In a weak NBA draft, it appears there is a distinct difference between the caliber of players.
There’s Blake Griffin, and then there’s everyone else.
Summer league may have changed some people’s minds, however, as some rookies looked mighty impressive and threw their name in the hat to be called the best in their first season.
Looking at the teams these players were drafted to, as well as summer league, here are the five players most likely to be battling for the Rookie of the Year title.
Blake Griffin - Forward - L.A. Clippers-Drafted First Overall
Without a doubt, Blake Griffin will be in the top five when the end of the year comes and they’re tallying up the ballots for Rookie of the Year. The Clippers have made the moves necessary to allow Griffin a great deal of playing time while also shedding cap space.
Playing with an elite point guard in Baron Davis, who will be coming off a subpar year and looking to prove himself, can only help his cause. He will also be paired with Al Thornton and Eric Gordon, two promising youngsters who have already proven they are NBA caliber players.
Joining him in the backcourt will be Marcus Camby, a former NBA defensive player of the year, so any mistakes on the Griffin’s part defensively should be minimal, with Camby sure to cover his blunders.
Some people are considering Griffin a future hall of famer and possibly the greatest No. 1 overall pick. This seems ridiculous to me as I see him as only a very good player, who should make a few All-Star Games. He doesn’t seem to have that “franchise player” feel to him though, and should be a No. 2 option at best.
Regardless, Griffin averaged a double-double in the summer league, and look for that to carry over to the regular season. He has a great motor and his offense is fairly polished considering his age. He is an amazing athlete with a warrior’s heart, something that will hopefully rub off on the rest of the Clippers.
Jonny Flynn- Point Guard- Minnesota Timberwolves- Drafted Sixth Overall
While Ricky Rubio’s holdout should no doubt discourage the Timberwolves, they have a solid backup plan in Jonny Flynn, who should leave Wolves fans saying “Ricky Who-bio?” Flynn has all the tools to be a very effective point guard in the NBA, and is in a franchise desperate for a strong floor general.
The Wolves have been in rebuilding mode ever since KG left town, and they seem to have finally pieced together a team that could compete four years down the road.
They already have a future all-star in Al Jefferson, as well as Kevin Love, who had a great second half to his rookie season in Al Jefferson’s absence.
If Corey Brewer becomes the player they thought they drafted two years ago, he and Ryan Gomes could make for a young but athletic starting five.
Flynn is the perfect man to manage this team. He is a passionate leader, who plays every game like it’s his last. He is capable of playing long minutes, something he will have to do with Rubio nowhere near signing. His jump shot has improved dramatically, and he can get anywhere on the floor at will.
His biggest strength is his athleticism, as he has the ability to get to the rim at will, and can throw it down despite being listed at 6’0”, but falling about two inches short of that.
What he will have to work on is his man-to-man defense, because he is used to Syracuse’s zone principles. He has the speed and strength to overcome that, so this shouldn’t be a yearlong issue.
His height will allow taller guards to shoot over him however, and that is something he cannot overcome. It is something he has dealt with his whole life, and he has the athleticism to minimize the damage that will be done.
Tyreke Evans- Point Guard- Sacramento Kings- Drafted Fourth Overall
Tyreke is a physical specimen at the point guard position. At 6’6”, some question whether he would be better suited to the shooting guard position, but with Kevin Martin manning that spot, it appears Evans will be the Kings point guard of the future.
He will be battling for that spot with Beno Udrih, but the Kings have lost faith in him and he is better suited as a backup. An Evans and Martin backcourt gives the Kings a very potent offensive threat, although defensively they will give up a lot of points.
Joining them in the starting lineup are big men Spencer Hawes and Jason Thomson, both still young in their careers and have promising upside. Rounding out the starters should be Andres Nocioni, a proven scorer.
Evans will be given a ton of playing time, and he has the ability to fill a stat sheet. Expect near triple-doubles on any night due to his size and athleticism. He still needs work on his decision making, so there could be nights where he has more rebounds than assists.
His defense will also need work, which is to be expected from any rookie, although he performed well in the summer league. His size will help him in that category.
Evans will get most of his ballots from voters looking at his stats, not his team wins. The Kings are far away from making the playoffs, so Evans will be allowed to go through the rookie growing pains and establish himself as their future point guard.
Based on the summer league, Evans looked the most NBA ready, and showed he can score in bunches.
James Harden - Shooting Guard- Oklahoma City Thunder - Drafted Third Overall
The Oklahoma City Thunder are showing the league the right way to rebuild a team, and are poised to have a great future if everything goes according to plan. Every year they have addressed another roster spot, and Harden may just have been the last piece of the puzzle.
Widely considered the best NBA ready player in the draft, Harden fits in with the Thunder perfectly. He is an unselfish player, so he won’t be taking shots away from Kevin Durant, and he has the ability to finish the fast break, adding to the continued growth of Russell Westbrook.
Jeff Green should be helped out by Harden’s ability to spread the floor, and Nenad Krsticshould also gain from Harden’s addition.
Defense will be an issue with Harden, as he is not as athletic as the rest of the starters. He will also be battling taller shooting guards, so he must get better on D.
He also may be battling for minutes against Thabo Sefolosha, but should beat him out. Improving his shot is also a must.
Harden is a hard worker who should fit in wonderfully with the Thunder’s youth movement. With Harden and Westbrook alongside Durrant, the Thunder are in a good position to reach the post season, or fall just short.
If they do manage to play deep into April, expect Harden to garner more ballots, as he will be a big reason for their success.
Brandon Jennings - Point Guard- Milwaukee Bucks - Drafted Tenth Overall
Jennings is the dark horse of the group, and the only thing that will keep him out of the top five is his mouth. Already considered an “attitude” guy, Jennings has proven that he has the ability to play in the NBA. Now we will have to see if Coach Scott Skiles will let him.
The Bucks seemed to have committed to Jennings as their point guard of the future, as it seems Ramon Sessions is on his way out, and Luke Ridnour is no longer a starting caliber player. Milwaukee is another team in penny pinching mode, and has unloaded many of their top players from last year.
Jennings will have ample opportunity to score, due to the lack of scoring potential on this team. Luckily the Bucks still have all-star Michael Redd to carry to offensive load, as well as former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Bogut to man the middle. This comes as good news for the pass-first Jennings, and should help ease his way into the league.
Outside of Redd and Bogut, there are few clear cut options, but this team is full of hungry young talent wanting to prove themselves, and someone will surely step up.
Jennings will need to work on defense due to his slender build, so hitting the gym could do wonders for him. He will get pushed around by bigger point guards otherwise. His shooting is also spotty, so he should consider taking pointers from Redd.
Jennings led all players in the summer league with 8.2 assists per game, so regardless of his selfish attitude he seems interested in getting everyone involved. Only problem is he also likes the flash and the glamour, so he gambles a lot.
Coach Skiles is not one to be messed with though, so look for him to set him straight or Jennings could see the bench.
As it stands, with all the praise Griffin has received, it seems as though this award is his to lose. I'm not yet ready to jump on the Griffin bandwagon, and feel these worthy players will challenge for ROY honors.
Considering that this was an overall weak draft, there is a good chance for some players to come from out of no where and surprise people, and with all the point guards in this draft, picking an all NBA rookie team should be very difficult.
Look for an interesting year for rookie players, because in this economy, many of them are going to get playing time because of their cheap guaranteed contracts. Expect a better show then advertised during the NBA Draft.