Since NBA rookies have never played a meaningful game against the supreme competition of the league, it’s always uneasy treading when asked to predict how a rookie will perform.
However, this season’s particular rookie class is packed with talented youngsters who will be asked to perform significant roles for their teams. Let’s examine what we can expect from the best of this year’s rookie crop.
Greg Oden—Portland Trail Blazers
Despite being drafted in 2007, this season will be Oden’s rookie campaign. After needing microfracture surgery last offseason to heal his right knee, Oden was forced to miss the entire 2007-08 season while recuperating.
However, Oden is much more advanced than every other rookie this year. For starters, his body is much more NBA-ready than any other first year player‘s. Already blessed with massive shoulders and tremendous upper-body strength, Oden had the opportunity last year to get involved with Portland’s weight-training regimen, giving him a year of professional body work most rookies don’t have.
Oden also had the chance to observe Portland’s walkthroughs, film sessions, and practices, giving him an entire year of learning how to prepare for games, and what Portland head coach Nate McMillan expects in specific scenarios.
Finally, Oden is simply a special athlete. He has the physicality to be a terrific defender in this league, the strength to be a great rebounder, and the talent to be a capable post scorer sooner rather than later.
All rookies struggle defensively their first season, but the hope is that since Oden will be asked to provide defensively more than offensively, his defensive growth will be accelerated. Even watching film for a year should give him a better understanding of defensive positioning, when to rotate, and how to play help defense. His post offense isn’t refined yet, but he’ll score on dunks, put backs, tip-ins, and the occasional hook or duck-under in the post.
It isn’t out of the question to expect Oden to average a double-double this season with a couple of blocks and assists thrown in. It’s hard to expect him to reach his full potential until later in the season—but given that the Blazers are already stacked with talent across their roster, Oden can focus on being a complementary player and filling defensive, rebounding, and occasional post-scoring niches right off the bat.
Michael Beasley—Miami Heat
Like Oden, Michael Beasley was drafted onto a team that already has star talent. With Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion in Miami, Beasley doesn’t have to burden himself with being Miami’s main scoring option. And since Marion will most likely draw the opposition’s best defensive forward, Beasley will get opportunities to score from the post and off the bounce against lesser defenders.
While Wade and Marion are creative scorers, Miami doesn’t have many other consistent offensive options besides Marcus Banks’ erratic scoring, James Jones’ threes off the bench, and Udonis Haslem playing pick-and-pop. Because of that, Beasley can expect many opportunities to rack up points. He has the talent and is in the right situation to lead all rookies in scoring this year.
O.J. Mayo—Memphis Grizzlies
Mayo will be given ample playing time as Memphis’ shooting guard to figure out how to play in the NBA. He’s strong and athletic, and should be effective putting his head down and getting to the rim.
However, given that Memphis lacks the role players needed to run a complex offense, Mayo’s scoring chances will almost exclusively come in transition or out of isolations. Those offenses tend to disappear against good defenses—one of Memphis’ problems last year, and one of their expected downfalls this year.
It’s hard to expect Mayo to be efficient when he’s only a 6'4" shooting guard who will be asked to create his own scoring opportunities. He’ll score, but his field-goal percentage won’t be great, and he won’t make too much of a difference in Memphis’ win column—at least for this year.
Derrick Rose—Chicago Bulls
It’s hard to predict what to expect out of Derrick Rose, since there is so much uncertainty surrounding Chicago’s roster. Will Kirk Hinrich start at the point? Will he start at the two? Will Hinrich, Rose, Ben Gordon, Larry Hughes, and Thabo Seflosha all get minutes?
These are all factors affecting how much playing time Rose will get. Besides worrying about playing time, he’ll also have to learn the offense, earn the respect of veteran teammates, and adjust to first-time head coach Vinny Del Negro.
Despite being strong, smart, and explosive, only the most prolific point guards step in right away and excel as playmakers—and those players are usually given complete control of the team. Expect Rose’s role, and production, to fluctuate as the year progresses.
Russell Westbrook—Oklahoma City Thunder
Since the Thunder are rebuilding, it’s only a matter of time before Russell Westbrook takes the starting point-guard position away from Earl Watson and runs with it.
Westbrook is wonderfully gifted athletically, but very inexperienced at handling the ball and running an offense. The best place for him to hone those skills would be in the starting lineup, where he can focus on running diagrammed plays for Kevin Durant—not off the bench, where play is more chaotic and random.
It’s unlikely Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo would want to throw Westbrook to the wolves right away. But he’s certainly a player who could have an explosive second half when he gets more playing time.
Kevin Love—Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Love will have every opportunity to hit open jumpers when opposing defenses double-team Al Jefferson, and to corral Jefferson’s leftovers on the boards.
Love doesn’t have much of a post game, and he won’t have much room to work in the post with AJ taking up space down low, but he should be effective living on the perimeter and hitting open jumpers.
The T-Wolves don’t have many reliable scorers, so Love’s number should be called frequently throughout the year.
Chris Douglas-Roberts—New Jersey Nets
In the preseason, Chris Douglas-Roberts has shown an uncanny awareness at overplaying passing lanes and coming up with steals. He’s also been able to create his own shot in the halfcourt and rebound the basketball.
With the Nets in the midst of a youth movement, and featuring a collection of mediocre wings surrounding Vince Carter, CDR’s energetic play should inspire Lawrence Frank to put the youngster in the game. Even if his offense is raw, his ability to create turnovers would mesh nicely with New Jersey’s energetic bench stable of Eduardo Najera, Keyon Dooling, Sean Williams, and Jarvis Hayes.