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Grading the Rookies

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Grading the Rookies

By Andre' Snellings
RotoWire Staff Writer

Rookies You Want on Your Team

Blake Griffin, PF, LAC - Griffin was the no-doubt number one selection in this year's draft, and he is the consensus favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award this season. Griffin is an ultra-athletic 6-10 power forward that has the physical strength to compete right away with the big men in the NBA. Griffin scores very well off the face-up, using his deceptive quickness and solid ball-handling to get to the rim with ease in an Amar'e Stoudemire mold. Also, like Stoudemire, Griffin has the jumping ability and aggressiveness to finish hard in the paint. Griffin was a gifted rebounder in college, but he was a man among boys there, and he will probably have a bit of an adjustment period before putting up huge board numbers in the pros. Nevertheless, Griffin showed during the Vegas Summer League that he has excellent rebound fundamentals with the ability to box out and explode to the rim. Griffin also showed in Vegas that he's a surprisingly good passer so he could average 2-3 assists right out of the gate. Griffin has already missed some time due to an injured shoulder, but he's expected to recover before the season starts. If his health holds up, Griffin has impact player potential even as a rookie.

Stephen Curry, PG, GS - Curry is one of the purest scorers to come along in a few years, but because he's short and slight of frame he has attempted to adapt his game to playing point guard. Curry has solid ball-handling skills and is a decent passer, but at the Vegas Summer League he clearly has a bit of a learning curve as a floor general. The good news for Curry is that he will be playing for the run-and-gun Warriors next to other offense initiators like Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis, which should lessen his point guard requirements and allow him to spend some time focusing on his real strength: scoring. Curry has 25-foot range on his jumper, which goes in so cleanly that it barely ruffles the net. His repertoire of scoring moves includes the running teardrop, crossover dribbles and up-fake step-in jumpers that should serve him in good stead in the pros. If he wins the starting job in Golden State, Curry should be among the leading scorers, three-point shooters and assist men in the rookie class.

James Harden, SG, OKC - Harden is one of the more pro-ready players in the rookie class, a polished scorer with nice size and athleticism at the shooting guard position. Harden also enters a good situation in Oklahoma City, where he can eventually slot in as the starting two-guard next to young cornerstones Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. Harden did not display any definite go-to moves during his stint at the Vegas Summer League, but he did show a good jump shot and a willingness to run and finish on the fast break. With opposing defenses geared to stop Durant and so much youth and athleticism on the team, Harden should have the opportunity to get easy buckets and perhaps challenge for the rookie lead in points scored this season.

Jonny Flynn, PG, MIN - Flynn's placement on this list assumes Ricky Rubio stays in Europe, which would allow Flynn to claim the starting point guard slot on the young Wolves. Flynn is an old-school, steady-handed point guard that has the toughness to go to the rim and the court vision to set up his teammates. He should quickly become popular with Minnesota leading scorer Al Jefferson after he spoon-feeds him a few easy layups. Flynn lacks a great jump shot, but he's crafty off the dribble and adept at getting to the line, something that should allow him to score at a reasonable clip. Flynn also showed quick hands in college to the tune of around 1.5 steals per game, making him one of the early favorites to lead the rookies in takeaways.

Rookies You Should Consider in the Middle/Late Rounds

Tyreke Evans, PG, SAC - Evans is a big combo guard whose game has drawn comparisons to everyone from Larry Hughes to a poor-man's Dwyane Wade. Although the Kings drafted him to play point guard, he's more of the ball-dominant shooting guard that can pass than a true table-setter for teammates. Nevertheless, his size should allow him to play in the NBA from day one, and he is expected to beat out the underwhelming Kings point guard options for the job. Evans is adept at getting into the paint off the dribble and was able to finish or draw the foul in college, a skill that could serve him well if it translates to the pros. Evans has the opportunity to carve out solid scoring and assist numbers right away on a rebuilding Kings team that plans to make him a centerpiece.

Terrence Williams, SF, NJ - Williams is an athletic 6-6 swingman with a versatile game (averaged 12 points, eight boards, five assists and two steals last season at Louisville) who has an opportunity to step into the highlight-reel shoes recently emptied by Vince Carter's departure. Williams is a physical wing, unafraid to go into the lane to grab boards or finish at the rim. He's also a strong defensive player that could earn a living as a defensive stopper until his offensive game matures. On the down side, his jumper is a weakness that he will have to overcome at the pro level. Williams was a four-year college player whose age and maturity could get him into the young Nets lineup for good minutes right off the bat, in which case he has the potential to produce solid numbers out the gate.

Jordan Hill, PF, NYK - Hill is a somewhat raw 6-10 forward that has drawn upside comparisons to Chris Bosh. He's comfortable operating out of the high post on offense, with a solid midrange jumper and good face-up moves. He also crashed the boards and blocked shots at the college level, but he tended to rely more on physical gifts than technique, and he won't have those same advantages against pro competition. The big question is whether he'll get minutes in a somewhat crowded Knicks frontcourt if David Lee returns, but Mike D'Antoni utilized Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw as quick undersized centers, so perhaps Hill gets some play in the pivot as a rookie.

