Commentary

Rookie Watch: Mayo jumps into top 5, Oden looks fantastic

Originally Published: November 11, 2008
By David Thorpe | Scouts Inc.

O.J. MayoJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesO.J. Mayo leads all rookies in scoring, averaging 21 ppg in his first eight games with the Grizzlies.
With the season in its third week, some rookies are clearly penned into the rotation for the season. Others are penciled in … or out. At least it seems that way to them.

It's hard for young players (and some fans) to digest just how long the NBA season is. Rookies who get down on themselves for a "DNP-CD" next to their name, or for playing just a few minutes here and there, are doing themselves a disservice. Rotations change quickly in this league for many reasons. So staying focused on the daily grind is the best way to survive and earn a coveted rotation spot.

Here's a look at some things I've seen from those who have played. And remember, the rankings are based on their cumulative efforts, not week to week.

Click here for my complete Rookie 50 rankings.

The Top 10


1. Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers
He provides more than just box score numbers. His energy, activity and feel for the game make the players around him better.

After watching him in person, I see that he is much "springier" than I had thought. Not just in his ability to jump -- yes, I saw his dunk in China this summer -- but in his overall ability to move suddenly to important spots on the floor. In scouting terms, he has very "live legs."


2. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Although he's ranked No. 2 now, I expect him to be the rookie of the year at the end of the season. That's because he's running an offense that is designed for him to excel in -- the Bulls really stress spreading the floor and keeping the post open to keep driving lanes open for Rose.

He is very difficult to stay in front of and his scoring opportunities are plenty, thanks to defenses staying home and helping onto him less. This is why playing the point is so tough for a rookie, because Rose is unselfish, yet he's "forced" into taking the shots available to him. He has taken 10 more shots than anyone else on the team.


3. Michael Beasley, Heat
No one questioned Beasley's offensive game as he entered the league, but there were doubts about his defense. Beasley does a good job getting a wide base and sitting down when defending the midpost area, but he is still too eager to block shots (leaving him vulnerable to shot fakes) and does not use his right hand to contest shots nearly as well as his left.


4. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
As I've stated before, Mayo's shooting stroke is beautiful. And he is lighting up teams from deep when they rotate away from him. Soon teams will start treating him like the terrific shooter he is and not leave him open as often. Then we'll get to see his midrange game.

Thus far, he has taken 41 3-pointers and just 25 free throws. Still, he has been incredibly productive in his past few games (84 points on 63 shots) and is proving to be more than just a deep shooter.


5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Gasol followed up his monster 27-point, 16-rebound game against Golden State with 19 points and 20 rebounds in his next three games combined.

The size and quickness of his opponents has rattled him inside; he ranks 39th in turnover rate out of 45 centers.


6. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
I like how Love can make plays for himself out on the floor when he's being a bit overwhelmed inside. He is a smooth ball handler and can cover ground more quickly than his defenders expect.

Finishing at the rim will be a problem for him until he is better equipped to explode through contact. But adding Sebastian Telfair to the starting lineup gives Love the pace pusher he needs to better utilize his outlet passing talents.


7. Jason Thompson , Kings
As expected, Thompson's minutes were cut after Brad Miller returned from suspension. Plus, the Kings have to invest time and effort into last year's No. 10 pick, Spencer Hawes, who is two years younger than JT.

But I still think Thompson ends up being the power guy in Sacramento for years to come. He isn't just tough and talented; he competes really hard, too.


8. Luc Mbah a Moute, Bucks
No rookie has been more surprisingly effective than this former Bruin.

His long arms and interest in defending have made him a Scott Skiles favorite.

And he's been really good on offense, too.


9. Mario Chalmers, Heat
Anyone who can find a way to get 9 steals in one game can keep his spot in our top 10. Nine in a week is good, but in one game? Amazing.

He has an easier time than most rookie point guards on offense because of how often the ball is in Dwyane Wade's hands. If Chalmers can knock down perimeter shots all season, his rotation spot will be secure.


10. Darrell Arthur, Grizzlies
I love Arthur as a finisher inside, playing off passes from dribble penetration or taking advantage of a spread floor thanks to the shooting talents of Mayo and Rudy Gay. He's very explosive and has some creative ability near the rim.

