Overlooked and unheralded, there’s always a second-round pick who emerges from the draft and by season’s end surpasses many of those rookies taken ahead of him in terms of impact and potential for further growth.
Marc Gasol, Ramon Sessions, and Carl Landry have proven they deserved first-round consideration in ’07; who’s the cream of the crop (so far) from last June’s draft? We’re ready to declare a winner, and it’s not even close.
Mario Chalmers, PG, Miami Heat
Give it up for Mario “Superintendent” Chalmers, the 6-1 point guard from Kansas who slipped, slipped, and kept slipping down the draft board until falling all the way out of the first round and into the lap of the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 34th overall pick.
Shrewd wheeler-and-dealer that he is, however, GM Kevin McHale decided there wasn’t any room for Chalmers and immediately sent him to Miami for a few bucks and two second-rounders.
Expected to just compete for minutes at the point–not win most of them–Chalmers has started all 66 games and counting for one of the most improved teams of the season. And once again McHale has deeply endeared himself to all 284 Timberwolves fans still out there.
Good one, Kev.
Like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s stud rookie PG Russell Westbrook, Chalmers hasn’t shot a high-percentage from the field (42%), but with Dwyane Wade having an MVP-caliber season and shouldering the lion’s share of the Heat’s offense, Chalmers isn’t expected to put up 20 points per at this point. He’s chipping in 1.4 three-pointers a night, however, good for second on the Heat behind long-range specialist Daequan Cook.
His biggest impact, beyond giving the Heat stability at a position that was dubiously occupied by Chris Quinn last year, has been on the defensive end of the floor. He’s averaging 2 steals per game, good for fourth overall in the NBA. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who followed him in college, where he was voted the 2006-07 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in addition to making the All Big 12 Defensive First Team in both of his final two collegiate seasons.
Chalmers will be heavily tested in the upcoming postseason, where it’s nearly impossible to hide rookies playing big minutes like he is (nearly 32 per). He’s one of the key contributors, however, that has made the Heat’s turnaround and reappearance in the playoffs even possible. Not bad for a guy even Kevin McHale didn’t want.
– DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers – I don’t care if Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby, and Zach Randolph are all healthy at the same time for the first time this season (they aren’t, by the way): there’s no reason for the circus act that is the 2008-09 Clippers to not give their raw rookie some burn over the final month of the season. In 11 games as a starter, the 20-year-old seven-footer nearly averaged a double-double with 9.1 points, 9.6 boards, and 2.7 blocks per. That stint included a 20-rebound effort against the Golden State Warriors and 6 blocks against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
– Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, F, Milwaukee Bucks – He started the season as a guy few outside of NCAA fanatics had ever heard of, but has steadily turned himself into the Bucks’ best perimeter defender and a multi-category contributor who can do a little bit of everything. Over his past seven games, he’s averaged 10.6 points on 58% FG, 7.3 boards, 1.1 assists, 1 steal, and just under 1 block per.
– Kyle Weaver, G, Oklahoma City Thunder – In and out of the lineup until February (mostly out), the swingman from Washington State has, if anything, proven he’s a nice compliment off the bench behind the Thunder’s nucleus of young, rising stars. He’s recently been replaced in the starting five by trade-deadline acquisition and ETB favorite Thabo Sefolosha; he does a lot of the same things as Thabo, just without as much panache and with a much lower ceiling.
– Thabo Sefolosha Moseys Down to Oklahoma City
– Who is DeAndre Jordan, and Is He the Clippers’ Center of the Future?
– Where’s the Love – Which Rooks Made the Rookie Challenge and Which Should Have
– Russell Westbrook Giveth, and Russell Westbrook Taketh Away
Mario Chalmers Photo Credit: Icon SMI