Kevin Durant Photo Credit: Icon SMI
See Also: Rookie Snubs
Since the inception of the then-called “Rookie Game” in 1994 NBA All-Star Weekend has featured one of the best showcases of young basketball talent on the planet. After being canceled due to the lockout of 1999 the event was reborn in 2000 as the Rookie Challenge and has pitted the NBA’s best rookies against the league’s best sophomores for the last seven years. The young kids get to play against their peers, giving casual fans a glimpse of future stars from mostly lottery teams that don’t regularly make national television broadcast. It’s my favorite event of the All-Star festivities.
These are the youngest, most explosive, most promising players our league has to offer. Or that’s the idea, anyway. But with the team being selected by a vote from NBA assistant coaches there are always politics, oversights and notable omissions. This year is no different.
Participants in the 2009 Rookie Challenge were announced last week, and there’s no arguing with some of these 2008 and 2009 draftees – but there are some clear (and some not-so-clear) gaffes in the assistant’s decision making. So which super sophomores got snubbed? And who should they replace?
The Sophomore Team:
G: Aaron Brooks (Rockets), 6-0, Oregon
G: Rodney Stuckey (Pistons), 6-5, Eastern Washington
F: Wilson Chandler (Knicks), 6-8, DePaul
F: Thaddeus Young (Sixers), 6-8, Georgia Tech
F: Al Thornton (Clippers), 6-8, Florida State
F: Jeff Green (Thunder), 6-9, Georgetown
F: Kevin Durant (Thunder), 6-9, Texas
C: Luis Scola (Rockets), 6-9, Argentina
C: Al Horford (Hawks), 6-10, Florida
The Sophomore Snubs:
Ramon Sessions, G, Milwaukee Bucks
It’s actually difficult to find too many bones to pick with the sophomore team, despite the presence of only one true guard. The fact is the 2007 NBA Draft simply wasn’t very strong in the guard department. Mike Conley Jr. hasn’t made the leap this year many expected him to on either end, actually playing worse than he did as a rookie for much of the season. Acie Law IV has been a non-factor in the Mike Bibby-led Atlanta offense. Nick Young hasn’t proven to be anything more than a sporadic scorer yet. Marco Bellinelli has played well in spurts, but hasn’t sustained it. Javaris Crittenton, Daequan Cook, Morris Almond and Arron Afflalo haven’t made a significant impact.
In fact, the only guard outside of Rodney “Lil 50” Stuckey who has made a name for himself has been second-round pick Ramon Sessions playing in obscurity for the Milwaukee Bucks. The 56th overall pick busted onto the scene late last year, finishing 2007-08 by averaging an eye-opening 13.1 points, 13.1 assists, 5.6 boards and 1.7 steals on 47% FGs in seven starts to close out the season. Despite Scott Skiles inexplicable efforts to keep him buried on the bench Ramon has shined through again, putting up 11 points and 4.5 assists in just over 24 minutes per game. As a starter he’s been even better, dropping 15 points and and 6.5 assists in 15 games. Simply put, he’s been better than Houston guard Aaron Brooks on the court and by just about every statistical measure we have.
Should Replace: Aaron Brooks
Carl Landry, PF, Houston Rockets
Another second-round pick from 2007, Landry was a mini-revelation for Houston last season with his hustle, offensive rebounding and proficiency around the basket. The Rockets have developed a knack for drafting effective tweener big men with Landry joining Louis Scola and Chuck Hayes, but the 6’7″ big man out of Purdue still carved out a nice niche for himself. In just 17 minutes per game he managed 8.1 points and 4.9 boards (2.3 offensive) on a stellar 61.6% FGs while playing a huge part in their epic Yao-less winning streak during 2007-08.
This season Landry’s positive play in the paint has earned him more minutes, up over 21 per game this season, and he’s doing more of the same – 9.5 points, 5.1 boards (2.0 offensive) while shooting 56.8% from the field and an improved 83% from the line. The 2007 class is stacked at forward and those aren’t overwhelming numbers. In such limited playing time they’re good enough for the 15th-best PER among power forwards though – just behind All Star Rashard Lewis and ahead of All Star David West. Who should he replace? I realize that Clippers’ second-year forward Al Thornton is slightly out-performing Landry in terms of sheer totals and Thornton’s 17 points per game are hard to overlook. I also realize Thornton is a better athlete and a more entertaining, high-profile player. But outside of points, Landry has been the better performer – especially when Thornton’s poor efficiency is figured in.
Should Replace: Al Thornton
Jamario Moon, F, Toronto Raptors
Jamario Speedwagon came out of nowhere and ended up as the starting small forward for the playoff-bound Raptors and competing in the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest and Rookie Challenge a year ago. His hustle on defense got the 27-year-old rookie a spot on Toronto’s roster, then it got him into their starting lineup, and then the improbable invitation to the All Star festivities. On a decidedly soft Raptors team that had plenty of shooters, Moon stepped up as their only true defensive stopper and their best pure athlete. In 78 games he finished the season with 108 blocks, 80 steals and 6.2 boards a game to go with just 51 total turnovers, making a meaningful impact every night in other ways than scoring.
Speedwagon shows great defensive instincts, the ability to get above the rim in a heartbeat, and tenacity around the ball. However, the arrival of Jermaine O’Neal has driven his minutes and numbers down across the board this season and the Raptors have somehow morphed into one of the worst teams in the league (coincidence?). As much as I enjoy watching Moon play, he’s simply not having the effect he did last season and if Landry is replacing Thornton then the only guy Moon can knock off is Wilson Chandler, who has blossomed under Mike D’Antoni, providing a little bit of everything on both ends.
Verdict: The assistants made the right call
Should Replace: NA
Ramon Sessions Photo Credit: Icon SMI