With the 2008-2009 NBA season officially underway, many fans are searching for the impact player that may get their team to the playoffs, or even to the championship.
Baseball fans have seen teams such as the Dodgers and Rays dramatically improve their outlook with the presence of young talent. This NBA season will be no different.
The current NBA season will signal a changing of the guard, where players fresh out of college and from overseas will replace many of the seasoned veterans on the court. With the exposure resulting from the recent Beijing games, the NBA is attracting and accepting talent from far greater horizons.
Without question, the 2008 NBA Draft was a deep one. Talented players were abundant in every position with different backgrounds, skill sets, and levels of experience. Expect this season to be one where the presence of rookies plays a significant role.
Here is a list of the five rookies I expect to make a big splash this season. This is not a list of the five best rookies. Please do not get your panties in bunches because your favorite rookie is not on the list.
These are players who I expect to bring something refreshing and unexpected to the table. These are players whose performances can shake things up a bit, whether they are good or bad.
5. Sun Yue—Point Guard (Los Angeles Lakers)
This 22-year-old rookie will play as the third string point guard for the Lakers, behind Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar. This 6'9" ball handler proved to be the most dominant player on the Chinese Olympic team and has been dubbed as "The Chinese Magic."
It is unlikely that he will soon nab a starting role in the stacked Laker roster, but his unorthodox combination of size and skill will prove valuable. Whether he receives extended minutes from the Lakers or is traded to a team in need of a one-guard, he is sure to bring something refreshing to the table.
In international play, he was more than capable on both sides of the ball and fundamentally sound. His skills are expected to develop quickly and should be a nice surprise for the NBA. He may even be able to play shooting guard or small forward.
4. Greg Oden—Center (Portland Trailblazers)
Last year's No. 1 overall pick finally makes his debut. After leading the Buckeyes to the Final Four in his freshman year, he was drafted just ahead of Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant.
Last year, his surgery to rectify his asymmetrical legs left him out for the entirety of his would-be rookie season. This is no surprise as he played through his lone college season with a broken hand, shooting free throws with his left. He is now out with an injured foot, less than three minutes into his debut.
The Blazers have had their share of misfortune with first round centers, most notably with Sam Bowie and Arvydas Sabonis. They would hope that Oden does not end up in the same boat, whether it is political or health-related.
The Blazers' season can be made or broken by Oden's performance this year. He is currently the most publicized member of his team and his demise could bring the same to his team.
3. Michael Beasley—Forward (Miami Heat)
Kansas State's pride and joy joins the Heat as part of what is widely regarded as one of the best drafts this year. Standing 6'8", he is an athletic beast with scary skill from one end of the court to the other.
The lefty has a clean long-range jumper as well as a powerful inside move. His rebounding is strong on both baskets and his ambidexterity allows even more versatility in his game. He is capable of playing both a quick power and a big small forward.
Following his monstrous debut, he went on to be the scoring leader for the Summer League. Michael Beasley has developed very quickly and should be a great compliment to Dwayne Wade. Watch for the Heat to be a surprise playoff contender in the East this season.
2. Russell Westbrook—Guard (Oklahoma City Thunder)
This UCLA alum and cousin of Eagles' RB Brian Westbrook brings an impressive athletic pedigree with him to the newly-founded Thunder franchise. He joins Kevin Durant in what may shape up to be a powerful duo in years to come. He starts off the season playing backup point guard to fellow UCLA alum Earl Watson.
Westbrook was overshadowed by the likes of Jordan Farmar, Darren Collison, and Aaron Afflalo in his freshman year. Before exploding onto the scene in his second year, no one ever paid attention to him.
He couldn't even dunk until he was a senior in high school. He wasn't even mentioned by draft "experts" until the week preceding it, only to be selected fourth overall ahead of teammate Kevin Love.
Russell Westbrook is the pinnacle of athleticism. He only stands 6'3" but has been known to posterize even the tallest of defenders. His explosive style plays well into the guard position. He played shooting guard for the Bruins, but has expressed that he feels more natural at the point.
It wouldn't be any surprise at all if he becomes the starting one-guard for the Thunder before the end of the season.
1. Jerryd Bayless—Guard (Portland Trailblazers)
We stay in the Pac-10 for the No. 1 on my list, Jerryd Bayless. With all of the abundant talent in this year's draft, the former Arizona Wildcat dropped to a quiet No. 11 spot, drafted by the Pacers and traded to the Blazers.
He has a number of honors to boast, including his selection into the USA Select Team and was named MVP of the Summer League.
Bayless can seemingly score at will and has been known as a tenacious defender. He plays with emotion and persistent effort at all times on the court. Originally intended to compliment Greg Oden, he must now carry a massive load on his shoulders.
Granted that making his debut against the Lakers was no easy task, one has to wonder how many more 20-point thumpings are necessary for the Blazers to get their cards in order.
If Oden does not become a significant factor, Bayless will become the cornerstone of the Portland franchise. If Oden does return, the Blazers will become playoff contenders in the unforgiving West.
Derrick Rose—Point Guard (Chicago Bulls)
Eric Gordon—Shooting Guard (Los Angeles Clippers)
OJ Mayo—Guard (Memphis Grizzlies)
Anthony Randolph—Forward (Golden State Warriors)
Kevin Love—Power Forward/Center (Minnesota Timberwolves)
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