Originally Published: February 10, 2010
Top 20 rookies and sophs combinedComment Email Print Share By David Thorpe
Tyreke Evans (center) is the Rookie of the Year frontrunner, but how does he stack up with the sophs?
When you look at the rosters of the two teams in the Rookie Challenge, there is a noticeable difference: The rookie class is dominated by guards, while the sophomore class features a lot of talented big men.
However, when we combine these two classes, something else jumps out: The stark difference in talent level between the rooks and sophs. It's not a huge surprise since people talked about how talented the 2008 class was and how shallow the 2009 class was prior to each draft.
But take a look at this list and you'll get a better idea. I'm ranking the top rookies and sophs together, based on the value I see in them now and going forward. Here's my top 20:
1. Brook Lopez, Nets
It's almost ironic that the top prize from these past two classes is a starter on possibly the worst team in NBA history. But that's how rare and valuable a franchise center is. Don't let the Nets' record fool you; Lopez is good enough to push a lot of teams into title contention.
Lopez does almost everything well on both sides of the court and has handled the mess in Jersey as well as can be expected. And there is still a lot of room for growth in his game. Over the next few seasons, I see him becoming a special player.
2. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Now that he's healthy again, we are reminded of what sets him apart from most other point guards. In terms of explosiveness and power, he's the LeBron James of his position. He has a great vibe about him, too -- he's happy to dominate the game but just as happy to watch a teammate take over.
As Rose's court vision and jump shot improve, he'll only grow as a weapon for the Bulls. As it stands now, he's already an All-Star who can propel a team into the playoffs.
3. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Gasol probably has less All-Star potential than some of the players listed below him, but no one doubts he can anchor a strong team. His skill set allows a coach to run any number of offensive sets because Gasol can be plugged into so many spots with varied roles.
He's an excellent midrange shooter and a great finisher inside, and he'll be more athletic in the next few years as he learns to utilize his leaner body. On defense, he's a decent shot-blocker who also has an uncanny ability to rack up steals. Teams can spend years waiting to find a talent like Gasol at center.
4. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
One way I like to categorize players is by asking, "Do teammates like to play with him?" For Love, I believe everyone in the league would say yes.
His outlet passes are legendary, so sprinters love when he gets a rebound or takes the ball out after they give up a bucket. He's a great and willing screener, so scorers love using him to get free. And he's added a 3-point shot to his game, so now he helps his teammates by spreading the floor. Not to mention, he's a rebounding machine who can score 20 points in a game when necessary.
5. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
He can't shoot. And he's not a great finisher at the rim, either. But Westbrook still impacts and controls the game on a few levels and has proven to be a key factor in the Thunder's surge. Scary thoughts for the rest of the league.
When a player is as productive as Westbrook is -- despite his youth and underdeveloped skill set -- it's a sign that his intelligence and athleticism are carrying him. As his skills improve, so will his overall impact.
6. Tyreke Evans, Kings
With the Kings sinking back to the bottom of the league (they are 4-20 since the miracle comeback in Chicago), questions are resurfacing about what position Evans should be playing. To me, it's not the appropriate question. Yet.
On a team this bad, he certainly is not hurting the Kings with his ability to score, rebound and be the primary ball handler. If the team ever figures out how to defend the paint and begins to win half its games, then the question of Evans' best position has more meaning. And when that happens and he settles into whatever his permanent spot ends up being, he has the game to shoot up this list.
7. Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Most 20-year-old basketball players in America are playing their sophomore season in college. Randolph, meanwhile, has been a very productive and efficient NBA player. If this list were based purely on upside, he'd be ranked even higher.
Questions still exist about his lack of maturity and whether he's better as a 3 or a 4, but I love the improvement he showed before he got hurt. He's one of the most versatile big men in the game and, if he ever learns to shoot the ball well, could be an All-Star someday.
8. Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
Despite yet another season-ending injury, Oden is still highly regarded as a basketball player because we know what he can do in this league when healthy. He's like Yao Ming, who also has trouble staying healthy but won't be traded anytime soon because he's just impossible to replace.
Oden can rebound, defend and finish in the paint. And he's a great teammate with a good-natured personality. That is a very rare package to find, especially in a 7-foot, 285-pound frame. Had Oden stayed healthy up to this point, he'd be No. 1 or No. 2 on this list.
9. Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley has settled into his role as a solid scorer and capable rebounder in Miami. But there are those of us who think he could be a high-level scorer in this league if he played in a different system that didn't feature one of the world's best offensive talents.
However, that is not suggesting he'd be better off elsewhere. He is certainly benefiting from learning how to play a more complete game. After all, he has multiple 20-and-10 games this season and has made progress with defense, decision-making and ballhandling. Still, if he does not learn to compete on every possession, his potential decreases substantially.
10. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
I'm not sure which of Mayo's talents is most impressive -- his ability as a deep shooter, his competitiveness or his willingness to play off of Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph on offense when he clearly could be a 20-plus ppg guy. Finding shooters who can defend with toughness and finish at the rim is not easy -- typically two of those three traits is the best a team can do.
Mayo likely won't be the best player on a playoff team, but he's good enough to be the best player in a playoff series. And he might get that chance in April.
11. DeJuan Blair, Spurs
Blair's free fall to the No. 37 pick may go down as one of the biggest NBA draft blunders ever. Teams just couldn't wrap their arms around his ACL-less knees. For the record, doctors were more concerned with the long-term erosion of his cartilage due to having no ACLs than they were about him to potentially suffer a major injury.
But now that teams see him doing what he has always done on the basketball court -- wreak havoc in the paint -- they realize their mistake. There are 29 other NBA teams that could use Blair as either a starter or an energy guy/rebounder off the bench.
12. Ty Lawson, Nuggets
Lawson, like Blair, is so valuable because he can greatly help his team as a starter or a reserve thanks to his game and maturity level. The same can not be said for every talented player.
Lawson's ability to shoot, distribute and handle the ball makes him extremely difficult to counter because he's just so fast on the court. It also seems likely that he'll be able to handle a slower game, so projecting him to manage the pace in a playoff game is easy.
13. Brandon Jennings, Bucks
Who is the real Brandon Jennings -- the young man who tore up the league in November or the one who has struggled the past two months? I see it like this: If a player can play great for a month, then that is the goal to shoot for down the road, since he showed the ability to reach that level to begin with (as opposed to hoping a player can reach that level without ever seeing him do it).
Jennings has grabbed a lot of attention in basketball circles, so consequently he will be very busy at All-Star Weekend in Dallas. Ironically, though, it's probably the worst thing for him. If any player needs time to catch his breath and re-energize for the second half of the season, it's Jennings.
14. Hasheem Thabeet, Grizzlies
Even though he has done little thus far, Thabeet has a spot on this list because he can be a game-changing presence on defense. You do the math: Four of the top five defensive teams in the league right now are title contenders, and the other is the league's most improved team (Thunder). Meanwhile, Memphis plays its best defense when Thabeet is on the floor.
His minutes will improve as his offensive game develops, but he does not have to score much to be effective. It's very hard to find a player who can impact the game the way Thabeet has the potential to do.
15. Stephen Curry, Warriors
Curry is the toughest guy for me to gauge. I absolutely love his game and have always believed he could be an excellent point guard. However, I still see him as a bit unproven, simply because of where he is playing -- Golden State is so unlike any other NBA system. Otherwise, he'd be higher on this list.
He appears to be a good playmaker and perhaps can become an excellent one. And, of course, he's a terrific shooter, so he can play in any system and with any players. Imagine him in a Cavs uniform. Or a Heat one. Wow.
16. Marreese Speights, 76ers
Before the 2008 draft, I wrote that the two biggest "upside/downside" guys were Speights and Randolph. In both cases, we're seeing why (although they both appear to have more upside than downside).
Speights is an offensive phenom, kind of like Al Jefferson and Amare Stoudemire in that he can get buckets in a variety of ways in the paint. He's improved as a shooter from 16 feet to 19 feet too. If he rebounded better, he'd be higher on this list. But after a season and a half, it does not appear that this will be an area of strength for him. Still, players who demand a double-team in the post are rare, and Speights could end up being in that category.
17. Danilo Gallinari, Knicks
We all know what a sweet shot he has, but it seems Gallinari is more of a niche player than I'd like such a young guy to be. He's not asked to do much beyond shoot 3s and run, though he mostly just shoots 3s.
It's possible he can do more, and it's also possible he is going to get much better, just as fellow Italian Andrea Bargnani has. But even if he just maintains his current level, he's a valuable player because he's such a good shooter and he's eager to show it.
18. Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves
I watched Flynn get benched the other night in favor of Ramon Sessions even though Flynn was not playing poorly. He responded by being the most animated cheerleader possible, celebrating loudly as his team came back and beat Memphis.
After the game, it was reported that Flynn was asked to go back in but declined out of respect for how well Sessions was playing. That only solidifies my feelings that he would be an incredible option for a team as a sixth man. But in any event, an attitude like that, combined with his dynamic abilities to attack off the dribble and shoot, makes him an important piece to any puzzle.
19. James Harden, Thunder
Had the Thunder not acquired defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha last season, we'd be seeing more of Harden, who can help a team both as a scorer and as an all-around player, which is a rare combination.
