NBA Rookie Report: State of the 2010 Class
By Sam Littman
The 2009 NBA draft has been known, for about a year now, as the point guard draft of our time, starring the likes of (on again off again point guard) Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Brandon Jennings, Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson, all of whom had terrific rookie campaigns. Jonny Flynn can still build on a solid rookie year and become a star. Rodrigue Beaubois, Jeff Teague and Eric Maynor have major upside, and the best pure point guard drafted, Ricky Rubio, hasn’t even played a game yet.
Yes, it was a truly great year for point guards. Which explains why just two were taken in the first round of the 2010 draft.
Last year’s draft was a veritable embarrassment of riches for teams in need of help on the low block. What’s more, most of the top prospects could play either position down low. Teams in this league love versatility, which is often coupled with ‘upside,’ and none of the teams picking in the first half of the first round could have projected what they were going to get in terms of out-of-position production.
Of all the top big men, only three were universally agreed upon as fitting inarguably under one distinct umbrella: Derrick Favors and Patrick Patterson are true power forwards, and Cole Aldrich, despite standing 6-10 and without much strength, is a pure center.
Otherwise, big men were much harder to classify. DeMarcus Cousins has a huge frame and can play down low, but also loves to play outside and is not an elite shot blocker. ESPN lists him as a PF. Ekpe Udoh is a terrific athlete and defender, but his size and weight would suggest that he’s a PF. Greg Monroe boasts true C size, but his softness and lack of assertiveness make him appear to be more of a PF. Ed Davis is 6-10, a superior athlete with deft post moves and great defensive instincts, but he’s probably too wiry to be a C; the same could be true of Larry Sanders, only with more emphasis on defense and more work to be done on offense.
Thus far, it’s safe to say that the combo big men of the class of 2010 have not lived up to expectations. But that’s not to say they never will. In fact, despite their unimpressive numbers, they could even be moving ahead of schedule.
Favors, the third overall pick, has had his struggles, as expected, but he’s also sufficiently demonstrated his worth. Players with Favors combination of size (6-10/250) and athleticism (35.5” vertical) are rare, but players who play with such fluidity are even rarer. Though he hasn’t found his groove on offense yet, he’s proven to be a very good rebounder and a perceptive shot blocker. Hell, he’s a great enough talent to warrant the Nuggets nearly parting with Carmelo Anthony for him. Once he becomes comfortable on offense, he and Brook Lopez could be an overwhelming handful for any opponent.
Cousins struggled mightily in the first quarter of the season, but he’s since become notorious for carrying the Kings to shocking victories. He’s been very much a combo big for much of the year, and once he learns to play as a center that only takes jumpers when he has six feet of separation, he’ll be ready to fulfill his potential. The jury’s still out on Udoh, who’s missed much of the season due to injury, while Greg Monroe is starting to shine in big minutes for the Pistons. He is still a bit soft, but plays with a quiet fire that will allow him to eventually become a very effective starter in the league.
In the cases of Aldrich and Patterson, we don’t have much to go on. Many scouts thought that Aldrich was ready to produce for an NBA club, especially one like the Thunder, after he averaged 10 rebounds and 3.5 blocks for a top-seeded team, but he has mysteriously been absent from most of his team’s games. Patterson is only starting to get minutes, and he’s proving every scout right with his tireless play and efficient and mature offensive game.
Though not as heralded as the aforementioned big men, Davis and Sanders are two guys that nearly everyone can agree on as far as performance is concerned. Davis hasn’t allowed anyone to push him around, as he’s averaged 6.1 rebounds in just 21.4 minutes to go along with 1.1 blocks. His high shooting percentage is also telling of his willingness to bang around the basket. Sanders, meanwhile, has played just like his college self, swatting shots as efficiently as any player in the league. His 14-points, 10-rebound, 8-block, 2-steal performance against Denver offered one of the wildest stat lines of the year.
