- David Thorpe, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's easy for rookies to take things for granted and expect more than what they currently have. Those that are out of the rotation want to be in, but they might actually be lucky just to be on the squad. Those that are in the rotation expect more touches or calls for them, like in college, but they should just be focused on being productive within the role they have.
It's really no different for many veterans, it's just that the rookies are going through it for the first time. The recipe for success is simple, and appropriate in this holiday season: be thankful for the position you are in and make the best of it.
Let's check out some guys who are doing just that -- my top 10 rookies:
(Click here to view my complete Rookie 50 rankings.)
1. Derrick Rose, Bulls
At Golden State on Friday night, Rose turned the ball over on a bad pass with 10:36 remaining in the third quarter. At that point he had hit just one field goal and looked out of sorts while playing cautiously.
Twenty-one seconds later, he blew into the lane and made an "and 1" shot, plus the free throw. Suddenly, you could almost see the light come on as he realized that no one on the Warriors could defend him. On the next possession, he hit a 10-foot jumper in transition and dominated the action from there. He carried the Bulls on offense, making seven straight shots on his way to 25 points and a Bulls win.
It's the same for all young players: Sometimes they allow their confidence to come from their current on-court success rather than their cumulative production. Rose will learn from that experience as he continues to find that few players can control him, even if he starts out cold from the field.
2. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Mayo's performance against Utah last Saturday illustrates the importance of his getting to the free-throw line if he wants to be Memphis' No. 1 scoring option. He hit just six field goals on 17 attempts, yet still finished with 23 points, thanks to shooting 10-for-10 from the line.
He's not yet a guy who can create many foul situations in the half court, but his strength and body control make him a tough guy to defend in transition (which is where the Jazz fouled him the most). Memphis plays at the 11th fastest pace in the league, so this bears watching as the season unfolds. Mayo has only 38 free-throw attempts in his other 12 games.
3. Michael Beasley, Heat
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is doing a great job teaching young Beasley about accountability on the defensive end. Though Beasley had a great coach in college for one season in Frank Martin, who was once one of the top high school coaches and hoops teachers in America, he was far too talented to ever have to lock in on defense. That is not the case in the NBA, so Spoelstra has been removing him from the final period in many of their games.
It's worked, as Beasley played in the fourth quarter in a win against Indiana and clearly showed signs that he wants to learn to be a solid defender. Technique and performance must follow attitude and desire on this end of the floor.
4. Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
As talented and experienced as Fernandez is, he can still learn a lot about the NBA game. Consider the Blazers-Suns game on Saturday night: Rudy had struggled from the field as he entered the fourth quarter, hitting just 1-of-5 shots. He executed a side pick-and-roll, and the Suns switched, leaving Boris Diaw on him in space at the top of the key.
This was a perfect opportunity to work for an easy basket around the rim or draw a foul and get two free throws -- both options could have worked towards getting him back on track.
Instead, he made a few basic dribble moves and settled for a half step-back/half fade-away jumper from 17 feet. It wasn't close. And he didn't make another shot or score another point in the game. It was his only attempt from inside the arc (1-for-9 overall), and it could have been a turning point in this game for him.
5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Memphis is playing decent basketball in many areas of the game, except in the turnover department. Its turnover ratio (turnover ratio is the percentage of a team's possessions that end in a turnover) is 26.7, third worst in the NBA.
Gasol is a big part of the problem here, as his turnover rate of 18.8 ranks him fifth worst out of 51 centers. As he figures this part of the game out, which I think he will, look for Memphis to improve upon its more-competitive-than-expected start.
6. Anthony Morrow, Warriors
There are many amazing things to focus on for this undrafted rookie, but here's my favorite: 3-for-6, 2-for-5, 5-for-6, 8-for-10, 5-for-8, 3-for-6 and 3-for-7. Those are his 3-point totals for every combination of two consecutive games played.
Rookies who can consistently make shots from deep become valuable veterans on playoff teams which need shooters late in games.
7. Greg Oden, Blazers
This slimmer version of Oden is starting to make an impact already. He's third among all rookies in PER, and is the best defensive rebounder and second-best offensive rebounder of the class.
He is also craftier on offense than he gets credit for, using patience and some slight shoulder feints to create better angles for finishing. And he is a long way from figuring it out, which is scary to consider.
Remember how everyone was so impressed with how Al Horford started the season last year? Horford's 8.7 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game last November tagged him as the big man to watch in the coming years. Oden is at 8.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg, but is playing 12 minutes per game fewer than Horford did. Add in Oden's 1.67 blocks per game (almost double what Al did last year: 0.94), and then consider he's 18 months younger than Big Al, and it's more than possible that Oden will grow to be as special a player as the hype suggested.
8. Jason Thompson, Kings
Any scout, from any team, who did not like Thompson in the draft because of the level of his college competition would not have enjoyed his game against the Lakers on Sunday.
Here's how JT scored his points: a 19-foot baseline jumper, a slash down the lane for a layup, a steal and a race-the-floor layup, a 20-foot baseline jumper, an 18-foot jumper, a post and re-post tough "and 1" and a cut and dunk. Thompson went 7-for-10 from the field overall, tallying 15 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
How many power forwards can score and impact the game in so many ways? Next question: How many of them are just 22 years old?
9. Brook Lopez, Nets
The big guy could have been the ROW (Rookie of the Week) with his contributions helping to jump-start the Nets. We knew he could score -- he's hit 38-of-69 shots in the Nets' past six games (of which they won four). He catches and finishes inside with power and he can shoot -- his high release enables him to get shots off in traffic.
I think he can also be an outstanding screener. He has the size and he has shown a willingness to hit people and stay put, rather than merely brushing them. That bodes well for his wing-mates, who in turn will take care of him.
10. George Hill, Spurs
Why is it that some coaches always seem to get the most out of their players? Simple, they allow them to play with defined roles and expectations. That way, the players can just go out and play without second-guessing their efforts and actions.
This is being illustrated beautifully in San Antonio, where Hill has exploded for 20, 23 and 20 points in consecutive games. You would never know he was a rookie drafted late in the first round by watching him and the shots he takes.
In a game against Utah, he took a 3-pointer seconds after being blocked at the rim; he over-dribbled at the top of the key looking for a shot and finally passed it when he couldn't find one, only to quickly run back to get it again to shoot another 3; and he kept the ball on a 3-on-3 break and attempted a layup even though all three defenders converged on him. He made each one of those shots, including an "and 1" on that layup.
Hill is a talented player, who is being asked to create points and offensive opportunities, so he does so without concern that he may get pulled if he fails -- which is one reason he succeeds. A great lesson from a master coach in Gregg Popovich.
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 NBDL 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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