Commentary

Rookie Watch: It's a four-way tie

Originally Published: February 11, 2009
By David Thorpe | Scouts Inc.

Brook LopezNed Dishman/NBAE/Getty ImagesHow deep is this rookie class? Brook Lopez was drafted with the 10th pick on draft night.

One guy is a pure point guard, running the show and creating one highlight after another. One is a slasher, punishing people with his huge will and explosive body. Another is a shooting machine, deft at creating just enough space to let another jumper fly but also athletic enough to make plays at the rim. And one is an adept center, sparking his team to better-than-expected play and leaving many to wonder how he was drafted so low.

Yes, much can be said about Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo and Brook Lopez. All four have exceeded high expectations. And at this point in the season, I can't pick one that deserves to be rated over the other. To my eyes, it's a four-way tie for the No. 1 spot in my rankings.

Take a look at what they've done recently.

Lopez averaged over 18 ppg and 12 rpg in a 5-game stretch. Westbrook poured in 34 points in a road win and had a near triple-double a week later. Rose scored at will last week and handed out 26 assists with just 5 turnovers in a four-game span. Mayo put up 32-plus points in back-to-back games and went for 22 points and 16 boards on Monday night. Wow, wow, wow and wow.

Most importantly, all four guys are helping their teams win basketball games.

Perhaps one of these guys will jump ahead of the rest and become the clear-cut choice for ROY. Or maybe it will be two other guys -- Kevin Love or Greg Oden -- who take control. But today, in light of the superlative play of all four of these guys, I'm calling it a dead heat as we head to the All-Star break. For the sake of the rankings, where someone has to be listed first, we're going with Lopez because L comes before M, R and W alphabetically.

This week's observations

Rose
Rose

Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose played unbelievably well on the Bulls' seven-game road trip. What he's doing as a rookie point guard is amazing, especially with the rest of the league figuring out ways to defend him.

He has added some floaters on penetrations. He is knocking in his midrange jumpers with regularity. He is taking much better shots most of the time. And he is even learning how to throw lob passes off ball-screen penetrations, which has helped teammates Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas get more involved in the offense.

He still gets cooked on defense too often, but his offensive (and rebounding) efforts more than make up for that issue. I've never been higher on him than I am right now.

Click here for more observations on Derrick Rose


Lopez
Lopez

Brook Lopez, Nets
I like Lopez's ability to be a threat from out on the floor when being tightly guarded. He's able to get his waist down and dribble under control a few times. And in time, he'll be able to convert these drives more regularly than he can now.

When I see him wheel around the pinch post-extended and drive toward the rim after faking a handoff, I think of Tim Duncan. He doesn't move like Duncan, but he is going to be able to do a lot of the things that Duncan does. He has a chance to be a truly special player.

Click here for more observations on Brook Lopez


Mayo
Mayo

O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Showing he can rebound from bad-shooting games, Mayo has been terrific again lately, and has helped Memphis get some much-needed wins. His 33-point effort at home carried the Grizzlies to a win over Houston. And his late-game decisions in that game might have far-reaching implications.

As the Grizzlies saw a 16-point lead cut to six halfway through the fourth quarter, Mayo had the ball on the right wing in space matched up with Shane Battier. Then a teammate came to set a screen and Ron Artest switched onto him. Yep, Battier, then Artest. As the clock wound down, everyone expected Mayo to pull up for one of his patented jumpers with a slight fade, especially since he had been hitting them all night. But instead, Mayo made a hard left-hand drive and finished with a lefty floater over Yao Ming.

Then, up four with 3½ minutes left, he used a brilliant flat screen by Marc Gasol, who craftily switched the angle and side of his screen just before reaching Battier. Yao contained on the ball screen instead of showing. And Mayo was able to build up speed and finish strongly over Yao. If Mayo starts mixing in more drives like these two, he will become even harder to defend.

Click here for more observations on O.J. Mayo


Westbrook
Westbrook

Russell Westbrook, Thunder
As I mentioned last month, Westbrook reminds me of a young D-Wade, whom I watched closely during his rookie season. As a rookie, Wade was over a year older and a bit stronger than Westbrook. But look where his shots came from that season: Half of Wade's shots came from the perimeter, 40 percent from inside and 9 percent from dunks. Meanwhile, Westbrook takes 52 percent of his shots from the perimeter, 39 percent come from inside and another 7 percent come on dunks. Those are strikingly similar numbers.

