Points Taken

Led by Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, talented rookies are reinvigorating the playmaking corps
April 04, 2010

Every so often a draft class comes along that replenishes a position. In 2003 the NBA's quota of star wingmen was filled by the arrival of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Josh Howard. Now the '09 class has restocked the point guard supply. Tyreke Evans (Kings), Stephen Curry (Warriors) and Brandon Jennings (Bucks) are waging a three-way battle for Rookie of the Year, while Darren Collison (Hornets), Jonny Flynn (Timberwolves) and Jrue Holiday (76ers) have thrived in regular roles.

So who's the best of the bunch? It's hard to argue with Evans. With a powerful first step and a diverse low-post repertoire, the 6'6" 220-pounder out of Memphis has opponents awestruck. "He can get to the rim anytime he wants," says Clippers coach Kim Hughes. Says Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, "He just pushes you around."

Indeed, SI asked seven NBA coaches and scouts which of the Big Three has the highest upside. The results confirmed that Evans, like LeBron in '03, is at the top of his class.

Evans (five first-place votes, two seconds) "There's not a lot not to like," says one scout. Evans (20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game) is on the verge of joining James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only rookies to average 20, 5 and 5. Perhaps the only thing standing between Evans and greatness as a point guard is the possibility that Sacramento will move him to shooting guard, where he would replace the traded Kevin Martin. But the Kings should keep Evans where he is. "He has to be a point guard," says one coach. "His size is a huge weapon. He loses that at the two. And he doesn't shoot the ball consistently enough."

Jennings (one first, three seconds, three thirds) Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles has spent more time working with Jennings (15.6 points, 5.9 assists) than with any other player, and it shows in Jennings's heady playmaking, tenacious defense and clutch shooting. Scouts worry about his willowy frame (6'1", 169 pounds) and tendency to look for his own shot. "He can be like Allen Iverson," says one scout, who didn't mean it as a compliment. But most agree that of the three, Jennings has the skills that are most suited for the position. "He reminds me of Nick Van Exel," says a coach. "If he holds up physically, he can be a star."

Curry (one first, two seconds, four thirds) Prodigious scoring was expected of Curry in coach Don Nelson's helter-skelter offense, and he has delivered: Curry leads all rookies with seven 30-point games. Whether Curry could create for others was less certain. Some scouts point to his steadily rising assist numbers (he was averaging 7.1 over his last 32 games) as a sign of his improved playmaking, but others think that the Warriors' system makes those stats misleading. Says a scout, "We won't know if he can play the position until he plays a real style."

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FAST BREAK Return Trip

Three years after suffering a gruesome left knee injury, point guard Shaun Livingston is an NBA starter. The No. 4 pick in the 2004 draft, Livingston, 24, failed in comeback attempts with two teams before signing with the Wizards in February. At week's end, he had averaged 7.1 points and 3.5 assists in 24.5 minutes since becoming a starter on March 15. "That quick burst is gone," says an Eastern Conference scout. "He doesn't get to the rim much when he drives, and he doesn't take advantage of mismatches like he used to. But he has a huge basketball IQ, and his shot looks better. The way he understands the game, he can be a good backup for a long time."

PHOTOPhotograph by ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGESHEAD OF THE CLASS The hard-driving, burly Evans handily topped SI's rookie guard poll. PHOTOGARY DINEEN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

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