Harden is one of the top three passers on this list and, in a few years, should be one of the best defenders on this list, too. Because the team is built around Kevin Durant's talent, we don't always get to see Harden's gifts. But as the Thunder's young core grows together, I expect we'll see Harden's offensive production jump. If you told me that in two seasons he'll be second in scoring, assists and steals in OKC, it would not surprise me at all.
20. Ryan Anderson, Magic
There is ample evidence that a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy exists in the NBA in the form of draft picks. Lottery picks, for example, are given far more chances to succeed than lower picks, even when it appears that should not be the case. Extra chances equal extra opportunities. So players like Anderson, drafted outside the lottery and stuck behind talented veterans, have to fight more to get the same treatment given to a lottery pick like Gallinari, a similar player in most respects. And it may never happen.
But when Anderson started in place of Rashard Lewis early in the season, he was excellent. There are a number of big guys who can shoot, but not nearly as many who can play. Anderson can do both.
Eric Gordon, Clippers
Fans were the most upset that EJ (the "J" comes from Junior) didn't make my top 20. I get it. He's an accomplished player on both ends of the floor, despite being classically undersized as a 2.
The issue I have with him is simple -- most 2-guards his size have to be either great shooters or great slashers who live at the free throw line. Gordon is good at both, but not great. That does not mean he can't get to that level, because he can, in both cases.
He shows flashes of major talent frequently, and perhaps the Clippers' coaching change will bring more of that out. But even if he doesn't improve a lot, he's good enough to be a strong rotation player for most NBA teams.
Omri Casspi, Kings
An Israeli journalist recently told me that many in her country, still shocked by Casspi's play this season, believe it's only possible because he is on a bad team. When I told her that he's valued by all 30 teams, I could almost hear her beaming over the phone.
When you are a 6-9 athlete who plays extremely hard and has a terrific skill set, it doesn't matter where you're from. Casspi is getting loads of attention here and at home, and it could be a reason for his drop in production of late. He'd better snap back quickly, as Donte Greene, who is very talented in his own right, plays the same position and is getting more minutes than Casspi now.
Taj Gibson, Bulls
Gibson has really fallen off lately, but not because of any rookie wall. He has plantar fasciitis, and for a guy who depends so much on his ability to move and jump, that's a killer.
He won't play much in the Rookie Challenge so he can be ready to help the Bulls in the playoff chase. Regardless of his recent play, he's been a huge part of the Bulls' much-improved defense these past two months. And his jumper has been pretty money, too.
Jonas Jerebko, Pistons
Jerebko's season has been much like Casspi's, but not quite as dramatic. He is just as much of a fighter, though, and is starting to show better shot selection, which is helping his accuracy from the field.
His agility and length, specifically in moving to important spots on the floor as a defender and rebounder, really stand out. It's not enough to be a hustler; it requires physical talent to beat people to the ball, which is his specialty.
Anthony Morrow, Warriors
There are plenty of 6-5 shooters who go undrafted and spend the rest of their careers in Europe or in coaching. But not Morrow. He has defied the odds while earning a reputation as one of the league's best shooters and garnering respect as a fine overall basketball player.
Check out his last two games combined: 59 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists, 9-for-17 from 3 and 9-for-9 from the line. How many other undrafted 2-guards can say they had back-to-back double-doubles in which they averaged 29.5 points?
Just missed the cut: Roy Hibbert, Pacers; Rudy Fernandez, Blazers; George Hill, Spurs; Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks; Jeff Teague, Hawks
This is from ESPN insider. This list seems out of whack to me. Blair over both Jennings and Curry? Gasol and Love over Tyreke?
What do you guys think about this list?
It kinda blows my mind that Eric Gordan didn't crack the top 20. There is nothing wrong with being an undersized SG. I mean come on, he's only 1 or 2 inches shorter than the average SG. He more than makes up for it with his tenacious play, so I don't know why those couple inches should make a difference. He should arguably be top 10 on this list. Love and Gasol are really coming out this year, but I don't know if they deserve to be so high, but yes, they should get the recognition. I don't understand why Curry and Jennings are below Ty Lawson. I don't mean any disrespect to him, or fans of him, he is a really solid player, but Curry and Jennings I believe have much higher ceilings. Keep in mind also, Lawson has the privilege of Chauncey Billups' tutelage. Curry and Jennings generally had to learn from just coaches and on their own, and both are thriving (with the exception of BJs %, but that's part of the growing pains). Having that superstar veteran with you, I believe, makes a HUGE difference. I also believe Westbrook should be a bit higher, along with Evans, maybe switch them with Gasol and Love respectively. I think in a few years, this list will look completely different, with the exception of the top two (maybe swap them).