Tyler Hansborough, PF, IND - Hansborough has been pigeon-holed for years as a great college player that would lack the size/athleticism to shine in the pros. But while this might limit his upside, it does not mean he won't be effective. In recent years there have been a slew of 6-7 to 6-9 college centers that have proven to be double-double threats when given minutes at the pro level. Hansborough has the chance to join them, as his relentlessness and scoring instincts should serve him in good stead against likely second-string opponents. Hansborough's upside is likely similar to teammate Troy Murphy without the three-point range, and at the least he has a reasonable shot at decent scoring and rebounding numbers if called upon.

Earl Clark, PF, PHO - Clark was a big upside pick, labeled by some as one of the biggest talents in the draft. He's a long 6-10, extremely athletic combo forward that is generally too quick for power forwards and too strong for small forwards to defend. He has a nice post-up game and can also operate comfortably from the high post. His ball-handling is strong enough that he has even played some point forward, indicating he could produce some assists once he earns playing time. On the downside, his jumper is a bit weak, and his moves are not especially polished and thus might not work as well against the athletic defenders in the NBA. He would be a nice sleeper if the Suns were to go into re-build mode, but since they re-signed both Steve Nash and Grant Hill it appears that Phoenix is trying to win now and may limit Clark's minutes. But keep an eye on him.

The Rest of the Lottery

Hasheem Thabeet, C, MEM - Thabeet was the second overall pick on the strength of his huge 7-3 frame and defensive capabilities, but he has only been playing organized basketball for about seven years and is still extremely raw on offense. If he wins the starting job for the Grizzlies he could challenge for leading shot-blocker and rebounder in the rookie class, but his offense is so far behind his defense that Thabeet may not be able to beat out Marc Gasol for enough minutes to be fantasy relevant.

DeMar Derozan, SG, TOR - Derozan is an outstanding athlete with a body (6-6, 220 pounds) and leaping ability (40 inch vertical) very similar to a young Vince Carter. He has a polished midrange offensive game and can finish at the rim, but he did not dominate the college game as a freshman the way many thought he would. This lack of assertiveness, combined with his youth, make many feel he's a year or two away from making an impact in the NBA. But any time you have a player with such impressive raw tools he's worth keeping an eye on as a potential late sleeper/free agent to watch.

Brandon Jennings, PG, MIL - Jennings made headlines by skipping college to play professional ball in Europe, a decision that's yielded mixed results. Jennings did not play much for his Italian team last season, but the experience of living as an adult in another continent has helped his maturity level. This will be key, because Jennings has the speed and skill to be a talented NBA point guard, but as a 19-year old he has to prove he can perform against grown men at the highest level. Jennings looked good at the Vegas Summer League, using his quickness to penetrate and score at the rim and set up his teammates, but it's unknown whether that will translate to the big league where the defense is better and the point guards are stronger. The Bucks are young and possibly rebuilding so Jennings could play sooner rather than later, but he's more upside than sure thing right now.

Gerald Henderson, SG, CHR - Henderson projects more as a role player than an impact guy, a potential defensive stopper in the Raja Bell mold. The Bobcats backcourt and swing positions are relatively full, which means he's unlikely to get enough minutes to produce fantasy stats this season.

Rookies To Keep on the Radar

Wayne Ellington, SG, MIN - The Timberwolves have completely turned over their roster in the last few months, and currently lack a definite starter at the shooting guard position. Ellington was a gifted scorer in college that could possibly help stretch the opposing defense to give room to Al Jefferson and Kevin Love to operate down low. If Ellington earns the starting job, he could score in double-digits and be a nice source of threes.

Ty Lawson, PG, DEN - Lawson is extremely quick but very small to play point guard in the NBA. His speed served him well at the Vegas Summer League, but it's unclear whether those same moves would work against longer NBA defenders. Lawson will back-up Chauncey Billups in Denver, and most likely his rookie year will be spent learning the ropes from the vet. But if Billups were to get hurt Lawson has the potential to provide decent scoring and assists if he can straighten out his somewhat streaky jump shot.

B.J. Mullens, C, OKC - Mullens is a young seven-footer with a good motor at both ends of the court, but not a lot of polish. He was impressive at the Vegas Summer League, but he has yet to prove whether he can be effective against competition his own size. The Thunder are extremely young and don't have a definite starter at center, though, so Mullens could get the opportunity to play before too long. If he does, he should provide decent rebound, point, and blocked-shot numbers.

DeJuan Blair, C, SAN - Blair was one of the more dominant big men in the NCAA last season, but questions about his height and injury history caused him to slide to the second round of the draft. He'll be playing behind Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess this season, but he has Paul Millsap-type upside if he is pressed into duty for the Spurs.

Article first appeared on 8/31/09