Just on hype alone, it’s gonna be tough for any member of this year’s NBA Draft class to crack the Greg Oden/Kevin Durant argument for Rookie of the Year in 2008. It wasn’t like that one year ago. The ’06 class was (justifiably, it turned out) seen as a weak crop, but it did have one thing going for it: the field was (and still is) wide open for anyone to step up and become one of the defining players of that class. While Adam Morrison, Brandon Roy and Randy Foye generated a lot of buzz early on, by the end of the season, late first-round pick Renaldo Balkman and second-rounders Paul Millsap and Boobie Gibson were just as popular as the Lottery guys. We took a look back at some of the notable players in the ’06 rookie class and where they stand heading into their sophomore year…
LaMarcus Aldridge — At this time last year, Aldridge was a No. 2 overall pick and pegged as a vital part of the future in Portland, both because of his on-court skill and nice-guy image off the court. After dropping 9 points and 5 boards a game in an overall promising rookie year, LaMarcus was probably looking toward being a full-time starter next year until the Blazers on the Lottery. Now with Greg Oden in the picture, Aldridge might become the League’s best young backup center if Zach Randolph isn’t traded.
Renaldo Balkman — From being booed mercilessly on draft night by the New York City crowd (more upset with Isiah than Renaldo since they didn’t even know who he was) to becoming one of the Knicks’ fan favorites, Balkman won everyone over with his hustle and defense … which is exactly what he said he would do (Dime #26). To get an idea of the hole he had to climb out of, shortly after the draft, a couple Knicks fans started a blog called BenchRenaldo.com. A few months later, those same bloggers had written Renaldo a letter of apology for misjudging him.
Andrea Bargnani — Hyped as the Next Dirk going into the ’06 Draft, Bargnani was having a decent season (11.6 ppg) until an emergency appendectomy put him on the shelf just as the Raptors were gearing up for a playoff run. After missing about a month, Bargnani returned to play well in the last three games of Toronto’s first-round loss to New Jersey (17 ppg). Bargnani, Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford are going to be the rocks Toronto builds around for the foreseeable future
Rudy Gay — With all the natural talent in the world but forever dogged by questions about his heart, it was impossible to predict how Rudy’s rookie year would go. He could have put up 20-5-5 a night and taken R.O.Y. easily, or sleepwalked his way to 6-3-2 and gotten lost in the shuffle. Rudy had some strong games (20 pts, 12 rebs, 5 asts, 4 blks against L.A. in March) and some weak ones (2 pts, 0-7 FGs, 4 turnovers against Chicago in January) and ended up averaging 10.8 points, 4.5 boards, and about one block, steal and assist per game. In Memphis’ up-tempo system, someone with his athleticism and all-around skill should be a major player.
Daniel Gibson — Boobie waited until the postseason to have his coming out party. A second-round pick (once projected as high as a Top 5 guy at Texas) who didn’t get as much attention as fellow Cavs rook Shannon Brown going into the season, Gibson found playing time by being the Cavs’ only consistent outside shooter, and knocked down big shot after big shot during the run to the Finals.
Adam Morrison — With all of his flaws, we at least knew Morrison was gonna get buckets. But then he struggled all year with his shot, hitting just 37 percent from the field and having some truly atrocious outings. Morrison put up a respectable 11.8 points a night, but gave up at least that much every night on defense. It’s becoming apparent that his niche will be as a role player in the League.
Randy Foye — When Foye finally started getting some tick, he showed why he was so coveted, and finished the year averaging 10 points and 2.8 assists per game. If a Kevin Garnett trade goes down, Foye is in position to become the centerpiece of the Wolves franchise.
Paul Millsap — If you’re running an NBA team, what’s more attractive: Juwan Howard’s 10 points and 6 boards for $6 million a year, or Millsap’s 7 points, 5 boards and in-your-grill defense for $625,000? Millsap was the best bang-for-buck rookie of ’07 and the surprise impact player of the year who really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Even after leading the country in rebounding three years running at Louisiana Tech, he still fell into the mid-second round (47th overall).
J.J. Redick — Due to America’s overall Duke hatred, J.J. was the only guy booed louder (and more often) than Balkman at last year’s Draft. He started off the season injured, and once he got healthy, had a tough time cracking the Magic’s rotation. But when he did get a little time to shine, Redick knocked down jumpers like we knew he would. He put up 6 points a night in just 42 appearances, but given more burn next year, he should be the outside threat Orlando needs to take pressure off of Dwight Howard.
Brandon Roy — Going into the season, everyone had Roy, Foye and Morrison as the early picks to win Rookie of the Year. Despite playing in only 57 games due to some injuries, Roy’s 16.8 points, 4.4 boards and 4 assists per game was enough to get him the trophy. He might not be the face of the franchise anymore with Greg Oden on the way, but he’s still one of the more marketable young guys in the League and all but untouchable in the Blazers’ eyes.
Saer Sene — The first “WTF?” pick of the ’06 Draft, Sene was the third straight young/project center taken by the Sonics. No one expected anything out of him last year, and he delivered: he spent some time in the D-League, made a couple starts for the big ballclub, and put up 1.9 points, 1.6 boards and 0.4 blocks per game. Great pick.
Tyrus Thomas — Thomas is a walking highlight reel. Whether he’s pasting someone’s shot on the glass or putting back a ferocious dunk, at the very minimum he’s fun to watch. Now all he has to do is add two basketball moves to his game and he will become a real offensive threat. He benefited from going to a playoff team that didn’t exactly need him to be a star right away, and overcame some bad press around All-Star break to become a fan favorite come playoff time.
Marcus Williams — One of the memorable stories of the ’06 draft was watching Marcus drop from a projected Top-10 pick all the way down to the Nets at 21st. While it cost him a little money and some “last guy in the green room” embarrassment,” Williams actually couldn’t have landed in a better situation. He’s learning under Hall of Fame playmaker Jason Kidd, and when Kidd retires (which isn’t too far down the road), Marcus can take over. In 16 minutes of tick per night, he averaged a respectable 6.8 points and 3.3 assists, and showed that he’s got that “it” factor you look for in point guards where he sees things others don’t see.