July 30, 2009
There are a number of question marks surrounding this year’s NBA rookie class: can Blake Griffin live up to the hype? Is Hasheem Thabeet the worst second-overall pick since Darko Milicic? Who will Ricky Rubio take to the prom?
After analyzing the Summer League performances, scrutinizing the projected depth charts, and consulting ETB’s evil-leaning crystal ball, however, we’re here to take the suspense out of at least one question a little early: meet your 2010 NBA All-Rookie First & Second Teams.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers – As the only prospect from the Class of 2009 pegged for almost-certain stardom, Griffin flashed his highly touted talent in his five Las Vegas Summer League appearances, averaging 19.2 points (50% FG), 10.8 boards, 3.2 assists, and 1 steal per. Despite the loose atmosphere and offense-friendly format, by all accounts Griffin approached these games with the sort of workmanlike intensity some NBA players struggle to attain during the regular season, much less summer exhibitions. That’s right, Clippers fans, your franchise has actually landed a natural-born hustler.
The personal drive and leadership qualities are there. The skills are obviously there (except for his puzzingly dreadful free-throw shooting, which topped out at 45% in Vegas). Unfortunately, though, so is the long, black shadow of failure cast by the Clippers franchise he’s been tasked with helping turn around. Is he up to it? He can’t do it alone, but we’re intrigued by the young core of Griffin, Eric Gordon, and Al Thornton and think that maybe, just maybe, this team could slowly but surely move its way back towards respectability.
The obvious preseason frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors, expect Griffin to have a standout rookie campaign and headline the All-Rookie team. Just stay healthy, Blake, stay healthy.
James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder - We remain high on incumbent starting SG Thabo Sefolosha (for the benefit of longtime ETB readers, however, I’ll leave at that… this time), but well-rounded players like Harden aren’t taken third overall to ride the bench for very long, if at all. The physical 6-5 guard from California played in nine games this summer between Vegas and Orlando, averaging a combined 14.7 points (50% FG), 3.3 boards, 2.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per.
Perhaps just as importantly, he played within himself and didn’t try to go out there and dominate for the sake of dominating lesser competition; when you see rookies playing within the flow of the game, especially during summer ball, it’s a good sign. Harden will be solid, not spectacular, during his rookie season, but we expect him to replicate the sort of late-season surge his new teammate, Russell Westbrook, enjoyed during his first year last season. It’s hard to argue with the direction this franchise is headed… if only they could do something about their fugly-ass logo and jerseys.
Tyreke Evans, PG, Sacramento Kings - Like other players on both the First and Second All-Rookie teams, Evans is walking into a situation in Sacramento where he’ll have little to no competition for starting minutes and will be given every opportunity to put up respectable stats. It won’t matter if they come during garbage-time blowouts, which Kings fans should expect to once again regularly suffer through this season. At least they’ll have the electric Evans to entertain this time around.
At 6-6 and 220 pounds, we can only see this year’s fourth-overall pick playing the point until SG Kevin Martin is shipped out, which could be as soon as this season. (Tell me, again, how the one-dimensional Martin fits into this team’s long-term “plans?”) Until his inevitable move to SG, Evans will run the show and give Kings fans hope for a better future with his ability to get to the rim, draw fouls, and distribute the ball to an emerging frontline headlined by Jason Thompson
Sean May and Spencer Hawes. Again, his field-goal percentage could be ugly–I’ll be surprised if it’s much better than Russell Westbrook’s 40% freshman effort–but he could easily lead this rookie class in scoring.
Rest of the 2010 NBA All-Rookie First Team, and the entire Second Team, after the break…
Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors – He didn’t shoot the ball well in Vegas, but last time I checked Warriors head coach Don Nelson didn’t look down on low percentages from the field. Besides, the 6-3 PG from Davidson is much better than the 32% FG he posted in five summer games and he’s playing in one of the highest octane offensive systems in the league. A likely starter from Day 1, anything below 14 points per would have to be considered a disappointment for Curry.
If Monta Ellis comes back strong after a wasted season last year, he and Curry could team up to make the Warriors’ starting backcourt one to watch on a nightly basis. Throw everybody’s preseason darling Anthony Randolph into the mix, along with Andris Biedrins (still only 23 years old), and suddenly the Warriors’ long-term future doesn’t look quite as bleak as some might think.
Earl Clark, F, Phoenix Suns - As the final pick of this year’s lottery, Clark joins a franchise struggling to define exactly what kind of team it is and in which direction it’s going. That’s actually a good thing for the versatile 6-9 forward, who should benefit from the lack of frontcourt depth and step right into the starting lineup between Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson.
