Now that the draft has passed, the stage is set for what could be the toughest NBA Rookie Of the Year Award race in recent memory.
This year's NBA rookie class is stuffed to the brim with studs. Less people are competing to win Wimbledon than to take home this glass trophy. There were less suitors for ABC's Bachelor. The NBA has more top-notch freshman than Yale. Heck, the Portland Trail Blazers alone have more good candidates than any political party put out this campaign.
From 19-year olds who went one and done, from college graduates, to international superstars, to injury-plagued prospects who didn't get to touch the court last year—the 2008 rookies come in all varieties, but they're all ripe and ready to go.
Choosing the favorite is like trying to pick the best Hawaiian island. It's like predicting San Diego summer weather. Every option is great.
But only one will end up as America's finest rookie.
Nevertheless, I'm taking a stab at forecasting this freshman fight. I'll break the race down player by player, to see who has the best chance at bringing home the glass:
Going by the draft order, the first guy up is Derrick Rose. There's no question about Rose's talent. He's got all the tools to be the next dominant point guard in the league. I'm concerned, though—he doesn't have all the opportunity.
The Bulls drafted him into one of the most crowded back courts in the league. Rose will have to fight for playing time with Hinrich, Gordon, Duhon, and Larry Hughes. Even if Chicago deals Kirk, Rose still won't have a full time starting gig.
I'm not saying he won't be a cornerstone of the team, or a starter—but the somewhat limited playing time that he'll get will prevent Derrick Rose from being the Rookie of the Year.
Michael Beasley is considered by many to be the early favorite. I don't see how anyone can not think he deserves to be up there. The Miami Heat have three good pieces of the puzzle: Wade, Marion, and Beasley.
Beasley will touch the ball a ton, but he won't be keyed up. He'll get the opportunities without the double teams. Defenses have two other studs to think about, and Beasley will reap the benefits. 20 and 10 is entirely possible. So is the Eddie Gottlieb trophy.
To me, the most amusing thing about this year's draft was OJ Mayo—the player so focused on building his brand name he allegedly went to USC because it would get him the most publicity—going to the forgotten, crappy, Memphis Grizzlies. Mayo's down syndrome-esque talking was a close second. Good luck to you, OJ, as you try to market your signature shoe in a small market like Memphis.
However, regardless of whether he gets noticed, he may get the Rookie of the Year award. There is no one on the Grizzlies who will take time away from OJ at shooting guard. And Rudy Gay will draw teams' best defenders. Mayo's scoring ability, paired with everything else he has going for him, could definitely bring him home the hardware.
Somewhere in Portland, Greg Oden is saying, "What about me?" Yes, Oden is eligible. He didn't play one minute in the NBA last year, so he's still considered a rookie. And you thought he was ridiculously old for an NBA freshman last year...
Oden will headline a rookie class on Portland that may be the best a single team has had for a long time. Bayless, Batum, and Fernandez are also coming in, and they will all benefit from having a rock-solid Oden on the inside.
The talented backcourt will draw defenses out, and LaMarcus Aldridge's proven ability in the post will open up room for Oden. He could put up 12 and 15, night in and night out.
Other guys who have real, legitimate chances to win the award, but I'm too lazy to talk a ton about:
Jerryd Bayless - Will most likely start at the point in a loaded young Portland offense. Could definitely average seven or eight assists a game.
Rudy Fernandez - Another Blazer. He is one of the most hyped international players in a while. If he lives up to his billing, even coming off the bench behind Brandon Roy he could put up great numbers.
Nicolas Batum - Ok, this could be a stretch, but I had to add him in just to emphasize how good Portland will be in a few years. They have seven or eight guys who are young and highly touted. Batum could start the season at small forward—and if he fulfills his potential to be a Rudy Gay-like player, he could be a stud in this league.
Kevin Love - The T-Wolves won't be as bad this year. Kevin Love will be a big part of that.
In the end, I think Oden takes it home. It'll be a very exciting race to watch, and there is no clear-cut favorite. The only thing that I can confidently predict will happen to these rookies is that they'll dominate the sophomores on All Star Weekend.
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