rookie 50 by averaging 18.9 points, 5 rebounds and 5.6 assists.

The best NBA story line thus far this season could be the phenomenal play of LeBron James. Or the success of the Olympians on their respective teams. Or the way Atlanta is defending.

However, no group has been more impressive as a whole than this year's rookie class, which could be remembered for generations to come.

Consider what these first-year players are contributing to their respective teams only three weeks into the season:

Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose leads the Bulls in minutes played (38.5) and assists (5.6) and is second on the team in scoring (18.9). He has scored 10 or more points in all 10 games the Bulls have played, the second time that has been accomplished by a Bulls rookie. Who was the first? Yep, it was MJ.

It is rare for a player as young as Rose to be considered unguardable. Yet that word is always buzzing from scouts' lips after they watch him play. Usually, the line is, "Once he learns to shoot the ball, he'll be unguardable."

Well, he's learning. He has hit four of his past 10 3-point attempts and makes enough midrange jumpers to force defenses to pick their poison: Try to stay close to him and risk being scorched by a dribble drive, or give him space and hope he misses.

But remember, this young talent is a passer first, so giving him space also means he has more room and less pressure to deliver a pass. Since Nov. 5, he has made at least six assists each game. His on-court demeanor is still too quiet, but I actually like that -- he's earning respect with his game first. That's the only way to win over a veteran club, and he's doing it every night.

O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Leads the team in points (21.0) and minutes (39.0). Mayo has averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists during Memphis' past five games while playing solid defense and acting as the team's leader in many respects.

Michael Beasley, Heat
"The Beas" is second in scoring (16.3) and third in rebounding (5.9) for the much-improved Heat. Since scoring only 9 points in Miami's season opener, he has put up 15 or more points in six of his past nine games.

Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
The energy guy off the bench is third on the team in scoring (13.6), tied for first in steals (1.0) and the most efficiently productive player for the Blazers (21.05 player efficiency rating).

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
The burly Spaniard is third on the team in scoring (12.0) and minutes played (30.0), and he leads the Grizz in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Bucks: This second rounder, who was not much of a scoring threat in college, averages 15 ppg as a starter for the upstart Bucks (10.6 overall) and is second on the team with 7.5 boards per game. And he may be the best defender on the team every night.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves
A solid contributor who is second on the team in rebounds (6.6), fifth in minutes (24.0) and sixth in points (8.8).

Jason Thompson, Kings
He was a top performer at his natural power forward spot to start the season and has shown great versatility by playing decently as a small forward thanks to injuries in Sacramento. He leads the team in offensive rebounds (2.4) and is third in overall rebounds (6.5).

Brook Lopez, Nets
Although Lopez's averages aren't yet compelling, he showed his potential by putting up 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals in New Jersey's dominating win over Atlanta.

Marreese Speights, Sixers
He's stuck behind productive vets Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert for now, but Philly execs must be pleased with his efforts when he has earned a chance to play. His PER of 19.85 leads the team.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder
He's third on the team in scoring (12.0) and second in assists (3.0). He also just recorded his first NBA double-double of 19 points and 10 boards. And he had 6 assists in that game, too. Westbrook could be a triple-double threat down the road.

Greg Oden, Blazers
In just his second game back from the foot injury -- and despite playing just 24 minutes -- Oden made his first double-double with an efficient 3-for-3 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line, along with 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. His shot-blocking skills are very advanced, so seeing him produce a triple-double in the future would not be surprising.

JaVale McGee, Wizards
McGee is fourth on the Wiz in scoring (9.3), third in rebounding (6.3) and first in blocked shots (1.2) despite averaging just 20 minutes per game. He had looked like a one-year or two-year project on draft day, but he now projects as a starter in this league.


Standing alone, the highly rated players listed above make this rookie class very special. But the play of the lower picks, or even undrafted ones, may be what marks this group as elite in terms of rookie production:

Anthony Morrow, Warriors
Although Morrow has played just four games, we can expect that number to grow without a doubt. He currently leads all rookies in PER and put up an astounding 37 points and 11 rebounds (on 15-for-20 shooting, 4-for-5 from the 3) in a win over the Clippers on Saturday. He was undrafted in June coming out of Georgia Tech, but was the best shooter I saw in all three summer leagues in July.

Mario Chalmers, Heat
He ranks second on the Heat in assists (4.7) and already appears to be a good defensive player for a team that prides itself on that side of the court.

Ryan Anderson, Nets
If Morrow isn't the best shooter in this class, Anderson might be. He has made 10 of his first 15 3-pointers and 18 of 20 free throws.

Bobby Brown, Kings
Undrafted in 2007, Brown has played like a more-than-capable backup point guard for a more-competitive-than-expected Kings team. He can shoot -- he has hit 8 of 17 3s -- and is a quick and crafty ball handler.

George Hill, Spurs
Just when the Spurs appeared dead, Hill arrived and infused some energy into the team. He notched more than 10 points in two of the Spurs' past five games and was a big difference-maker in their two-point win against Houston with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and NBDL players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.