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Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Rookie Watch: Who's moving on up?

By David Thorpe
Scouts Inc.

Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley has been coming on of late, averaging 16 ppg and 6.7 rpg in January.
As the NBA carries on toward midseason, some rookies are finding their gait and spreading their wings while others still wait for a chance. It's a mistake to assume that what we see from a rookie is what we'll get for the rest of the season or his career. A rookie can't control variables such as roster stacking in similar positions, coaching styles, injuries and even the presence of superstars on his roster.

Think about this: Would our top three guards this week -- O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose -- put up anywhere close to their current numbers if they were drafted by different teams? Imagine if Mayo were with the Spurs. Would he receive the green light to shoot more than 16 times a game? Remember, Manu Ginobili takes just 11 shots per game.

What if Westbrook were with Orlando? Would Magic coach Stan Van Gundy allow him to go to the offensive glass and risk giving up easy buckets? (Watch Orlando play and notice that their 1s and 2s always get back on defense.)

Maybe the most interesting question is, what if the Chicago Bulls had drafted Michael Beasley as the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft and Miami had selected Rose second? Rose likely would be playing well, of course, but he certainly wouldn't be the guy announced last at home games as hailing "from Chicago" or be the face of the franchise. No, he'd be the rookie who played at Memphis trying to figure out how to adjust to playing next to one of the top three players in the world.

So the circumstances that George Hill in San Antonio, Courtney Lee in Orlando and Mario Chalmers in Miami deal with are very different from what our top three guards face. But that's life in the NBA for rookies and veterans alike.

Players have to find a way to make their mark regardless of the situation. If they don't, others will, and then they'll be on the outside looking in. That's why players must stay focused, grind out the details and take care of their bodies each day. They must be ready to pounce on an opportunity right away.

Let's take a look at some guys who are doing just that, and some others still waiting for their chance.

(Click here for my updated Rookie 50 rankings.)

Guys making the most of their opportunity


Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Westbrook is rapidly improving, and we can project him to be capable of running a terrific team one day. He also has the potential to be an All-Star. He has a long way to go as a shooter, but give credit to head coach Scott Brooks for letting Westbrook do what he does best on offense: Rebound.

Westbrook reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade, relentless on the glass with his effort, long arms, great timing and big hops. He's a rebounding difference-maker, something point guards usually aren't. Teams already tweak their game plan when preparing to face him, and he just turned 20 years old.

Westbrook is basically tied with power forward Nick Collison for the team lead in offensive rebounds per game. The Thunder may sit last in the NBA standings, but they rank 11th in offensive rebound rate.


Derrick Rose, Bulls
Although it's easy to look at Rose's 6.2 assists per game and think he does a good job as a distributor, that is not the case.

Rose has an assist ratio (the percent of his possessions that end up as an assist) of just 24.7, ranking him 42nd among all point guards in the NBA behind guys such as Beno Udrih, Roko Ukic and Chris Quinn. Plus, his assist ratio ranks 20th among the 30 starting point guards. But it's not time to press the panic button. Rose's teammates are not shooting great on many nights, so he has to score for the Bulls to compete. Also, many of the Bulls' possessions end up as one-on-one games, and many of his teammates like to dribble before they shoot, often nullifying the assist.

Still, Rose should be able to improve that statistic in time. And perhaps extra passes from Rose will rub off on his teammates -- the Bulls are tied for 24th in assist ratio as a team.


Kevin Love, Timberwolves
The Wolves are getting great play from their bench, a big reason for their recent five-game winning streak. Love is a huge part of that effort. During the winning streak, the power forward averaged 12.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game and shot 58 percent from the field in just 22 minutes per game.

Love ranks fourth in the NBA in rebound rate and second in offensive rebound rate, and Wolves fans are beginning to like his stats. But assessment of Love's performance must include the things he does to help his team win that do not show up in the box score. Things such as quick or long outlet passes that get the break started. Or strong screens that Love uses to hold his position a little longer, creating more space for his teammate with the ball. Or occupying space inside to clear room for a driver.


Brook Lopez, Nets
Lopez broke out of a slump with his monster 31-point, 13-rebound effort against the Thunder on Monday. After the game, he talked to the media about playing with more strength, especially around the basket. That's a great point. Playing with power amounts to taking time in the paint and then trying to dunk on everyone, and that's usually a good thing. Rushing to finish before defenders arrive typically results in a missed shot or the defender's arrival there anyway. (This is the NBA, remember.) Trying to finish with power allows Lopez to gather, then explode to the rim.

