(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)
The two biggest names in the 2007 NBA Draft, obviously, were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Durant is already playing significant minutes for the Sonics and is making a huge impact on the franchise. Oden, on the other hand, is out for the season after having microfracture surgery on his right knee, but he should be fine when he returns next year and may be one of the best centers in the league for years to come.
Besides Durant, several question marks remain about which rookies will step up this year and take their games to the next level. Many have to overcome a tremendous learning curve, and minutes for young players may be hard to come by. Nevertheless, here are some top rookies to look for in the 2007-2008 season:
Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have been one of the worst franchises in the NBA for several years now. Over the past eight seasons since their last playoff berth in 1998-99, they’re a combined 218-438. After making some bad picks in the draft for a while, the Hawks seem to have assembled plenty of young talent, including Horford. Through the first three games of the season, Horford has started at center each game and has averaged almost 30 minutes per contest. He’s also averaging 6 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1 block through the first week of the season. Sure, it’s still early, but there aren’t many rookies around the league playing as much, let alone starting for his team, like Horford is. Horford will only get better as he learns and improves his post-game, but he’ll need to work on his free throw shooting.
Jeff Green, SF/PF, Sonics – Drafted out of Georgetown, Green is looking to make his mark alongside fellow rookie Durant. Green has averaged about 18 minutes per game off of the bench through the Sonics’ first four games of the season. An athletic forward, he’s averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in an improved up-tempo offense. Green is known for his great defense and slashing ability on offense, but he’ll need to improve his long-range shooting to increase his minutes as the season progresses. Since he can defend quick guards and power forwards, he’s versatile enough to be one of the bright spots for Seattle this year.
Yi Jianlian, PF/C, Bucks – Many NBA analysts were critical of this pick because they were unsure if Yi would actually report to Milwaukee. Yi tried to warn several teams, including Milwaukee, not to draft him because he wanted to play in a more popular area. Unfortunately for Yi, the Bucks called his bluff and drafted him sixth overall. The move, though, has been beneficial to both in the beginning of the season. Yi has started at power forward for the Bucks’ first four games, averaging 25 minutes along with 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1 steal, and 2 blocks per game. He seems to be a good player with a solid all-around game that includes the ability to defend, dribble, pass, shoot, and play in the paint. As he gains more experience, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t improve as the season rolls along.
Jared Dudley, SF/PF, Bobcats – Many teams were afraid to draft Dudley because he doesn’t seem to have a natural position. He’s a little too big for small forward, but as a power forward, he’s slightly undersized. Dudley was one of the top players in the ACC at Boston College during his college career, and he has the talent to play better than his draft slot (selected 22nd). He’s averaging 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench, and his playing time should slowly increase now that Sean May and Adam Morrison have suffered season-ending injuries. He may not fit into a specific position, but he can definitely play.
Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Pistons – Stuckey is out six weeks because of a broken left hand, so he hasn’t been able to get on the court yet this season. But he’s a young guard with a knack for scoring points in bunches, which is something the Pistons definitely lack off of their bench. In two years at Eastern Washington, Stuckey averaged more than 24 points per game, and he possesses many skills. When his hand heals and he returns to the floor, he should help solidify a strong Pistons team and an improved bench.
Some other rookies who could also have solid seasons include Corey Brewer, Acie Law IV, Al Thornton, Joakim Noah, Luis Scola, Daequan Cook, and possibly Arron Afflalo. Mike Conley, Jr. and Julian Wright could have good rookie seasons too, but they’re currently blocked by veteran players. Guys like Jason Smith, Glen Davis, Dominic McGuire, Brandan Wright, and Chris Richard may be some other names to look for down the road.
But that’s the thing about players just coming into the NBA – no one knows exactly what they’ll bring to the table.