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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

You don't want to depend on a rookie. You don't want to lose your fantasy season because a rookie hit the wall or lost his focus at an important moment. It's nerve-wracking to hand the keys to your franchise to someone that couldn't legally enjoy a celebration beer with you if your team wins. And coming off of last season, where even the rookie of the year was only a marginal fantasy contributor, it's easy to write off all rookies as unworthy of attention.

On the other hand, you also don't want to be the one that passes on talent and value just because you are uncomfortable with the league's most junior members. There have been plenty of rookies that haven't hit the wall or blinked at an inopportune time - just ask owners that drafted Tim Duncan or LeBron James in their freshman seasons.

The bottom line is that knowing the incoming rookie class is an essential part of your draft preparation, and for that reason, we've profiled its key players below.

Rookies You Want on Your Team

Greg Oden, C, POR
The long-anticipated dawn of the Oden era finally begins this season, a year after microfracture knee surgery postponed what should have been his rookie campaign. Oden will start from day one and should be among the leading rebounders and shot blockers in the NBA this season. A legit seven-foot center with a huge frame (he'll likely play around 275 pounds this year), Oden has a surprising skill set. He played his entire freshman year in college shooting with his left hand due to a wrist injury on his dominant right hand, and still managed to post one of the better stat lines in college history for a freshman center. Oden also boasts great athleticism, with a pre-surgery vertical of 38 inches that he may recover if his knee holds up. In addition to the boards and blocks, Oden should also be a solid scorer on good shooting percentages, and if he can pass out of double-teams he could even chip in a few assists.

Michael Beasley, SF, MIA

Beasley was the most gifted freshman in the NCAA last season, and he's the most gifted incoming rookie in this year's draft class. He actually topped the ridiculous numbers that Kevin Durant put up in college (26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 53.2% FG, 37.9% from three), but for some reason he hasn't generated the massive hype that Durant did before his rookie season. And unlike Durant, Beasley has the physical strength to be able to play forward at the NBA level out of the box. Beasley is a 6-9 combo forward with extremely long arms that can either use his footwork and athleticism to score in the post, or face up and use his jumper or ball handling to set up shots off the dribble. Playing as the secondary offensive option on the Heat (behind Dwyane Wade) and also as the secondary combo forward (behind Shawn Marion), Beasley is in the perfect low-pressure situation; he can score and rebound without having to be the face of the franchise. He is definitely among the early frontrunners to be 2008-09's Rookie of the Year.

O.J. Mayo, SG, MEM

Mayo has been in the national spotlight since junior high, and has continued to put up big numbers at every level. He averaged 20.7 points, 4.5 boards, 3.3 assists, and shot 41 percent from 3-point range as a freshman at USC last season, and has the type of one-on-one game that should fit better in the NBA than it did in college. Mayo is not the explosive athlete that some expected him to be, and he's a combo-guard that will have to find his niche in the NBA. But he has a strong jumper and a knack for getting it off at will. He also projects as a plus defender, which could result in some decent steal numbers. Because he has had cameras chasing him for the majority of his life and dealt with the media in connection with the "illegal gifts" allegations, Mayo should have one of the easiest off-court transitions to the NBA of any rookie. And he's older than most one-and-done rookies - he will be 21 in November - which means that he should be physically able to play with the men before some of his contemporaries.

Derrick Rose, PG, CHI

The first overall pick in the NBA draft this summer, Rose has the pressure of being the savior of his hometown Chicago Bulls on his shoulders. Rose took the NCAA by storm as a freshman, leading the Memphis Tigers to the National Championship game with his combination of pure point guard skills, strong defense, and outstanding athleticism. Many consider Rose to be a 6-3 version of LeBron James physically, with a chiseled physique and excellent quickness and jumping ability that should ease his transition to the NBA. But point guard is one of the most difficult positions for young players, and Rose's suspect jump shot won't help matters. These two factors combine to put Rose at the bottom of our "Rookies to Own" list. That said, he's joining a talented Bulls squad that's just a year away from being considered a contender in the East. Chicago's overall talent level should help Rose make the jump to the pros and put up impressive numbers for a rookie point.

