Top NBA Rookies
By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Geoff Nelowet
The NBA has had a somewhat surprising cast of impact rookies this season with Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet, the top two picks in last year’s draft, making no impact on the court. Griffin went down with a season ending injury, and Thabeet has been D-League fodder. Thabeet was not expected to contribute immediately, but it is atypical in the NBA to find that neither of the top-two draft picks makes it onto the court in their rookie seasons. Below is a list of the five best rookies this season, and it is important to note that this is not a list of the top ROY candidates, rather it is a list of the best players in terms of how they will perform in the future based on their rookie seasons.
1. Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors
Curry started off slow this season at 9.8 ppg after his first full month in the NBA, but he has gotten better every week. Over the last three months Curry has averaged 20 points and 7 assists per game. Those are impressive rookie numbers that no other rookie has matched this season. Curry is quick, he can shoot from anywhere on the court, and he is a natural passer in only his second season at the point guard position. No other rookie has a ceiling as high as Curry’s.
Some argue that Curry is a product of Golden State’s high-scoring offense, but it is hard to argue against shooting percentages: Curry is shooting 46% from the field, which most high-scoring volume-shooting guards can only dream of. He’s also shooting 42% from the three-point line, which is tenth best in the NBA. Curry is not simply a volume shooter that benefits from a high-scoring offense – he is a very efficient scorer and passer.
2. Tyreke Evans – Sacramento Kings
Evans will most likely win the Rookie of the Year award, which he deserves. He has been the most consistent and NBA-ready rookie by far this season and his stats exemplify that. He has averaged 20 points 5 rebounds and 5 assists, which puts him in an elite group of rookies: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Oscar Robertson were the only other rookies in NBA history to accomplish this.
Evans is also a great perimeter defender, and he looks to be a player that a franchise can truly build around. Evans will help Sacramento win games for years to come, and he will most likely be an All-Star on a continual basis.
3. Darren Collison – New Orleans Hornets
Since Chris Paul went down with an injury in January, Collison has had 25 games to showcase his abilities as New Orleans’ starting point guard. In January Collison averaged 21 points and 8 assists per game, and he followed that up in March with 16.8 points and 10 assists. Those are All-Star numbers, and it looks like Collison has learned a lot from playing behind a perennial All-Star in Paul.
Collison claims to be the fastest player in the NBA, which is an embellishment, but he generally seems to be the fastest player on the court. Collison has excellent natural ability, and he can at times get to the paint at will. Collison, though, needs to work on his turnovers. He has protected the ball atrociously averaging well over three turnovers per game since he has been given starting minutes.
4. Marcus Thornton – New Orleans Hornets
Thornton, the cousin of the Wizards’ Al Thornton, looks to be one of the better scoring guards from the 2009 draft. He is averaging just under 14 points per game in 24 minutes, but since he has garnered playing time over the last two months, he has averaged 20 points per contest.
Thornton is primarily a jump shooter, which limits his potential. He will most likely not be a franchise player that Evan or Curry could be. He may have a Michael Redd-like career in which he averages 20 points a game as a starting shooting guard.
5. James Harden – Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden looks to be another solid scoring guard, but he has not gotten the playing time yet for the playoff-bound OKC Thunder. Harden is reliant on his jump shot as Thornton is, but he has the skill set to be a dynamic scorer. He was touted as the player with the best overall game in the ’09 draft class, and he can still be that player. Harden has averaged 10 ppg in only 23 minutes. When he is given opportunities he has done fairly well, and his current average will undoubtedly improve dramatically over the next few seasons. Again, he will most likely not be a franchise cornerstone, but he will be a solid starter for a good team.
Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks
Jennings is having one of the best rookie campaigns of anyone in the NBA, but his numbers are misleading. 37% field goal percentage does not get it done in the NBA. He also benefited from playing basketball in Europe, so he could be a more polished product than the other rookies.
Jonny Flynn – Minnesota Timberwolves
Flynn has averaged 14 points and 4 assists for most of the season. Flynn is barely 20 years old, so he will likely make major improvements, but his assist to turnover ratio needs to improve as well as his shooting percentage.