These big men have not been nearly as exciting a group as last year’s class of point guards, but they could prove to have a greater impact on the league. Even before Evans, Curry, Jennings, Collison and Holiday were given the reigns to their respective clubs, the NBA was reveling in a ridiculously strong gang of point guards. But how many above-average back-to-the-basket scorers and shot blockers do we have in this league? Maybe two or three of each?
Every one of the point guards mentioned in the first paragraph will likely make a dent in the league, if they haven’t already. But following a big man recession, the likes of Favors, Cousins, Udoh, Monroe, Davis, Sanders, Aldrich and Patterson could prove to be more valuable.
Rookie Rankings 1/31/2011:
1. Blake Griffin
He’s not officially in the running (yet), but his 47-point (19-24 FG), 14-rebound performance in a 114-107 win over the Pacers might have put him in MVP contention.
2. John Wall
The top overall pick has gotten a good deal of undeserved hate for his team’s lack of success, and too few people complained about him not winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors. To that, I say:
Chris Paul (2005-06): 16.1 points 7.8 assists 5.1 rebounds 2.2 steals
Derrick Rose (2008-09): 16.8 points 6.3 assists 3.9 rebounds 0.8 steals
John Wall (2010-11): 15 points, 9.4 assists, 4 rebounds, 1.8 steals
3. Landry Fields
The most consistent rookie of his class had arguably the best game of his career on Thursday, posting 19 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists in a 5-point win over the Heat.
4. Gary Neal
Despite his very solid play of late, Cousins is starting to nip at his heels with his All-Star caliber performances. Still, the undrafted rookie has drained a three-pointer in 16 straight games.
5. DeMarcus Cousins
In spite of his overall inefficiency, Cousins continues to turn in some truly outstanding performances. On Friday, Cousins went for 27 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks against the Lakers in a shocking road win. Gasol and Bynum combined for just 21 points, 15 points, 2 blocks and 1 steal in 66 minutes.
6. Greg Monroe
A sour end to January soiled what would have been a banner month, in which he’ll finish with 10.6 points (59% FG), 8.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals anyways.
7. Ed Davis
Not only does Davis continue to shoot a high percentage from the field (56.6%) and rebound very well for a skinny rookie (6.1 in 21.4 minutes), but he’s blocking shots like a maniac. In 2-point loss to the Grizzlies on Monday, Davis blocked 5 shots in 23 minutes.
8. Wesley Johnson
Last week we wondered how Wes would rebound from the worst two-week stretch of his career. Johnson earns his highest ranking in ages due to his resilience, averaging 17 points, 2.3 threes 1.7 steals in his last three games.
9. Derrick Favors
The only noticeable difference between Favors the sub and Favors the starter is his shot blocking: the Nets franchise power forward is averaging just 1.9 more minutes as a starter, but blocking 1.23 shots as a opposed to .48 coming off the bench.
10. Paul George
Out of college, George was coveted for his unique blend of size and scoring ability, much like Pacers teammate Danny Granger. In the wake of Brandon Rush’s injury, he’s starting to validate his proponents. The 6-8 swingman is averaging 14 points on 61.5% shooting, suggesting that he might not give up his spot in the top ten anytime soon.
- Larry Sanders
No matter how many minutes he’s allotted, he seems destined to block multiple shots. He blocked three shots in just 13 minutes against the Hawks, and his shooting has improved lately.
- Al Farouq Aminu
Despite a major shooting slump, Aminu continues to produce when given solid minutes. His effort on the defensive end is underrated.
- Eric Bledsoe
He can still be an impact player for a Clippers team that has a relatively shallow backcourt. Once he rediscovers his stroke, he could play 15 minutes a night and still be a fixture on this list.
- Tiago Splitter
When you’re frequently entrusted with 15-20 minutes per night for the best team in the league as a rookie, you know you have a future.
- Trevor Booker
The Clemson combo forward has endured a very rocky rookie season defined by extremely erratic playing time, but he turned in one of the finest rookie performances of the year in a double-OT win over the Thunder, in which he played 45 minutes at center and contributed 21 points and 12 rebounds.