John Wall, Blake Griffin and Five Other Early Rookie of the Year Favorites

Robert KleemanSenior Analyst INovember 5, 2010

John Wall, Blake Griffin and Five Other Early Rookie Of The Year Favorites

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Hope springs eternal on NBA Draft night each June as perennial lottery teams hope to select a franchise-defining star, and the playoff outfits with picks, extra cash and roster spots try to unearth late first and second-round gems.

    This season's Rookie of the Year race boasts plenty of qualified entrants. Impact scorers and high flyers lead this talented creme of the crop, but no more than two can snag the coveted award. Might the current co-leaders share the honor a la Jason Kidd and Grant Hill? That discussion should resume in February when John Wall and Blake Griffin can flaunt a more substantial body of rookie work.

    You did not think anybody else would lead off the debate, did you? Aw, poor baby.

    A week of regular season action might not provide an extended curriculum vitae for any of the hopefuls, but the ten-day snapshot does paint an early picture. The consensus is the probable winner won't win much. Just one of the applicants mentioned here plays on a team that harbors realistic playoff hopes.

    This projection assumes the seven squads remain on their current pace—a more likely scenario than some fans will want to admit. This annual welcome-to-the-league congratulations, though, nine times out of ten favors individual numbers (see Evans, Tyreke) over team performance.

    The incubus is that each of these standout pro basketball freshmen will engineer many W's when the supporting cast improves with their own experience. Griffin and Wall, for example, are tasked with turning disastrous organizations to victorious ones.

    I considered the following criteria when compiling the list:

    • Current playing time vs. expected playing time (20 minutes was the minimum allotment)
    • Anticipated role vs. current one
    • Raw statistics
    • Player's stardom chances
    • His burden/impact on wins
    • My own scouting reports that come from extensive NBA viewership

     

    I excluded reserve specialists and support men and decided to restrict the conversation to one player per team. That requirement eliminated Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward, Tiago Splitter, Omer Asik and Timofey Mozgov. All of those rookies will fulfill important roles this year. Bledsoe has sparkled as the Clippers starting point guard in Baron Davis' injury absence. The Utah Jazz need Hayward to bag open jumpers and become a tolerable defender to go anywhere of consequence.

    Splitter's exquisite pick-and-roll defense and basketball IQ could keep Tim Duncan's door to a fifth title ajar. The Brazilian forward-center beckons physicality, navigates the interior with above average mobility for his size and, as Gregg Popovich noted, possesses the same "winning fiber" that permeated Manu Ginobili upon his stateside arrival.

    The Spurs rotation also features two other impressive rookies, sharpshooters Gary Neal and James Anderson.

    San Antonio's youngsters missed the cut because they suit up alongside three future Hall of Famers and a title-worthy cast and crew. Ditto for L.A. Lakers' draftees Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. They can ball, too!

    Mozgov has been a revelation as the Knicks surprise starter at center (even I did not expect such a fast role ascension for the Russian pivot), but his foul-prone defense and early averages ambushed his candidacy. A rookie New York teammate, though, did crack my seven-man rotation.

    The closest ROY marathon in recent memory may not deliver any shockers, but it will provide plenty of sports column fodder. The deliberation continues...

John Wall

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    College: Kentucky

    Team: Washington Wizards

    Position: Point Guard

    Age: 20

    Height: 6'4"

    Weight: 195

    Early Averages: 23 points, 10 assists, four steals, 40 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 02 vs. PHI W 116 - 115 45 9 - 16 0 - 1 11 - 14 0 2 2 13 9 0 8 5 29
    Oct 30 @ ATL L 95 - 99 42 9 - 17 2 - 3 8 - 10 0 5 5 9 0 0 3 1 28
    Oct 28 @ ORL L 83 - 112 35 6 - 19 0 - 0 2 - 3 0 1 1 9 3 0 3 3 14

     

    Wall's blinding, blazing speed has confounded the Wizards as much as opponents. He sometimes plays at a pace too quick for his own good. His halfcourt decision making requires amendment. The flaws in his jump-shooting mechanics are bound to show with greater frequency soon. Orlando, the lone sure-fire elite opponent Washington has faced, exposed his choppy release and all-hands, no-feet defense. Turnovers will remain an issue early in his career.

    Yet, nitpicking aside, Wall has lived up to his billing as a franchise changer. The Magic's 112-83 beat down last week served notice to the Wizards and the rookie floor general: don't expect to win much now. The roster is too callow and undisciplined to mount a playoff push. The victories will come later, but they will come.

    The most important thing Wall showed in his first week of action was that Ernie Grunfeld and his front office can indeed build around him. The summer advertisements promised a spectacular athlete that would crash NBA hardwoods, and the show's first three episodes did not disappoint.

