NBA Rookie Spotlight

Except for some rare occasions, I know that rookies rarely make a lasting impression in their first year in the NBA. Every now and then, a rookie like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird, will come along and alter the future for their respective franchise, but for the most part, the first year is all about learning the pro game and learning how to deal with the grind of an 82-game season that seems to stretch on forever.

This year’s crop of rookies, while not overly glorified, has some talented players who should have a significant bearing on their particular franchises for years to come.

Here’s the breakdown on some of the top rookies in the league.

Chris Paul: New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets PG
When I first saw Paul as a freshman at Wake Forest University, I was partially in shock at the composure the young point guard displayed back then. However, nothing Paul does these days shocks me at all.
Paul has been very solid in his rookie season playing the toughest position of all. The scary thing about Paul is that he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his vast potential and is already establishing himself as one of the league’s top point guards. Once Paul gets a consistent jump-shot, he will be unstoppable. At this point, Paul has to be considered the odds-on-favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award.

Channing Frye: New York Knicks C
I don’t know what to say about Frye except that he’s probably the steal of the entire draft. Frye is averaging nearly 15 points a game and has been fairly consistent although head coach Larry Brown can be extremely whimsical with his rotation at times. Frye is already an excellent spot-up shooter but could stand to rebound better and get a little stronger.

Charlie Villanueva: Toronto Raptors F
Although Villanueva’s selection was jeered by many Toronto fans and media members, the promising rookie has actually been pretty solid so far. Villanueva has shown that he can co-exist alongside of Toronto’s burgeoning superstar, Chris Bosh and looks like he will only get better with time.

Deron Williams: Utah Jazz PG
Williams has been solid if unspectacular. The third pick in the draft has suffered through the inevitable ups and downs most rookies suffer upon their entry to the NBA. However, Williams is strong and smart and should fulfill all of the promise that warranted his selection.

Andrew Bogut: Milwaukee Bucks C
The Bucks have brought Bogut along slowly so far giving him the role of supporting player. Bogut has shined at times this year and has disappeared at others. By all appearances, it appears that Bogut will become a competent big man capable of putting up a double-double every night. Whether or not he ever attains all-star status is another story, but for now, Bogut has been serviceable.

Sarunas Jasikevicius: Indiana Pacers G
Jasikevicius has recently assumed a bigger role in the Pacers’ plan than originally anticipated because of the ongoing Ron Artest drama. The highly touted European player appears as knowledgeable as advertised but looks tentative at times like the majority of European players who initially make the jump to the NBA. Once he becomes more familiar with the NBA style of game, Jasikevicius could conceivably become the long-range sniper and heady leader the Pacers have projected him to be at some point.

Luther Head: Houston Rockets PG
With all of the injuries to the Houston Rockets’ roster, Head has gotten to play more than expected this year and has taken advantage of the situation.
Head’s shooting has been eye-opening as he is ranked third in the league in made three’s per 48 minutes.

Jose Calderon: Toronto Raptors PG
Incredibly, Calderon has proven himself to be NBA worthy and has actually surpassed the expectations and achievements of several other point guards selected in the draft who had high-profile resumes. Toronto seems to have found a gem in this young point guard.

Raymond Felton: Charlotte Bobcats PG
I thought Felton would be a good NBA player with his quickness and ability to get in the paint. However, Brevin Knight has played so spectacularly this season that Felton’s minutes have been reduced more than originally anticipated. However, Felton has shown he can compete at the pro level when given the opportunity. At some point, the Bobcats will be his team to run.

Salim Stoudamire: Atlanta Hawks G
I found it amazing that someone with an outside shot as good as Stoudamire’s would fall to the second round but I guess that’s what happens when you’re an undersized shooting specialist. I thought Stoudamire would be a legitimate scorer in the league and make a lot of teams regret selecting him and so far, he has shown that he has the ability to score by nailing 41 percent of his three-point attempts so far.

Danny Granger: Indiana Pacers SF
I thought the Pacers, along with the Boston Celtics, got the best two steals of the draft. At some point, Danny Granger is going to make the Indiana Pacers forget all about Ron Artest. I know that may be going out on a limb a little, but I think Granger can be an 18-point, 7-rebound player for at least a decade. At the very least, he will have every opportunity to grow and improve.

Nate Robinson: New York Knicks PG
I love Nate Robinson and I think he’s going to be a dynamite player for least a decade. However, playing for Larry Brown as a rookie isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy. Robinson could conceivably become the Knicks starting point guard at some point in the future when the Knicks finally trade Stephon Marbury.

Other notables:

I thought North Carolina product, Sean May would be a serviceable pro at the very least and after battling several early season injuries, May is beginning to contribute to the Bobcats once again.

I also really liked forward Joey Graham coming out of college and although he’s beginning to make some significant contributions I Toronto, the fact remains that the Raps are waaaaay overcrowded in the young forward department. At some point, someone is going to have to go.
All I hear about swingman David Lee is the fact that he is going to be a serious player in the league someday. It’s too bad Lee has gotten too many splinters riding the pine in New York in head coach Larry Brown’s tight, veteran-friendly rotation.

Number two pick, Marvin Williams is also going to be a player in the league and has shown glimpses of fulfilling that potential at some point. However, the Hawks are also overstocked at the small forward position that Williams just so happens to play.

Obviously, it is going to take at least another year or two – and possibly longer – to really evaluate this draft, especially with players like Boston’s Gerald Green and the Portland Trailblazers’ Martell Webster, not to mention the Los Angeles Lakers’ Andrew Bynum all coming to the league straight out of high school.

Until that time comes, I’ll just sit back and watch the progress of the young players who are going to lead the NBA into the next decade. Great basketball players have been coming and gong since the origination of the game. Let’s just hope this class provides at least one or two of those players.

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