Continuing our mid-season awards and reviews, after listing the best foreign players in the league yesterday, we’re with the top 10 rookies in the NBA, halfway through the 2009-2010 season, including two international players.
Number 10 – James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
The number 3 overall pick in the 2009 draft and the first draft pick ever by the Oklahoma City Thunder since moving from Seattle, Harden came out of Arizona State as a huge college star, Pac-10 player of the year and an All-American. In the NBA, as expected, his role is a littler smaller, coming off the bench for about 20-25 minutes a night. He does score almost 10 points per game, but his shooting is down right awful, 39.3% from the field, with nights like his 0-10 against the Nets or 2-11 against Memphis last month showing how long he has to go in terms of solidifying his game if he wants to be a starter in this league.
Number 9 – Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons
A pleasant surprise from the 39th pick (2nd round) of the 2009 draft, as the Swedish Forward (second Swede in the history of the NBA), starting 35 of 38 for the Pistons, producing 8.5 points with 5.4 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game, not exactly the stats you want from a starting 6’10 forward but not bad compared to the expectations from the 22 year old. He’s already had 3 double double games this season and has become a popular figure among Pistons fans despite the pretty disappointing seasons so far for his determination and hustle.
Number 8 – DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs
We’ve written about Blair twice already this season – once in our Best & Worst Picks from the last draft and not too long ago in our Guys who should be playing more post. Although Blair has been kind of inconsistent in January, he has been playing more, including two double double game and a fantastic 28 point – 21 rebound night last week. His numbers so far this season – 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 17.6 minutes, not missing one game, for those who were worried about his fitness.
Number 7 – Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
I have to say, I wasn’t sold on Flynn and him getting picked 6th overall. I thought he was supposed to stay another year at Syracuse and that the Wolves are better off with Rubio. Well, Rubio stayed in Spain, signing with Barcelona and Flynn has been enjoying a pretty good rookie season as the starting point guard of a pretty awful team. He really needs to work on his shooting, but that’s a general rookie problem, and hopefully he’ll do better in the future than his 41% from the field shooting. To conclude, 14.2 points and 4.2 assists in 30 minutes per night isn’t too bad for a guy a lot of people, including me, thought it was a big mistake to draft so high (6th).
Number 6 – Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
Enjoying a lot more time on the court this season due to Tyrus Thomas’ being sidelines for quite a while, Taj Gibson is doing pretty well for a 26th pick – 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in 24 minutes. Unlike most rookies, he hasn’t been struggling with his shooting, which is pretty solid at 49%. His defense is obviously his stronger side and the Bulls have a solid player in Gibson – maybe not an offensive star but a reliable defender and rebounder for many years to come.
Number 5 – Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets
Maybe my favorite player in the last draft class, Lawson is doing a great job as backup for Chauncey Billups. Lawson has been the best player on the national championship Tar Heels team last season, and I had no doubt in my mind about his success in the NBA. He’s not a superstar and he is a bit undersized but I do think that in 2-3 years he will be a very good starting point guard. Numbers – 9.6 points and 3.8 assists in 22.7 minutes per game. He’s doing very well in terms of shot selection, shooting 51.2% from the field and over 40% from three.
Number 4 – Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings
The first Israeli to both be selected in the first round of the draft and the first to play in the NBA has been having a fantastic rookie season although like his team, has been fading a bit in recent games. Rookie wall? Kevin Martin return? Casspi, along with Tyreke Evans, another rookie, has really enjoyed the absence of the Kings’ Alpha Dog since November, enjoying a successful run in the starting five, including four double-double games and 7 20+ points games, with a stretch of five straight coming between December 30 – January 5. The 21 year old forward is averaging 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game, and it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts to Martin returning.
Number 3 – Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
The transition from the college game to the NBA can be rough on some players, and for combo guards like Curry it’s usually very difficult. Yeah, he was a mega star at Davidson, setting new records in almost every offensive category and leading the nation in scoring last year. But it doesn’t mean anything going in the pro ranks, and from being considered the number one player in mocks during the beginning of the previous season, he dropped to seventh on draft night. But, again, he got to the right team, playing for a coach who loves small-ball, starting alongside Monta Ellis in the Warriors back court. His game has really improves since late December despite the Warriors’, as usual, struggling, with his numbers currently sitting on 12.6 points and 4.4 assists in 32.6 minutes a night.
Number 2 – Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
After a shockingly good start to the season which included that 55 point game against the Warriors, Jennings is playing like a normal rookie again, well a very good normal rookie, who has a 25 point night followed by a 5 point game with 1 for shooting followed by a 25 point game again. He’s averaging 18 points and 6.2 assists per game and showing David Stern and the entire league that a year in Europe making money instead of playing for free in College might be a nice way around the whole prep-to-pro rules installed in 2006.
Mid-Season Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans, Saramento Kings
Pretty nice rookie class for the Kings, but they really hit the jackpot with Evans, who has been the best in the league, especially since Kevin Martin went down in November. From the first moment, Evans, the 4th overall pick out of Memphis, has shown he doesn’t mind leading this team and being the go to guy in the clutch. His size (6’6) and ability to play both guard positions make him a very difficult player to defend and predict. He’s averaging 20.8 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists and has had a few close to triple-double efforts this season. He needs to learn to share the ball more, especially in the closing minutes when he tends to just try to win the game by himself but he is the best rookie of the 2009 class so far with future all-star written all over if he continues on the right path.