    As his footwork ameliorates, so too will his marvelous anticipation. Opposing backcourts will soon cower at the thought of Wall's pickpocketing and open-court wizardry. Get this kid on the fast break, and he'll go get Saunders two points.

Blake Griffin

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    College: Oklahoma

    Team: L.A. Clippers

    Age: 21

    Height: 6'10"

    Weight: 251

    Position: Power Forward

    Early Averages: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 34 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 03 vs. OKC W 107 - 92 32 7 - 12 0 - 0 4 - 10 4 5 9 0 0 0 2 2 18
    Nov 01 vs. SAS L 88 - 97 39 7 - 13 0 - 0 3 - 7 2 6 8 1 0 1 1 1 17
    Oct 31 vs. DAL L 83 - 99 32 4 - 15 0 - 1 8 - 12 4 5 9 0 2 0 3 2 16

     

    Where's the trampoline, big fella? It's clear after several games that Griffin will make a lot of noise and hang on more than a few rims. He has been cleared for NBA takeoff, and he hopes to steer the Clippers' ship into friendlier waters, ones in which Donald Sterling's douchebag persona does not define the team and its dreadful all-time wins-losses record.

    It appears Griffin will need more than one full campaign to tackle that treacherous mission. The Clippers boast talent in spades but no winning pedigree on which to fall back or build cohesion.

    What must he improve? He can start with everything. His shoddy jumpshot. His flimsy defense. His field goal percentage. His post decision making. (The latter two categories will become a theme in this list.)

    Still, like Wall, Griffin looks like the goods. In time, he'll taste the playoffs and rack up All-Star appearances.

DeMarcus Cousins

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    College: Kentucky

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Age: 20

    Position: Center

    Height: 6'11"

    Weight: 270

    Early Averages: 13 points, 6.4 rebounds, 22 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 03 vs. LAL L 100 - 112 20 3 - 13 1 - 4 4 - 6 4 2 6 0 0 1 1 5 11
    Nov 01 vs. TOR W 111 - 108 17 6 - 10 0 - 0 4 - 4 3 1 4 2 1 1 0 5 16
    Oct 30 @ CLE W 107 - 104 28 5 - 10 0 - 1 4 - 6 1 9 10 2 2 0 5 3 14

     

    Depending on who you ask, his attitude needs adjustment, and he needs to shed more of his body fat. I'd be more concerned about his field goal percentage (43.0) than a few extra pounds. His interior defense, post-up game and propensity to foul need serious refinement.

    As Jeff Van Gundy said on draft night, though, the right coach can teach a player how to improve in those areas. No sideline chief can lecture on Cousins' innate nose for the ball or his off-the-charts activity level.

    The Kings brass surrounded Cousins with an awesome support system, and he will get every opportunity alongside the nucleus of Evans, Omri Casspi and Carl Landry to become an elite performer at his position. Do not plan on him ceding the trophy to Wall or Griffin, either.

Evan Turner

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    College: Ohio State

    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Age: 22

    Height: 6'7"

    Weight: 205

    Position: Shooting Guard

    Early Averages: nine points, five rebounds, two assists, 26 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 03 vs. IND W 101 - 75 23 5 - 8 0 - 1 2 - 2 0 6 6 3 1 0 3 2 12
    Nov 02 @ WAS L 115 - 116 28 4 - 7 0 - 0 1 - 2 0 6 6 1 1 0 3 3 9
    Oct 30 @ IND L 86 - 99 33 4 - 11 0 - 0 1 - 2 1 6 7 2 0 0 2 3 9

     

    The so-called Brandon Roy wannabe has begun to round into form after a Summer League showing in which he exuded more torpor than trepidation. The third highest usage player in the college ranks has succumbed to NBA gravity.

    His remarkable efficiency at Ohio State will take time to translate in Philadelphia. If he wants to co-exist with Andre Igoudala and Jrue Holiday he must cultivate his off-the-ball game. The defensive transition will also prove difficult. He's far from an established clutch shot-maker in the pros, but he did score all nine of his points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's overtime loss at Washington. He flashed some Roy-like qualities in his debut tour.

    If he can survive the NCAA-to-NBA transformation, and the limited returns suggest he will, his sans-pareil versatility will become Doug Collins' biggest boon. Turner's attenuate collegiate qualities--acute defensive awareness, rebounding and passing--should make a gradual jump. 

Paul George

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    College: Fresno State

    Team: Indiana Pacers

    Age: 20

    Height: 6'8"

    Weight: 210 

    Position: Forward

    Early Averages: 5.5 points, three rebounds, 20 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 03 @ PHI L 75 - 101 15 1 - 4 0 - 2 0 - 0 0 2 2 1 1 0 1 1 2
    Oct 30 vs. PHI W 99 - 86 20 3 - 6 2 - 4 0 - 0 1 3 4 2 0 0 2 1 8
    Oct 29 @ CHA W 104 - 101 21 3 - 6 2 - 4 0 - 0 0 3 3 2 0 1 0 4 8

     

    With Brandon Rush suspended, George has assumed a featured role on the rebuilding Indiana Pacers. As the embarrassing 101-75 defeat at the Wachovia Center attests, the Pacers are still nailing down the new floorboards. Larry Bird and company hope the sheet rock holds.