Rookies You Should Keep an Eye On

Kevin Love, PF, MIN

Love had been considered a prototypical college big man who may lack the athleticism to excel at the NBA level. Then he posted pre-draft "measureables" that were very similar across-the-board to Al Horford's, and all of a sudden he was a top-five pick. Love has a throw-back game reminiscent of Wes Unseld, the man for whom Love was given his middle name of Wesley. Love uses his wide body to establish excellent rebounding position on both ends of the court. He has great footwork in the post on offense, and has shooting range out to the college 3-point line. He'll be the high-post big man in Minnesota, playing off of Al Jefferson down low. As long as Love can hold up against the bigger, stronger players he'll face every night, he should produce good point, rebound and assist totals.

Jerryd Bayless, PG, POR

The Trail Blazers traded for Bayless on draft night, and it appears that he should fit into the Monta Ellis-style scoring-combo-guard-off-the-bench role right away. Bayless is lightning-quick off the dribble, with an aggressive take-it-to-the-rim mindset that drew plenty of fouls both on the college level and in the Vegas Summer League. At only 6-2, Bayless is too short to play shooting guard, but his game is not that of a point guard, so he landed in the perfect situation next to 6-6 point-swingman Brandon Roy. If Bayless' slim frame can take the pounding of big men that will meet his fearless drives at the rim, and more importantly, if he can finish those drives over the more athletic bigs of the NBA, he could be one of the league's top rookie scorers.

Russell Westbrook, PG, OKC

Rajon Rondo's success with the World Champion Celtics could explain Westbrook's surge to the fourth-overall spot in the 2008 NBA Draft. A hyper-athletic, defensive minded combo guard that should be voted "guard most likely to dunk on Yao Ming" from this year's class, Westbrook has good size at 6-4, with a good jumper and some experience running an offense. But he's expected to make his money as a ball-hawk on defense; he is the early favorite to lead rookies in steals this year.

Eric Gordon, SG, LAC

Gordon is a pure scorer at shooting guard, with excellent range that evokes comparisons to namesake Ben Gordon. He'll likely start the season behind Cuttino Mobley on the depth chart, but will be groomed to eventually take the job - though he has enough talent to produce big numbers even as a sixth man.

Mario Chalmers, PG, MIA

The hero of the NCAA Championship game, Chalmers surprisingly slid to the second round of the NBA draft, but could find himself starting for the Heat from day one. Chalmers is more of a combo guard than a pure distributor, but he is an excellent shooter and tough-minded defender that should fit well next to Dwyane Wade. Don't expect huge assist totals, as Miami will regularly run the offense through D-Wade, but Chalmers should produce good three-point shooting totals, and his quick hands should nab more than his share of steals.

Other Lottery Picks

Danilo Gallinari, SF, NY

Gallinari was a star in Europe; as always, the question is how that translates to the NBA. A 6-9 point forward with an NBA-quality mid-range jumper, he's good off the dribble and has excellent passing skills, but his athleticism, and a nagging back injury that limited his playing time in the Vegas Summer League are concerns, as is New York's logjam at the forward spots. It's questionable how much playing time he'll get this year, but with Mike D'Antoni running the team, any player in the regular rotation is worth consideration.

Joe Alexander, SF, MIL
Alexander burst into the NBA Draft lottery with huge measurements at the pre-draft combine - his quickness and leaping ability are off the charts. He uses his size to his advantage, and he is an excellent finisher around the rim. But Alexander's very raw as a prospect, with questionable ball handling skills and a streaky jumper. He's unlikely to get big minutes as a rookie with Richard Jefferson now entrenched as the starting small forward for the Bucks.

