Rookies exploiting opportunities to start

Tuesday November 25th, 2008

Injuries and trades around the NBA have created opportunities for several rookies as the opening month of the season draws to a close.Take the Clippers' Eric Gordon. The seventh pick in the 2008 draft could barely get on the court during his first three weeks in the league. But after a spot in the lineup became available when Los Angeles shipped Cuttino Mobley to the Knicks, Gordon made his first career start Monday and finished with 25 points (including 4-of-7 shooting from three-point range), four assists and three steals.We had a hard time leaving the Indiana product out of this week's Rookie Rankings. But with so many first-year players earning their spots on merit, it's impossible to insert Gordon into the Top 10 on "spec" alone -- yet another testament to the depth of this freshman class.Gordon's opportunism isn't isolated: New Jersey's Brook Lopez, San Antonio's George Hill and Sacramento's Jason Thompson have also cracked starting lineups thanks to teammates' injuries. But whether these first-year temps parlay their opportunities into something more permanent remains to be seen.

NBA Rookie Rankings
1Derrick Rose
Last Week: 1
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Five games in five cities over a seven-day span proves taxing on any NBA player, let alone a 20-year-old point guard with mounting All-Star buzz. But Rose shone on his first West Coast swing, averaging 19.2 points (on 51.9 percent shooting) and 6.0 assists as the Bulls went 2-3. Rose bounced back from his first legitimate dud as a pro (six points on 1-for-8 shooting at Portland) by scoring 23 of his 25 points in the second half of a victory at Golden State. With just two games over the next week -- road dates in San Antonio and Philadelphia -- Rose can enjoy some well-deserved rest.
2O.J. Mayo
Last Week: 2
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
More of the spectacular same from Mayo, who continues to pace the rookie crop in scoring, at 20.6 points. He could stand to improve his shooting percentage -- the trigger-happy 21-year-old made just 37.5 percent in three games over the past week -- but it's hard to argue with the overall production. On Monday against the Spurs, Mayo scored 23 of his game-high 26 points after halftime.
3Marc Gasol
Last Week: 5
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
The 7-footer has averaged 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in his last four games. For the season he leads all rookies, and is fourth in the league, in shooting at 57.7 percent. Gasol also continues to adjust to the speed of the NBA game as a defender. He committed only nine fouls in those four games after fouling out twice in his first 10 contests.
4Brook Lopez
Last Week: NR
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Lopez is making the most of his opportunity to start in place of injured center Josh Boone. The Nets are 4-1 with Lopez in the starting lineup, and the 7-footer contributed three strong performances last week: He had 15 points and 13 rebounds against Cleveland; 14 points (on 7-of-11 shooting) and six rebounds against Toronto; and 14 points and 10 rebounds against the Clippers.
5Michael Beasley
Last Week: 3
Michael Beasley, Miami Heat
Beasley was limited by foul trouble to just 16 and 12 minutes in back-to-back games against the Wizards and Raptors, respectively. He bounced back in a victory against the Pacers (17 points) and a loss to the Rockets (14 points), but he admitted that the NBA transition has been difficult. "It's tough. I thought I was there," Beasley told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week. "It's hard. Me being so young, so new to the league, we've already played 12 games. In college, the 12th game is in January. It's tough getting used to the games and practices and all the traveling."
6D.J. Augustin
Last Week: NR
D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats
We'd be remiss not to offer up a Texas-sized mea culpa for booting the former Longhorn from last week's Rookie Rankings. With Jason Richardson inactive after having knee surgery, Charlotte coach Larry Brown has started Augustin at point guard and moved Raymond Felton to shooting guard. Augustin has responded by averaging 21.0 points and 7.0 assists in three starts. His most complete effort came in Monday's victory against the 76ers: 25 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals.
7Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Last Week: 6
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee Bucks
The Frosh Prince remains the most obvious second-round success story of the 2008 draft, having emerged as Milwaukee's best one-on-one defender while drawing assignments ranging from Toronto's Chris Bosh to Washington's Caron Butler to Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire. Mbah a Moute is averaging a rookie-high 7.6 rebounds to go with 9.8 points. He continues to build on his reputation as a stat-sheet stuffer, as his line from Monday's loss in Orlando would indicate: 11 points, eight boards, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
8Greg Oden
Last Week: 9
Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers
Oden returned to the starting lineup Monday and should crack the top tier of first-year players by midseason. He's a difference-maker even when he's not scoring -- but he still has a ways to go, as he showed last week in following up back-to-back double-doubles by struggling with foul trouble and turnovers.
9Jason Thompson
Last Week: 8
Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings
Monday's one-point loss in Portland was Sacramento's fifth game in seven days. Thompson offered steady production in the first four (14.0 points, 8.5 rebounds), but he went scoreless against the Blazers in 18 minutes. With Kevin Martin stepping up his rehab from an ankle injury, Thompson could soon return to a reserve role.
10Rudy Fernandez
Last Week: 4
Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
Two weeks ago, Fernandez looked like a dark horse for Rookie of the Year honors. But since then, Fernandez has scored five or fewer points in four of six games. Fernandez remains a viable long-range threat, having made a three-pointer in every game this season. But he'll need to pick up the other areas of his game to avoid relegation to specialist status.
Honorable Mention
Eric Gordon, Clippers (25 points in first career start, against Hornets); George Hill, Spurs (21.0 ppg, 2.6 apg, 2.3 spg in three games); Mario Chalmers, Heat (12.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.8 spg in four games); Russell Westbrook, Thunder (11.3 ppg, 6.0 apg, 2.0 spg in three games).
Dropped Out
Kevin Love, Timberwolves (6.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 27.8 percent shooting in three games); Anthony Morrow, Warriors (12.6 ppg in three games, but role likely to be reduced with Jamal Crawford acquisition).

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