Another benefit of playing with power is that officials are more likely to reward free-throw attempts to a player who plays through contact instead of avoiding it. It's a weird combination, but it works. Lopez attempted 12 free throws in Monday's game (and made 11), five more than his previous game high. And if Lopez's power is a sign that he has figured out how to finish, it's great news for the Nets and not such good news for everyone else. Lopez is a very big dude with skills to boot. A power game on top of that skill set makes him scary.


Michael Beasley, Heat
Guess who's having a terrific January? Yep, Beasley is asserting himself and his talent, and it's showing in his numbers. He recently had a two-game stretch in which he scored 46 points and grabbed 15 boards combined in those games.

In the Heat's seven games this calendar year, Beasley has scored 12 or more points six times, and he's averaging 16 ppg on 51 percent shooting. His whole game is on display; we've seen his jumpers, runners, scoring inside and slinking around guys for buckets. And he's 4-for-6 from 3-point range.


Courtney Lee, Magic
Lee moved into the starting lineup last week thanks to Keith Bogans' injury, and the Magic have reeled off five straight wins, including two big wins on the road over Atlanta and San Antonio. They also destroyed Atlanta in Orlando, leading by 50 at one point. But, as we've discussed all season, it's hard for a non-lottery-pick rook to maintain his spot over veterans, no matter how well he or his team is playing.

In addition to Bogans' return to action a few days ago, J.J. Redick has emerged as a shooting threat, hitting 15 of 23 of his 3-point shots in the Magic's past five games. But despite those factors, Lee's defensive talents should guarantee him some rotation minutes and could keep him in the starters group.


Eric Gordon, Clippers
No rookie is hotter on offense than EG, who has been torching teams, averaging more than 22 ppg in January. But this rookie report ranks guys based on what they have done cumulatively, and Gordon has not performed as well as many of the other rookies since the season began. But it's a long season, and Gordon looks as if he'll play a ton of minutes going forward, so seeing him ascend into our top 10 by season's end is certainly possible.


Marreese Speights, 76ers
Speights continues to lead all rookies by a mile in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating at 20.67, as he does two things better than almost any rookie -- make shots and rebound. To be an efficient and productive post player in the NBA, it often boils down to those two things.

Coaches often say basketball is a simple game, meaning that players who can finish good shots and position themselves to rebound most of the shots around them will impact the game. Of course, finishing shots is not easy for some players, but Speights is a natural at this part of the game.

Kyle Weaver, Thunder
Weaver has appeared in 15 games this season, and the Thunder lost every one of those games except for their win over the Bulls on Saturday. That's ironic because Weaver is the kind of player whom winning teams almost always have -- a player who takes good shots (and makes half of them) and can defend multiple positions.

With Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook, and now Nenad Krstic, the Thunder appear to have a set of talented core players. Weaver could be one of the glue guys who helps make the team special.

Guys still waiting for an opportunity

Joe Alexander, Bucks
Alexander has played 21 minutes thus far in 2009. And he is appearing in trade rumors almost daily. If the Bucks really are looking to move Alexander, then they have to be wondering whether Brook Lopez, Jason Thompson, D.J. Augustin, Marreese Speights, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos or George Hill would look good in a Bucks uniform right now.

Donte Greene, Kings
Greene became the first player Sacramento has ever sent down to the D-League.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers
Jordan played well in a Jan. 4 loss to Detroit (nine points, four rebounds in 18 minutes) but has played little in the Clippers' four games since then. I still feel that playing 30-plus minutes a night in the D-League would be good for his development.

Danilo Gallinari, Knicks
Gallinari is recovering from a back injury and could return in about two weeks.

Joey Dorsey, Rockets
Buried behind solid veterans, Dorsey has made three two-minute appearances all season.

Darnell Jackson, Cavs
Second-round picks rarely play on teams contending for a title, and Jackson is no different. He plays predominantly in blowouts.

Walter Sharpe, Pistons
Sharpe has played a total of seven minutes all season.

Bill Walker, Celtics
Walker played well in a short stint in the D-League and has since been recalled.

J.R. Giddens, Celtics
Giddens was just recalled from the D-League. He has not played for Boston this season.

Malik Hairston, Spurs
Hairston has not played this season.

Sonny Weems, Nuggets
Weems has not played this season.

D.J. White, Thunder
White is still recovering from surgery on his jaw and has not appeared in any games this season.

Click here for the entire Rookie 50 rankings and more observations

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 D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.