D.J. Augustin, PG, CHA

The Bobcats surprised a lot of people by using the ninth overall pick on a point guard, just three years after using the fifth overall one on Raymond Felton. Apparently new Bobcats coach Larry Brown wanted another lead guard prospect; if Augustin plays well in the pre-season he has a decent chance to earn some minutes as a rookie. Augustin is a quick, athletic point guard with excellent passing skills and legit three-point range on his jumper. He's a good scorer that also finishes well in traffic and draws fouls, but at his size (only about 5-10) he may not be big enough to do that in the NBA.

Brook Lopez, C, NJ

Lopez has outstanding size (7-1 258), with long arms and a strong frame, but he tested out as the least-athletic player at the pre-draft NBA combine. His skill could make him a reliable low-post scorer and defender, but there's a question as to whether he is athletic enough to thrive against NBA competition. He'll be in the mix with Josh Boone and Sean Williams for playing time this season.

Jason Thompson, PF, SAC

Thompson has a big frame (6-11, 250) with long arms and good strength. He was a 20/10 guy with more than two blocks per game in each of his last two years of college, but the competition level in the NBA is a big step up from what he faced at Rider College. Expect him to be a bit of a long-range project.

Anthony Randolph, SF, GS

Randolph is a very athletic big man with a long wingspan, good leaping ability, and great speed. Unfortunately, he's not physically ready yet for the NBA game - he needs to add muscle and range on his jumper. In fact, he sounds a lot like Brandan Wright, who just finished his rookie season with Golden State. Like Wright, Randolph has the potential to be a good offensive player, rebounder and shot-blocker in a few years. But in the short term, don't expect much.

Other Rookies to Keep on the Radar

Robin Lopez, C, PHO

Robin was the "defensive" twin in college, but even though brother Brook got the accolades and was drafted earlier, Robin's game might be more NBA-ready. Look for him to play an Anderson Varejao-type role for the Suns, hustling around the court and grabbing rebounds - but with Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire entrenched in the frontcourt, Lopez probably won't play big minutes unless there's an injury.

Marreese Speights, PF, PHI

Ironically, Speights was described in some draft previews as a poor man's Elton Brand. Now he finds himself playing behind Brand himself. Speights is big and strong, with great athleticism and low-post moves on offense. He may not get minutes right away, but he's an injury away from having double-double potential and could produce as a rookie in the Craig Smith/Paul Millsap/Jason Maxiell mold.

Roy Hibbert, C, IND

Hibbert is an old-school, 1980s-style true center. He has the size, defensive skill, and (unfortunately) athletic ability of a latter-day Mark Eaton. Had he come out of Georgetown one year earlier Hibbert might have been a top-five pick, but after an underwhelming senior year he fell out of the lottery. He should be a good fit on a Pacers team that just traded Jermaine O'Neal - Hibbert will never be a big scorer, but he has long-term 10-rebound/two-blocked-shot potential.

Darrell Arthur, PF, MEM

Arthur had lottery-caliber athleticism and talent, but questions about a possible kidney ailment and a college grade scandal caused him to slide to the end of the first round. A month later, the kidney ailment has been dismissed as overblown, Arthur has been cleared of any academic wrongdoing, and he's left with the Paul Pierce-like desire to make those that passed on him pay. Arthur used his length, agility and post moves to dominate in the Vegas Summer League and often overshadowed more heralded teammate O.J. Mayo. On a Memphis team that's painfully thin in the frontcourt, Arthur has a legit shot to win the starting power forward job.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, SG, NJ

Like Mario Chalmers, Douglas-Roberts was expected to go in the mid-first round but ended up sliding to the early second. And like Chalmers, Douglas-Roberts has made it known that he plans to make those that passed on him regret the decision. Built a bit like Rip Hamilton, CDR is an excellent slasher who can put points on the board in a hurry. He could earn an important role as a bench scorer for the Nets.

Article first appeared on 9/11/08

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