    Why include a rookie whose numbers look pedestrian and pathetic compared to the other candidates? The spot from which he was drafted necessitates production.

    Though he thrives in transition, he makes questionable decisions on the run. He drove coast-to-coast in Wednesday's shellacking and turned a budding fastbreak into a turnover. George didn't notice the two defenders shadowing him, or the teammate to which he could have assisted on a layup.

    His upside matters more than present output. Reticence is not his virtue, nor is sterling shot selection. His best skill remains his driving game, where he finishes with gusto and draws fouls.

Wesley Johnson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    College: Syracuse

    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Age: 23

    Height: 6'7"

    Weight: 205

    Position: Small Forward

    Early Averages: 10 points, four rebounds, 25 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 03 @ ORL L 86 - 128 30 3 - 11 0 - 2 2 - 2 2 2 4 2 0 0 0 2 8
    Nov 02 @ MIA L 97 - 129 24 4 - 12 1 - 3 4 - 6 2 1 3 5 2 0 4 0 13
    Oct 30 @ MEM L 89 - 109 25 2 - 10 0 - 2 2 - 3 1 6 7 1 1 0 0 2 6

     

    Despite an early wake-up call posterization and playing on a stink team, Johnson still gets kudos here for his potential as an impact contributor. The lousy Timberpuppies need as many of those as they can get. I am not sure I see stardom in his future, but he can develop into a solid third or fourth option on a playoff squad. The frequent comparison to Shawn Marion, then, makes sense, given that "The Matrix" was never a No. 1 option. Instead, he stuffed the stat sheet as a tremendous support player.

    Johnson, like Marion, will score 20 points and become the offensive focal point on some nights, but a constant go-to role does not seem to fit his style on the pro level. His largest problem is not his fault. At Syracuse, he exploited mismatches at will. The Timberwolves are a walking, living mismatch that elite squads can demolish with minimal effort.

    He needs much better than Darko Milicic for his abilities to shine.

Landry Fields

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    College: Stanford

    Team: New York Knicks

    Age: 22

    Height: 6'7"

    Weight: 210

    Position: Guard-Forward

    Early Averages: 10 points, six rebounds, 27 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Date Opponent Result MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OFF DEF REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
    Season
    Nov 04 @ CHI W 120 - 112 21 2 - 2 1 - 1 1 - 2 0 3 3 1 0 0 1 3 6
    Oct 30 vs. POR L 95 - 100 25 3 - 6 0 - 1 5 - 6 2 6 8 1 1 0 1 2 11
    Oct 29 @ BOS L 101 - 105 34 5 - 10 1 - 3 0 - 0 2 8 10 4 1 0 0 1 11

     

    Every competition needs an unexpected protagonist, and Landry, now a Knicks starter, fills that role. New Yorkers booed and shouted menacing cat calls when Adam Silver announced the 39th pick.

    Field sure showed those naysayers. He started in his NBA debut, and while the Knicks may not boast all-world depth at off guard or small forward, he should celebrate that accomplishment. What does it say about the 2010 Draft that New York yielded two of the rare opening week starters in Fields and Mozgov? Not sure, but it speaks well of the Stanford product.

    "His consistency on all the details of the game makes him unique," Knicks head Coach Mike D'Antoni told USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt.

     

Derrick Favors

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    College: Georgia Tech

    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Age: 19

    Height: 6'10"

    Weight: 246

    Position: Power Forward

    Early Averages: 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 22 minutes

    Recent Game Logs:

    Last Three Games
    DateOpponentResultMINFGM-A3PM-AFTM-AOFFDEFREBASTSTLBLKTOPFPTS
    Season
    Nov 03vs. CHAL 83 - 85245 - 70 - 01 - 14480000311
    Oct 31vs. MIAL 78 - 101244 - 90 - 05 - 8103131000513
    Oct 29vs. SACW 106 - 100204 - 50 - 02 - 23470012510

     

    Cousins wanted to know what all the Favors fuss was about. The New Jersey Nets forward may have provided a clue in his first week of action, managing a near double-double.

    Favors excelled at collecting garbage buckets at GT because his teammates ignored him all too often. He doesn't just crash the offensive glass, he totals it. Key areas for development: a mid-range jumper, more post-up moves in his predictable arsenal and his bulk. Added muscle will bolster the reach and effectiveness of his 7'4" wingspan.