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Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Updated: November 15, 4:28 AM ET

By David Thorpe
ESPN.com

(Photo by Fernando Medina/Contributor/NBAE via Getty Images)

Why is Yi Jianlian smiling? Perhaps because his performance looks to be the best of all rookies.

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Best Rookie? Yi Has Edge On Favored Durant

Based on his early numbers, few would predict that Sonics forward Kevin Durant will end up anything but Rookie of the Year. His raw statistics (20 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game) are hard to ignore.

But by my standards, Bucks forward Yi Jianlian has been the best rookie to date.

Yi's play has been both surprising and inspiring. Surprising in that no one has a bigger cultural change to adjust to, yet Yi looks like he's been an NBA pro for years. He has a clear plan for success and has executed that plan with discipline and talent.

Yi has an excellent shooting stroke (though a base that is too wide oftentimes) with range beyond the 3-point line. Yet, he has done a terrific job of spotting up inside the line and taking higher percentage shots, making 43.8 percent. Eventually he will choose to take the 3 over the long 2 more frequently, but his plan of easing into the NBA game and trying to experience more success early is right on.

What I love about Yi's offensive game is his versatility and mental acuity. In a series of plays, we will see him post up and back his guy down, face up in the midpost, slash to an opening inside, go glass, and play off the ball beautifully. And he does all of it with passion and purpose.

His agility for a guy his size is impressive, as is his "smoothness" as an athlete, but he also has a fire around the rim (averaging 6.9 boards per game) that will serve him well for years. That fire helps him on defense, too, where he has blocked at least one shot in all but two games so far, with multiple blocks in four. Watching him play leaves me wondering: What kind of numbers would he be putting up if he were playing in Seattle? He's averaging 11 ppg in Milwaukee.

Which brings us to Durant. As documented in a previous column, KD has a rare set of gifts, and he is the best 19-year-old player on Earth. But he does indeed play like a 19-year-old, looking like a kid in a candy store whose father is letting him eat whatever he wants.

His propensity to shoot 3s has not lessened since opening night, but his overall efficiency has. Perhaps Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo figures allowing Durant to run wild now (and lose often) will help him learn how to better value shots and possessions later (anyone remember "Brewster's Millions"?).

He may be right, but even Carlesimo must wonder where the killer from Texas went, the guy who destroyed his opponents on the boards and on defense, too. Right now, he is shooting everything in sight (38.2 field goal percentage), while Yi is choosing wisely and building confidence along the way.

What I'd like to see:

Yi: Better form on his left-handed hooks. He is satisfied with getting the shot off instead of focusing on his mechanics and finishing.

Durant: Fewer contested 3s. More one- and two-dribble pull-up jumpers instead of the runners he is trying.

Here are my Top 10 rookies at this early stage:

1. Yi Jianlian, Bucks: Yi plays like a veteran, reading the game and looking for ways to utilize his talent and size.

2. Kevin Durant, Sonics: KD could stand to study some film of Yi, learning to slow down and not take shots just because he can get them off.

3. Al Horford, Hawks: Big Al plays just as we expected -- he is very competitive inside and already a rebounding force.

4. Jamario Moon, Raptors: Moon defends, hustles and can finish. He may be the small forward Toronto's looking for.

5. Sean Williams, Nets: No one doubted his talent, just his maturity. If he can grow up, this young man has the tools to be a strong NBA player.

6. Jeff Green, Sonics: Green is third in scoring and fifth in rebounding among rookies. Now if he and KD can win a few games he may be moving up this list.

7. Jason Smith, Sixers: His numbers aren't great, but he's very efficient for a rookie. He may be getting more minutes soon.

8. Darius Washington, Spurs: D-Wash is only getting 11 minutes per game, but he is using every minute to make plays and help the Spurs win games.

9. Jared Dudley, Bobcats: Another efficient player who may be getting more time soon. He had a double-double against Phoenix.

10. Corey Brewer, Timberwolves: When he gets decent minutes, Brewer provides scoring, defense and intangibles. This kid is energy personified on the court.

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for the NBA and college players.

Dimes Past: October 31 | November 1 | 2 | 3-4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10-11 | 12 | 13| 14

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Childress Delivers Spark For Hawks

By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
ATLANTA -- Josh Childress won't win the Sixth Man award this year -- not with Manu Ginobili, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa all lighting it up for contending teams out west. But in Wednesday's 117-109 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, he again showed why he's one of the league's most underrated players -- and perhaps one of its most coveted ones when he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

When Josh Smith checked out with a strained left quad early in the second half and point guard Acie Law joined him in the trainer's room shortly thereafter with an ankle sprain after Bobcats center Ryan Hollins landed squarely on top of him, it put the pressure on Atlanta's ace off the bench to deliver. And deliver he did, producing 17 of his 23 points while playing the final 18:27 to help Atlanta hold off the Cats.

