by Dallas Jackson - 10/24/2005
With the start of the NBA season just on the horizon, I pull out my crystal ball (or is it a "Magic 8-ball"…) to give you the rookies that will have an impact on the Association right from the gate. Last year was an easy selection of Emeka Okafor, Dwight Howard and Josh Smith, as well as some deeper selections of Josh Childress and Luol Deng. I think the same can be said for this year as well. I have three stone cold locks for All-Rookie Team as well as three others to keep on your radar.
NBA Rookies -- Freshman All-Stars:
Chris Paul (6-0 195 lbs.), PG, New Orleans/ OklaCity Hornets. While being in a division with the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies basically 100 percent assures the Hornets of a last-place finish, a young team featuring Chris Paul and J. R. Smith will be fun to watch. Paul was an absolute stud at Wake Forest and will be given the reigns to the offense from day one. His ball handling and playmaking ability are nice pieces to a puzzle, but his FG percentage will be a minor downside to his rookie campaign.
His size is also a question mark and could be a point of concern with Paul hitting a rookie wall later in the season. With J.R. Smith at the 2-guard and a semi-reliable front court Paul could be looking at a 17 point 5 assist 3 rebound per game average. He will get the lion's share of the minutes at the point, with Speedy Claxton spelling him. The former All-American Paul is a lock for the All -Rookie team and should be a top three finisher for Rookie of the Year. Think Tony Parker.
Deron Williams (6-3 210 lbs.), PG, Utah Jazz. Drafted one spot ahead of Paul, the former Illinois guard is actually in a better place to succeed. Utah has more talent around Williams, as well as a better coach to teach him. The Jazz may be the best fit for Williams, as he will be able to play to his strengths, and won't be asked to change his game much.
Williams is not a natural scorer, so it is to his advantage that he can get the ball into the front court allowing Boozer, Kirilenko and Okur to do the damage. Jerry Sloan will take advantage of his defense and court vision and put this kid in an excellent position to succeed. With no other PG of consequence on the Utah roster, expect Williams to log major minutes, as well as high assist numbers. I look for a stat line resembling his college numbers, 11 points and 7 assists per game. A Second Team All- Rookie would be a disappointment with this kind of talent around him. Think a stronger Damon Jones.
Charlie Villanueva (6-11 240 lbs.), PF, Toronto Raptors. With widespread rumors of Rafael Araujo heading to the D-League and Chris Bosh moving to center, the All-Big East forward, has elevated his value from 15-minutes-off-the-bench to starter at Power Forward. His height is a major strength in the East, as well as a frame that will allow for another 15 pounds of muscle to be added. He has plenty of natural ability, and if motivated could be a possible Rookie of the Year candidate. However, that is a big "if," as his lackadaisical attitude often left him looking very average at UConn.
Playing alongside Chris Bosh gives Toronto a very formidable front court. If he is a starter, assume 15 points 10 boards and 2 blocks a night, very similar to Emeka Okafor's numbers last season. If he wants to succeed he will. Think taller and stronger Stromile Swift, but keep the uncaring attitude!
NBA Rookies -- Don't Sleep On:
Sarunas Jasikevicius (6-4 195 lbs.), PG, Indiana Pacers. It was a toss-up between Jasikevicius and former Lithuanian teammate Arvydas Macijauskas, but playing behind injury-prone Jamaal Tinsley makes Sarunas the better bet to log serious minutes for Rick Carlisle. Jasikevicius averaged 16 PPG in two seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel and is a much more mature player than other rookies coming into the league. In 2003, Jasikevicius lead the Euroleague in free throw percentage (92.5 percent) as well as three-point field goal percentage (57.0 percent); and was the 2002 Lithuania Player of the Year.
He is a lights-out shooter as well a good off-ball defender. He will work hard, and hustle for the Pacers. Jasikevivius will, most likely, start the year coming off the bench, but Tinsley will get injured and open the door for the starting spot, which Sarunas will be able to hold onto. Stat line will vary depending on his minutes, but expect at least 8 points and 3 assist even if it is from the bench. Think a more consistent shooting Chauncey Billups.
Raymond Felton (6-1 198 lbs.), PG, Charlotte Bobcats. There are a lot of good rookie guards in this year's class; Raymond Felton is another to add to the list. Of the six drafted Tar Heels, Felton has the best chance for immediate impact. Last year's Bob Cousy Award winner is closest to a starter with only Brevin Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, but look for that to change by December. Felton has some of the quickest hands on defense -- averaging 2 steals per game in college -- as well as hawk-like vision- he led the ACC in assists with 6.9 per game last year. His physical size and approach to the game should allow for him to avoid the rookie wall. Combining with Gerald Wallace in the back court the Bobcats could force a lot of steals and fast break points. A safe stat projection could read 8 points 4 assists 1.5 steals off the bench, or 14 points 7 assists and 2 steals as a starter. Think Andre Miller offense, Larry Hughes defense.
NBA Rookies -- Stretch Play:
David Lee (6-9 249 lbs.), PF, New York Knicks. Larry Brown hates rookies, thus making this a stretch. But, Lee is not a project; he has a very good fundamental game, and only Malik Rose to beat to be the starter in Gotham. With poor shooting guards Jamal Crawford, Stephon Marbury and Quentin Richardson there is unlimited rebounding possibilities for Lee if he can crack the starting five. Lee averaged 14 points and 9 rebounds his senior year at Florida and it would not be startling to see him at an easy 10 and 6. His ability to get rebounds will be much needed with Eddie Curry not being a big-time rebounder to begin with. If Lee can get into the lineup, think slower Drew Gooden.
Questions or comments? E-mail email@example.com.