However, I don't love him quite yet when he's working to get his own shot. And like most rookies, he loves his jumper a lot more than he should.

Best of the rest


Greg Oden, Blazers
Maybe it was the "television adds weight" thing. Or maybe he's worked extremely hard. Either way, my first thought when I saw Oden taking shots in his shooting shirt on Monday night in Orlando was the word "fantastic." As in, he looks fantastic. Slim in the waist, not too puffy in his chest. In fact, he looked lean in all the right places and strong in his lats and shoulders.

Unlike his appearance in the Blazers' first game of the season, his upper body did not look at all disproportionate to his legs. He was jumping lightly in his shooting drills, struggling with his short jumpers but looking very good with his hooks.

I also really liked what the Blazers' coaches were doing with him during pregame warm-ups. Simple touch shots around the rim are hard to make without lots of reps, so doing them now only helps to get that feeling back more quickly upon his return.

Brook Lopez, Nets
Lopez has produced mixed results so far, but his ability as both a shooter and a scorer, at his size, bodes well for his future.


D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
Although Augustin is not shooting a decent percentage from 3, I like his form from that distance. His stroke is simple and strong (much preferred to complex and weak, where more things can go wrong), and his quickness with the ball helps to force defenders to close him out under control, giving him the time to get the shot off. He also looks to be competent as a driver/finisher, staying square to the rim and maintaining focus on the shot.

Bobby Brown, Kings
If you didn't know he was an undrafted free agent who played in Europe last season, you'd think he was a solid first-round talent. And you'd be right. Quick and smart with a nice shot from 3, he plays under control while still bringing energy from the bench.


Russell Westbrook, Thunder
The good news about this jet of an athlete is that he makes his team better, taking good shots (good shots have a better chance of being rebounded by a teammate than a bad shot), making easy passes and playing good defense. The bad news is that he's a poor finisher around the rim and still is not a good perimeter shooter. But if he was a stock on the market, I'd be a big-time buyer. I think the game will slow down for him, especially on drives, and he'll learn to be a much better scorer.


Ryan Anderson, Nets
Anderson is proving to be an excellent pick by the Nets, who were torn between him and Courtney Lee on draft night. They drafted Anderson hoping he'd be a space creator with his shooting ability, and they look smart right now. He can definitely shoot, and he plays with passion, confidence and some toughness.

Nicolas Batum, Blazers
Starting for a solid team is impressive. Even more impressive is watching him in constant motion, cutting and screening and going glass on every shot. His disinterest in forcing up bad shots also helps him.


Courtney Lee, Magic
Lee looks to be what Stan Van Gundy likes in young players: tough on defense and unafraid to make plays with the ball. After stating that he expects to go with an eight-man rotation (that did not include Lee), Van Gundy has played Lee in three of the past four games. Lee has played excellent defense on both Ben Gordon and Rudy Fernandez, but has hit only 3 of 12 shots this season.

DeMarcus Nelson, Warriors
The surprise starter for Golden State early on is one of the best athletes in this class. He's explosive pushing the ball and athletic enough to make plays above the rim. Shooting 1-for-8 from the line is a scary stat, but I'd expect much better numbers for him there as he gets comfortable on the floor. No player has been more pleasantly surprising than Nelson.


JaVale McGee, Wizards
He is a very athletic big who looks good jumping and dunking lob passes, but he is far too willing to shoot perimeter shots. If he learns to pass and screen or dribble handoff when he's out on the floor instead of shooting it, he'll end up helping his team more. He has the tools to be an excellent rebounder on both ends.

Marreese Speights, Sixers
Hasn't played much, though he's been productive when he has. He'll gobble up rebounds and finish around the rim.


Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Saw his first real action of the season in the Warriors' past two games and showed his immense talent. He can be a force on the boards and as a shot-blocker. As he strengthens and learns to play the game, he'll be a difficult guy to match up with out on the wing.

George Hill, Spurs
The Spurs might love his low amount of turnovers, but they need some playmakers now. Hill needs to try to earn a permanent spot in the rotation by providing a much-needed spark from the guard spot.

Rob Kurz, Warriors
Was signed last week due to his shooting ability and his hoops IQ, but went 1-for-6 in his first game. The Warriors added him with the roster space created by the Monta Ellis suspension.

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 more than 40 NBA, European League and NBDL players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.