The big differences are in how they finish. Westbrook is making 1 percent more of his perimeter shots (38.1 to Wade's 37.1), but Wade finished far better inside (50.8 percent to Westbrook's 44.7 percent). But remember, Westbrook is over a year younger in this comparison and not quite as developed physically, so finishing with contact is somewhat tougher for him.

The amount of contact they both created as rookies is similar too, with Wade getting to the free throw-line on 14.6 percent of his overall field goal attempts, and Westbrook a bit better at 15.4 percent. That's an incredible stat, especially when compared to other rookies. Eric Gordon is at a strong 13.5 percent. But Mayo's free-throw rate is 6.9 percent, and Rose is at 8.1 percent.

Click here for more observations on Russell Westbrook


Love
Love

Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Love is averaging a double-double in the new year. Here's some perspective on how efficient and productive he has been.

Of the eight players currently averaging a double-double for the entire season, none of them has a teammate who also averages 10-plus boards a game. And none of them plays less than 31 minutes a game (Andris Biedrins plays 31 exactly, on the fastest-paced team in the league, hence more rebound opportunities).

Love, however, plays with Al Jefferson (before his ACL injury), who ranks sixth in the league with 11 rpg. And up until Monday, he averaged just less than 26 minutes per game in 2009.

With Love likely to see an increase in minutes now that Jefferson is done for the season, he has a chance to be the only rookie who will finish this season averaging a double-double.

Click here for more observations on Kevin Love


Oden
Oden

Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
When Oden played with just his left hand during his one year at Ohio State (due to a broken right wrist), scouts predicted it would help him in the long run. It has.

Oden has developed a better touch and feel for scoring inside with his left hand compared with his right hand. This is not uncommon following a wrist, arm or hand injury (see David Lee). Spending as much time as Oden did finishing with only one hand, he couldn't help but see significant improvement.

So now it looks like he is more comfortable finishing touch shots with his left. Over time, as his right hand continues to improve, he could be totally ambidextrous around the rim like Lee and Carlos Boozer.

Click here for more observations on Greg Oden


Speights
Speights

Marreese Speights, 76ers
Speights was dominant in two huge wins for Philly recently: He scored 39 points, grabbed 13 boards and blocked 4 shots in 46 combined minutes. And he made 16 of 24 shots. Also of note: He played more than 20 minutes in both games, a number he hadn't reached in over a week.

Perhaps now, the rookie leader in Player Efficiency Rating (20.22) will be given solid rotation minutes for the rest of the season, especially with the loss of Elton Brand. I'm not sure what else Speights can do to earn more playing time.

Click here for more observations on Marreese Speights


Gasol
Gasol

Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
In February, Gasol has seen improvement on the defensive end. He is averaging 1.6 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game -- his highest monthly averages yet -- despite playing fewer minutes per game than in any other month.

Here's another sign that coach Lionel Hollins has lit a fire under Gasol: He is averaging 7.8 boards per game in February, which also marks a monthly best (not including his two games in October). And we repeat: He's doing this despite playing fewer minutes.

Click here for more observations on Marc Gasol


Chalmers
Chalmers

Mario Chalmers, Heat
Chalmers is getting over 37 minutes per game in February, and he's taking full advantage of it. He's averaging over 15 ppg on terrific shooting from the field (52.3 percent), he's a sharp 9-for-19 from 3 and he's handing out 7.8 assists per game to just 2.5 turnovers per game.

He's making lots of good decisions in the Heat's pick-and-roll game, rarely getting himself in trouble by over-penetrating, and often finding the correct open man with the easy pass. As always, he's competing and creating havoc on defense, too: He's picking up 2.3 steals per game thus far this month.

Click here for more observations on Mario Chalmers


Beasley
Beasley

Michael Beasley, Heat
In the Heat's tough back-to-back losses at Philly and Detroit, Beasley pulled down only 3 rebounds total, even though he played 27 minutes in each game. That was his worst two-game performance in that area since getting only 2 rebounds in two mid-December games combined. Perhaps that's why he played only 13 minutes in their next game.

Coach Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job of holding Beasley accountable for his defense and rebounding in each game, using playing time as a carrot on a stick. Rookies often start taking the All-Star break a week early, especially when they have to help make travel and ticket plans for family and friends coming to see them at the events. Beasley will learn to lock into every game, or he'll keep riding the playing-time roller coaster.

Click here for more observations on Michael Beasley

Click here for the entire Rookie 50 rankings and more observations

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.