Tyreke 6th LOL LOL top3 AT LEAST...actually i think it's between him and Rose
To me Westbrook is 3rd on this list and Curry top 10 and Reeke top 5
I like Gasol and Love but in no way are they better than Westbroook and Reeke
Overall I thought the list was solid...obviously the guy has his opinions and everyone else has a different one but all in all I liked it. I have a few questions with some player positioning but most of them I like alot.
Evans is a little low, as is Mayo.
Thabeet is far to high, same with Randolph and Oden.
I agree with Alot of other ones though. Rose and Lopez have been the best players from that draft class pretty easily so thats no suprise. Evans would probably switch with Gasol for my board.
Last time I checked, Westbrook was a very good finisher... He talks about how important a good franchise center is, but he has Hasheem Thabeet over Javale Mcgee? Gasol is the franchise center for Memphis. The Wizards win when Mcgee plays. I also think Beasley should be higher- especially ahead of Randolph at this point.
not really sure after that. I do know i'm not nearly as high on beasley, gallo or thabeet as some people. And don't sleep on either of the other ucla pg's holiday who is the youngest player in the league and already starting or collison who has been taking over the hornets with paul out.
Frankly Oden has proved 1 thing and one thing only in my mind, he is an injury prone big man, Beasely is a top 10 guy because he is a consistant player, and is the an excellent example of young NBA PF's while he probably won't be a superstar he will be a star and will be a guaranteed 20 point 10 reb. guy and will be the best of the new breed of 4 man with excellent ball handling and shooting capability, Lopez is an excellent pick at number 1 just because he is probably the most offensively refined true center in the NBA and has much more growth still yet to come.
Where in the World is DeMar DeRozan on this list? DeRozan > jerebko, >Gibson >Anderson.
I want whatever this guy's smoking.
He is a paid professional and they charge to read this stuff...lol
Thorpe is an idiot lol. EJ not being in the top ten is laughable. Not being in the top 20 is absurd!
His reasoning... Because he's clearly too short for the two-guard position? Lol... He's only one inch shorter than Mayo, but his wingspan is THREE inches longer (6' 9" to 6' 6"). He's short for the position, but he makes up for it in length and strength. EJ can defend three positions... On the perimeter and in the post. He's a better, stronger and more versatile defender than Mayo.
He also sounds real hypocritical saying most two-guards EJ's size have to be either great shooters or great slashers who live at the free throw line. Lol... Mayo only averages THREE free-throws a game, while Gordon averages five. Gordon has MADE more free-throws than Mayo has *attempted* this season, all while playing 11 less games and less minutes. Who the better shooter is, is arguable, but everybody knows Gordon attacks the rim better than Mayo, finishes better and is the better slasher...
This list was terrible...
This list is booty. Just for the record, I had some of what Thorpe was smoking last night, and I just woke up an hour ago.
Jennings that low?? I understand he's raw, but...come on. Top 5 at their primes:
1. Derrick Rose
2. Tyreke Evans
3. Greg Oden (If he doesn't re-injure)
4. Brook Lopez
5. Russell Westbrook
(6. Brandon Jennings)
I think hasheem thabeet and Anthony Randolph hacked this site and stole my points!!!
I disagree with Jennings...I think he is in a good spot. Besides scoring 55 points in one game what has the guy done? I realize 55 points or whatever he got is alot of points in one game, but cmon, Tony Delk scored 50 in a game, Eddie House has had his fair share of scoring outbursts, Has Tim Duncan ever hit the big 50?? In regards to Jennings...His FG% is aweful, he shoots ALOT, he's small. I just dont think the guy is as good as people think he is. Yeah he's a solid point guard, but to say he's an all star and the next Chris Paul is overratin the guy big time.
Yeah Gordon probably should have been top 15 at worst, but cmon...to hate on the guys list because of one guy is a bit harsh. Nobody is perfect. We all have biasness.
And for goodness sakes whoever is stealing my hard earned points at least grow a pair and tell me why!
That happened to you too, biggysmalls? The team of Gossert Jr, Koteas and Jones WILL get to the bottom of it......... after lunch.
pretty good list. i see he understands how mayo is better then gordan,. better overall numbers plus eff oon a better team. pretty clear cut
This list is terrible for one reason; he is comparing players who just came into the league and players who have already had a chance to establish themselves and then saying that it is a perfectly legitimate way of thinking. You have to think back to the way the current sophomore players looked in their rookie seasons; does he seriously think that the rookies will simply stay at their current level of play throughout the rest of their careers? These next one to two years are when rookie players make their biggest gains in terms of talent; think of Kevin Durant and how much he has changed in the past two years. So while this list may be semi-accurate to this exact moment in time, it will probably change within even the next couple months; and even if this list is for right now, Anthony Randolph at seven?
yeah randolph is too high at 7