Training camp opens for 30 NBA teams in various parts of the United States in a little over a week. Some teams have already assembled informally and began their preparations for the 2008-09 season. For a select few, this will mark their first foray into the world of NBA basketball. No more school books on the road trips, it is time to grow up on and off the court.
From this point forward, draft position means nothing. All that matters is what you do or don't do when the ball is tossed up. The 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year race looks to be a highly competitive affair. Unlike last season when Kevin Durant's only challenger was the Atlanta Hawks Al Horford. This season there seems to be five players which a very good chance at making a run for the rookie of the year trophy (The Brandon Roy Trophy from this point forward).
To be a serious threat to win the rookie of the year award depends as much on opportunity as talent. It is hard to put up the numbers riding the bench and their are no points awarded for being on a good team. So some players, like Eric Gordon and Jerryd Bayless, are going to have a hard time even getting in the mix due to the minute crunch they will face on their teams.
So here are my top five candidates for the 2009 Brandon Roy Trophy:
The Favorite - Greg Oden
Most of the preseason prognosticators will tell you to be patient with Oden because he is coming off the dreaded microfracture surgery. However, microfracture is about to go the way of the ACL injury. As medical information catches up with the proper way to rehab from the injury, the recovery process is quicker and nearly 100%. Also, all microfractures are not equal. I am big on Oden. He was considered a generational big man coming into the league. He is in the mold of Shaq, Duncan, David Robinson, and Patrick Ewing. He is simply going to be dominant and most likely it will start to surface before the calander hits 2009. Oden is big, quick, long and has great hands. He is physical around the rim like Shaq and strong enough to get position even on NBA veterans. Him and Roy should be deadly running the pick and roll, especially with the amount of shooters/scorers Portland can put around them. Although Oden's post moves are not refined, his ability to establish position should allow him to get to spots in which he is comfortable. With that said, Oden will shine the brightest on defense. His presence alone is going to change the way opponents are ABLE to attack the Trailblazers. His athleticism and shot blocking ability will be unmatched. Only foul trouble and a cautious Nate McMillan will keep him under 3 blocks per game. His numbers and the fact that Portland will most likely exceed the modest expectations of the NBA media minds will put him at the front of the race. He will also get plenty of national TV time to make his case.
The Producer - Micheal Beasley
After dominating college basketball, it seemed a forgone conclusion the Beasley would be the #1 pick until Derrick Rose put on a show in the NCAA tournament. Rose was also helped by the fact that his hometown team got the #1 pick. However, it must be said that Beasley's reputation might of cost him the #1 pick in the mind of quite a few NBA executives. Known as more of a prankster than a gangster, Beasley's NBA career is already off to a dubious start. However, the negatives do not overshadow the positives Beasley will bring to Miami. Beasley is a flat out scoring machine. Beasley gets buckets in bunches. His offense is diverse. He can finish well with either hand. As an undersized power forward, he has shown an ability to post up bigger players. He has the skill to also take bigger power forwards off the dribble and enough of a handle and athleticism to get away with spot minutes at small forward where he would be able to punish most in the paint. Beasley has a set of vacuums for hands and catches everything around him. This also works for him when rebounding. He should be long, strong and athletic enough to make an impact on the boards even as a rookie. The best thing about being in Miami for Beasley is the presence of a rejuvenated and healthy Dwyane Wade. This allows Beasley to play off of a superior scorer and relieves him of any leadership duties he would have found on most lottery teams. This means that Beasley will rarely face the double teams he would have in another city.
Mayo has been in the spotlight for what seems like a decade to those that follow college hoops recruiting. Billed as the next LeBron James, his lack of over the top athleticism will probably keep him from reach those heights. However, it can't be said that Mayo lacks the skill. Perhaps one of the deadliest shooting strokes of a top notch prospect in quite some time, Mayo should open up the lane for Pau...err Marc Gasol. Most of Mayo's previous billing was due to him being projected as a big point guard. However, at USC he excelled as a shooting guard and in Memphis he will be asked to step into the role vacated by Mike Miller. In summer league, Mayo was allowed to run the point and that was met with disappointing results. He seemed to turn the ball over and lack the understanding on how to run an offense. However, the Memphis summer league (back to back to back to back to back) was not a proper venue to judge his future ability to transition to the point. With the glut of point guards in Memphis at this time, I think most of Mayo's time will be spent at shooting guard where there is a big hole for playing time and shot attempts. The departure of Miller and Juan Carlos Navarro, leave 20 shot attempts and about 51 minutes available at shooting guard. You do the math. Mayo will have the opportunity to produce big time numbers if he is capable and history has shown him to be an elite player on every level he has played. His lack of national exposure will hurt against the top 2 guys but his cult like Internet following will drum up some buzz if he is producing.
The Homeboy - Derrick Rose
It might seem that Rose will be facing a minute crunch and with Ben Gordon's situation unresolved, he might. However, Rose was the #1 pick for a reason...his athletic tools. Rose is probably the most breath taking fast break engineer since a young Jason Kidd hit the NBA. His speed with the ball is unmatched, even by players much smaller than him. His off the charts jumping and finishing ability allow him to play the role of the one man fast break. I expect that once Gordon is signed that Chicago will make moves to clear up the logjam in the backcourt to allow Rose to get his feet wet. Keeping Kirk Hinrich should ease Rose's transition into the NBA, as he will be allowed to play off the ball some and learn something from Hinrich on defensive intensity. Rose should be a triple double threat if given 30 minutes a night because he is a very good rebounder for a guard. If his shot comes around like it started to in college and he avoids injury, by virtue of being the #1 pick, Rose has a shot.
The Underdog - Kevin Love
Just looking at Kevin Love,you would think he was an end of the 1st round type of guy...that is until the game begins. Once on the floor in a team setting, Love starts to shine. His feel for the game is uncanny. He has become an outlet passing and halfcourt shot making legend. However, don't confuse Love with being a hustle player. He is a highly skilled offensive machine. Capable of taking college players in the post, he has to show that will translate to the NBA. His jump shot will easily translate, as will his rebounding ability. Although, Love and Al Jefferson seem an odd fit, I think there will be some games that their relentlessness on the glass will simply overwhelm opponents. Randy Foy's return to health and the addition of Mike Miller to the Timberwolves should give Love and Jefferson plenty of room to operate on the inside. The attention Jefferson will get via double teams should allow Love to wreak havoc on the weakside boards. The new NBA trend of "going small" will get punished by these two on the glass. It simply won't be a viable option if the Timberwolves can devise a defensive scheme to protect Love from small forwards masking as power forwards. Seeing how Al Horford was able to produce at center last year for the Hawks makes me optimistic that Loves game will translate just fine to the NBA. Look for him to make a run at averaging a double double as a rookie with good assist numbers.
Just Missed the Cut:
Russell Westbrook - Will have to navigate his way though Earl Watson for playing time. If allowed to play, he would have an outside chance.
Danilo Gallinari - Experienced pro. Will he be healthy enough to get acclimated in training camp?
Jerryd Bayless/Rudy Fernandez - Portland's depth and lack of shots will hurt them, not talent.
Marc Gasol - If Darko is traded to New York then he moves into the top 5.
Eric Gordon - Will Baron Davis groom him to be another Montae Ellis? He definitely has the ability to put up numbers.