"I just got open shots, open looks and took advantage," said Childress. "I got a couple layups, fast-break points and stayed aggressive."

"[Childress] could easily be a starter," said Joe Johnson, who snapped out of a shooting slump with a game-high 34 points and 10 assists. "He comes off the bench, gives us great energy, and he knows his game, he knows what he does best, and he never tries to do anything out of character."

He may get more chances at extended burn depending on Thursday's test results for Smith and Law. While Smith sounded optimistic that he could be back in the lineup on Friday, Law walked gingerly around the locker room after the game. And since the Hawks have used Childress at the point at times this year, that could easily push him into a far greater role for a while.

Perhaps then, he'll get a little more recognition for what he's done in his reserve role. Of course, that's more likely to come if the Hawks can end their string of last-place finishes in the Southeast Division. Atlanta coach Mike Woodson noted Childress probably hasn't received his due, "But you have to win, too. When you win everyone gets recognition."

And if he can help the Hawks deliver on that front, it could have big rewards for Childress next summer.

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Read And React

By Henry Abbott | ESPN TrueHoop
(A selection from the second of a series on NBA referee Bennett Salvatore)

When I met with Bennett Salvatore in the NBA's offices last Friday, I brought along a copy [of an article]. I handed it across the table to him, and asked for his thoughts.

Then something funny happened. At first it didn't strike me as funny -- who hasn't seen somebody pull a pair of reading glasses out of their pocket?

But Bennett Salvatore is a referee, the butt of a hundred "put your glasses on" jokes a season.

He paused, glasses in hand, acknowledging the humor. "Now," he said, "I have to put my glasses on, and I'm going to get killed."

He then punches up his voice several decibels, Joe Pesci style, and bellows to an imagined audience of hecklers: "IT'S ONLY FOR READING!"

Full Henry Abbott story

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Extreme Behavior

Wednesday's Best
LeBron James, Cavs forward: Goes for 39 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds, but not the win. Dwight Howard (35 points, 16 boards, four blocks) had something to do with that in Orlando's 117-116 OT win.


Wednesday's Worst
Andrea Bargnani, Raptors forward: A major bricklaying misadventure. Take away his trowel. In 16 minutes of action, Bargnani misses 10 of 11 shots, including all five 3 attempts, in a 92-88 loss to the Jazz.


Quote of the Night
"Even though they say he is not 100 percent, he is amazing."
-- Sonics rookie Kevin Durant, noting Dwyane Wade's season debut (15 points in 25 minutes) during Seattle's win over Miami.

See how all 256 players fared

-- Andrew Ayres

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Rockin' Rookies

Jalen Rose and Tim Legler size up who's playing best among the rookies.

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Miami Would Fit Starbury

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

The Heat have played solid defense with Jason Williams, who's as poor a defender as Stephon Marbury, running point. So Marbury's weak defense won't kill Miami like it kills the Knicks. The Knicks don't have the shot blockers to back up guards that can't contain penetration, but Miami, with Shaq and Zo, do.

As for Marbury's well-documented problems with teammates and coaches, I don't think that'd be an issue in Miami.

First, Pat Riley has been successful with reclamation projects, getting team play from formerly selfish malcontents like Williams, Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis. Things also worked out with Gary Payton, who I won't put in the same category as the other three.

Second, Shaq and Zo are strong personalities who won't let Marbury come in and tear up their locker room. He'll have to respect them.

Think about it. When's the last time Marbury had a teammate of higher stature than himself? Kevin Garnett back in Minnesota.

I know that didn't go too well, but Garnett was still a youngster at that time and couldn't command Marbury's respect.

Third, Marbury will understand that he's not the best player on the team. It'll be easier for him to accept being a role player in Miami behind Wade and Shaq.

Read the full Chris Broussard blog

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Herd's Podcast: Phil Jackson

Lakers coach Phil Jackson joins ESPN Radio's Colin Cowherd to discuss Kobe Bryant's future. Jackson says it would be hard for the Lakers to be the winner in a Kobe deal. Historically, the teams that get the superstar in the trade are the winners.

The Deal With Kobe

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NBA Video Channel

The clash of young superstars Dwight Howard and LeBron James went to overtime in Cleveland.

Watch highlights of every NBA game

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Leaderboard + Scoreboard

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