December 30, 2009
By Brian Spencer
1) Blake Griffin, F, Los Angeles Clippers: A fractured left kneecap incurred in the waning days of preseason has Griffin shelved until at least late January, though there’ve been very few positive reports out of Clipper Land and we’re starting to wonder if this thing might drag on even longer. Obviously, there’s no reason to rush him back to the court, but it’s an inauspicious omen for a franchise that never seems to catch lightening in a bottle, much less a modest break. The 20-year-old was quite impressive during Summer League and preseason play, so hopefully this is just one of those things and not a sign that Griffin is injury prone.
2) Hasheem Thabeet, C, Memphis Grizzlies: The native Tanzinian has a long, long ways to go. It’s much too early to label him an out-and-out bust, but unless your name is Darko (who by the way still blames his failed NBA career on everybody except himself) second-overall picks aren’t supposed to look as immediately lost, overmatched, and overwhelmed as Thabeet has in limited duty. You can’t teach height, and Thabeet has plenty of that to spare at 7-3, but right now it’s hard to imagine him ever becoming more than a shot-blocking specialist with an extremely low ceiling on offense.
Key Per-Game Averages: 10:54 minutes, 2.9 points, 3.3 boards, 1.1 blocks
3) James Harden, G, Oklahoma City Thunder: His well-trimmed beard isn’t the only thing that’s made Harden an early fan favorite in Oklahoma City. This team has been quietly building up its perimeter depth over the past year or so, and though for now Harden is playing second fiddle to starter Thabo Sefolosha off the bench, his hustle, smarts, and willingness to do whatever is asked of him has entrenched him in Scott Brooks’ regular rotation. Though it may not be until next year, it’s only a matter of time before Harden slides into the starting lineup and sticks there. A future All-Star? Probably not, but has the look of a significant piece on a winning team.
Key Per-Game Averages: 22:23 minutes, 9.8 points, 38% FG, 3.4 boards, 2.5 assists, 1 triple, 1.1 steals
4) Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings: Phenomenal. This kid has done it all and more for the resurgent, exciting Kings, and is flirting with historic, rare rookie pers of at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. As I said earlier this month, Evans has all the physical tools and mental intangibles to a be a perennial All-Star in this league for the next decade. What’s more, he seems like a winner and has been the driving engine behind his team’s respectable 14-16 record. Nobody thought the Kings would entertain realistic playoff hopes this season, but then few thought Evans would dominate as quickly as he has either.
Key Per-Game Averages: 37 minutes, 20.3 points, 46% FG, 5.1 boards, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals 3.1 turnovers, 78% FT
5) Ricky Rubio, G, Minnesota Timberwolves: Let’s be honest: the Timberwolves totally botched this. It’s like the Chargers drafting Eli Manning with the first-overall pick of the NFL Draft, but deciding to keep him instead of trade him even though he was adamant about not wanting to be there. Rubio clearly had/has no interest in playing in Minnesota, but GM Randy Kahn stubbornly stuck to his guns, drafted him, and refused to trade his rights to any number of alleged suitors. Now, Rubio is in Europe playing for Regal Barcelona for at least two seasons (and currently averaging an underwhelming 5.1 points, 3.3 boards, and 4.9 assists) and the T’Wolves are stuck waiting for some kind of return, sometime down the road, on a top-five pick. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Rubio’s trade value; sure, he’s still considered a top NBA prospect, but winds change direction quickly.
Jonny Flynn to Earl Clark after the break…