Rookie Challenge: What to watch for
In this year's rookie-sophomore game, the sophs have, by far, the best player on the floor, Kevin Durant. They also have the oldest and most experienced pro, Luis Scola, and five players with real playoff experience. But the rookies have everything else.
Their roster is deeper, their bigs are bigger, their guards are better on offense and defense, and their confidence is sky-high. This rookie class is one of the best we've ever seen. And considering how the rookies typically get blown out in these contests, we can presume this team will be on a mission, too.
Still, the sophs no doubt will play with pride. And they have the advantage of experience and the knowledge that this is a game they are expected to win -- so I wouldn't expect them to roll over and allow dunk after dunk. If the sophs lock in for most of the game, we should be looking at the best rookie-sophomore game ever played.
Let's take a closer look at the rosters:
Rookie Challenge -- Roster Analysis
Derrick Rose | PG | Bulls17.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 6.3 apg
If Rose didn't have to fly in after his Thursday night game, I'd expect him to dominate much of the action with his dribble-attack game. Or his improved midrange game. Plus his acrobatic finishes at the rim.
But since he plays so many minutes for the Bulls, and this game is essentially a back-to-back for him, there's a chance he'll chill and let his teammates do the fun stuff.
Russell Westbrook | PG | Thunder15.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.9 apg
Like Rose, Westbrook can dominate the game with his ability to attack the rim. Like O.J. Mayo, he takes great pride in his defense, which is rarely seen in these games.
Westbrook also enjoys pounding guards inside on the glass, and that could hurt his opponents, who probably won't be so concerned with "boring" things such as boxing out in this game. Anyone watching him for the first time will see arguably the best athlete in this game.
O.J. Mayo | SG | Grizzlies19.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.8 apg
An obvious MVP candidate in a game that will feature no help on defense. Mayo is one of the top shooters in this game, and the sophs will have a tough time defending him with one man.
His very competitive nature also dictates that he might be one of the few players locked in on defense. A Mayo-Durant matchup could be the highlight of the game.
Eric Gordon | SG | Clippers14.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.6 apg
Another dynamic guard for the rookies, Gordon is a scoring machine from outside and off the dribble. He has the strength to get by almost anyone and finish with power.
Playing on such a bad team leads to many joyless nights, so Gordon might enjoy playing in this kind of atmosphere.
He is as good a one-on-one player as there will be on the court.
Rudy Fernandez | SG | Trail Blazers10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.2 apg
He might have the best combination of shooting skills and overall athleticism in this game. And he's such a brilliant shot-maker and creative player that he should get heavily involved in the action.
It's easy to envision his putting together a string of consecutive 3s made with some outstanding dunks and finishes, too.
Michael Beasley | PF | Heat13.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.5 bpg
Beasley might be thrilled at the chance to show off his offensive game without being in D-Wade's shadow. Although on the Heat he's just another guy, he's a very respected talent on this team.
But there are a few tough matchups for him in this game. He has to be a rebounder for the rooks to win.
Brook Lopez | C | Nets12.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg
If his guards decide to involve the bigs on offense, Lopez will be able to display a nice array of offensive talents. He can score with his back to the basket and make plays off one or two dribbles.
He's an excellent shot-blocker, too, so if he's competitive on defense, he'll be able to punish the sophs for finishing too casually. I expect he'll race the floor early on but will continue to do so only if his teammates get him some touches.
Marc Gasol | C | Grizzlies11.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Gasol has played inspired defense lately, but we likely won't see it tonight. However, we should expect to see hustle and crafty play from him because that's what he always brings.
He can score from a lot of positions on the floor, and he has the size to match up with the opposing bigs. Look for him and Spanish teammate Rudy Fernandez to work some two-man magia (magic).
Greg Oden | C | Trail Blazers9.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.2 apg
Oden is in a strange spot, obviously, given that he was drafted two summers ago alongside his opponents. But once the game starts, that will be forgotten.
If Oden enjoys running rim to rim and fighting hard for position, the lack of solid defending will translate into a guaranteed dunkfest for him. He's just too big not to be a force in a game like this -- as long as his teammates throw him the ball.
Aaron Brooks | PG | Rockets10.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.6 apg
He is the best pace-pusher in this game, so I expect him to fly around the court when the ball is in his hands. He's right there with Rose as the quickest guard in this game, so that matchup could be fun to watch.
He'll be able to get to the rim with ease, but there will be at least one shot-blocker on the floor at all times for the rooks to make finishing a little tougher.
Rodney Stuckey | PG | Pistons13.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.9 apg
Stuckey can choose to be a true lead guard in this game, setting up Durant and others. Or he can carry the scoring load himself, as he did in a matchup against Rose earlier this season (40 points).
He's a crafty player who can blow by players or simply use his body and strength to get angles at the rim. Defending the quick rookie guards will not be fun, but he'll have to do it when Brooks is resting.
Kevin Durant | SF | Thunder25.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.8 apg
This game should be a nice warm-up for what he'll be doing for the next 10-plus years at All-Star Weekend: playing in the Sunday game.
He is undoubtedly the best player in this game, and he's coming in hot, averaging 30, 7 and 4 in his past five games. He'll score from everywhere on the floor and will welcome the challenge that guys such as Mayo and Rudy Fernandez might present to him. If the rooks can keep the game close, we'll get to see Durant shine in the closing minutes.
Jeff Green | SF | Thunder16.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 apg
A candidate for the most improved award, he has a great combination of raw athleticism, ball skills and basketball IQ.
He's going to be very hard to guard Friday night because he can score inside on smaller guys and take bigger guys off the dribble with ease. Oh, and he's shooting 41.5 percent from 3 for the season, which means he'll have a lot of space to operate in.
Wilson Chandler | SF | Knicks13.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.1 apg
Athletic and strong guys tend to do well in this kind of game unless they decide to stand outside and shoot. Chandler needs to avoid that and instead attack the rim as often as possible.
He might have some matchup advantages on offense and some problems on defense when the rooks go small. He can play some 4, which could earn him extra playing time.
Al Thornton | SF | Clippers16.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 apg
His athleticism plays perfectly in a game like this. He can score inside and out, and no one will care about his shot selection. He's capable of being the MVP or a total nonfactor.
His motor normally runs hot, so seeing him race the floor and compete hard would not be a surprise. And he is another guy who can play some 4 and let the sophs go small.
Thaddeus Young | SF | 76ers13.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
Young has had a disappointing season thus far, but he has played a bit better in February. In an exhibition game, he could be stellar.
He's a blur running the floor, so seeing him fill the break alongside Brooks or Stuckey numerous times is a given. He has a good feel overall and should mesh well with the other primary players on his team.
Luis Scola | PF | Rockets12.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.2 apg
This crafty veteran is not suited for games like this, compared with the true battles come playoff time.
He'll set good screens and make smart passing plays, to be sure. It's in his DNA. And maybe the international juices of Spain versus Argentina will get him going at a high level.
Al Horford | C | Hawks10.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg
He has played in five games since returning from an injury he suffered in January, so he's far from being 100 percent ready to go.
He always competes hard and plays the right way, so he still will earn some touches at the rim and start some breaks with his rebounding and dribble-advance skills. But I doubt he'll spend a lot of time fighting Oden and Lopez inside, something he normally would do on every possession.
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
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