He won’t turn 22 years old until January and will make more than his fair share of rookie mistakes, but he’ll likely be given all the minutes he can handle, which should translate to solid numbers and low percentages in the early going and overall improvements later in the season. It’ll be interesting to see how well he guards both bigger power forwards and quicker small forwards.
A Minnesota Timberwolves PG - Between Brett Favre’s silly on-again, off-again, and maybe-back-on-again flirtations with the Minnesota Vikings, and Ricky Rubio’s “will he or won’t he play this year” drama, I’m guessing Minnesota sports fans are ready to say fuck off to both of them and move on regardless of how much either could help. After Jonny Flynn, the “other” first-round PG drafted by Kevin McHale, ergh, David Kahn, turned heads this summer, Timberwolves fans have to be wondering whether Rubio is worth the hassle at all.
For better or worse, however, here’s what’s probably going to happen: if Rubio joins the team, he’ll be fast-tracked into the starting lineup, average 30+ minutes a game, and generate enough hype and post decent-enough stats to make the All-Rookie Second Team. Meanwhile, Flynn will outplay him whether he’s still in Minnesota or traded elsewhere (which looks less and less likely). If Rubio doesn’t play, Flynn will push for first-team honors. For the record, I’m personally rooting Flynn: the kid oozes with confidence and comes into the league with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.
Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks - Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the Vegas Summer League, not only because he kept his head on straight when many predicted he’d lose it, but also because his somewhat surprising willingness to make his own shots a second priority to getting his teammates involved. The flashy 19-year-old tied Marcus Williams for the most assists per game with 8.2, while leading the pack with a healthy 3.6 steals per–more than 1 steal more than the next closest thief (Curry with 2.4).
Who knows what’s going on with incumbent PG starter Ramon Sessions, who remains an unsigned restricted free agent, but even if he returns to Milwaukee there’s a strong chance he’ll be traded at some point. The Bucks aren’t going anywhere this season, and as long as Jennings doesn’t piss off head coach Scott Skiles from the get-go (not that unlikely a scenario) he should be in line for more and more minutes as the season wears on. His shooting and assist-to-turnover percentages will be low, to be sure, but at this young age he’ll be better than expected.
DeMar DeRozan, G/F, Toronto Raptors - With Anthony Parker now in Cleveland, the 6-6 DeRozan will be given a chance to win the starting shooting guard job in training camp; his main competition is newly signed veteran Jarrett Jack, but at 6-3 and more of a point the team would much rather Jack spells Jose Calderon off the bench. DeRozan had a strong showing in Vegas, averaging 17 points (49% FG) and 4.8 boards per and showing some serious hops. He turns just 20 years old next week and clearly has more long-term potential than short, but should make enough of an impact to sneak onto the Second Team.
Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Indiana Pacers - Could the Pacers have a David Lee clone on their hands? Maybe. Hansbrough showed a nice shooting touch in Vegas (18.2 points per), and given the minutes could average somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 points, 8 boards, and a steal in his rookie season. Given Larry Bird’s affinity for the 6-9 North Carolina standout, those minutes should be there sooner rather than later, especially if Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s always precarious health becomes an issue again.
DaJuan Summers, PF, Detroit Pistons - In the course of the last two seasons, Pistons’ backup PF Jason Maxiell has gone from a possible future starter to expendable trade bait, especially with the arrival of second-round pick Summers, who did quite well for himself in Vegas. Showcasing an array of offensive talents (including the three-point shot) and a tireless motor, Summers was at times unstoppable with the ball, averaging 18 points and 5.4 boards over five games.
The 21-year-old out of Georgetown slipped to the Pistons because of concerns of about his tweener 6-8 height–he’ll probably play some SF and PF–but after a few seasons Summers could conceivably stack up favorably with some of this year’s lottery picks. Look for Summers to play well in somewhat sporadic minutes early on, then to carve out a solid 16 – 20 minutes per by season’s end… minutes that will come at the expense of Maxiell.
- NBA Las Vegas Summer League a Balancing Act Between Illusion and Reality
- Timberwolves Tradition in Capable Hands
- Grading the 2009 NBA Summer League Rookies in Ten Words or Less
- Breaking Down the 2009 NBA Rookies’ First Day of Summer League
- Open Letter to Milwaukee Bucks GM John Hammond: Stash Brandon Jennings in Italy