While the recent knowledge of Greg Oden‘s season-ending knee surgery distressed the city of Portland, about three hours north on I-5, Kevin Durant started making room on his trophy case in his new Seattle home. But while KD is surely the front-runner for ’07-08 Rookie of the Year, how will all the other rookies pan out as the season unfolds? With that in mind, we made up our Preseason All-Rookie Team.
Kevin Durant, Sonics — As a freshman last year in the Big 12, KD averaged a ridiculous 25.8 points per game, good enough for fourth-best in the nation, plus his 11.1 rebounds also ranked fourth nationally. Seattle dealt Ray Allen and let Rashard Lewis go in free agency, basically handing the franchise over to Durant, who automatically becomes the go-to-guy on every play, just like he was at Texas. He’ll get so many shots that it’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t average at least 18 points a night.
Al Horford, Hawks — While battling under the glass with Joakim Noah last year, Horford still managed to grab 9.5 boards per game, along with 13.2 points and 1.8 blocks. In Atlanta, a team dying for a solid inside presence, Horford will dominate the boards next to Shelden Williams and put up some points in the paint, allowing last year’s team leader Josh Smith more time to run the floor.
Mike Conley Jr., Grizzlies — Last year the Grizzlies utilized veterans Damon Stoudamire and Chucky Atkins in their attempt at point guard-by-committee, and the two vets weren’t bad with Memphis’ bevy of young, capable scorers once the team switched to its up-tempo style. Having turned the reigns over to Conley (and second-year PG Kyle Lowry), the rookie will thrive like Steve Nash did in Phoenix under new head coach Marc Iavaroni.
Julian Wright, Hornets — In his two years at Kansas, Wright posterized his fair share of cars in and out of the Big 12. Standing 6-9 with long arms and hops, Wright will be a favorite target for Chris Paul on the break. He’ll be the latest in an entertaining line of Hornets’ dunkers, from Ricky Davis to Desmond Mason to The Birdman.
Rodney Stuckey, Pistons — With a Pistons backcourt already consisting of All-Stars Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton, Stuckey isn’t going to start anytime soon, but he’ll get plenty of playing time since Chauncey and Rip aren’t getting any younger. Flip Saunders can utilize Stuckey, who can play both guard spots, off the bench like he’s done with Jason Maxiell.
Jeff Green, Sonics — While Durant gets all the attention and the shots, Green will be making things happen on the low. He’ll get his points, as we saw from a few blow-up summer league games, but he’ll make his biggest impact as a passer and doing all the little things to help the Sonics win a few games.
Marco Belinelli, Warriors — Defense may not be his strong suit (Beli will get dunked on more than a few times this year), but Marco can fill it up on the offensive end. If he can get playing time in Golden State’s system, with Baron Davis feeding him the ball, he’s going to drop buckets.
Corey Brewer, T’wolves — General consensus says the Wolves will be the worst team in the League, but Brewer is one of the few bright spots. Watch him this year to see the beginning of his development into a lock-down defender, a la Andre Iguodala in his first couple seasons as a pro.
Yi Jianlian, Bucks — If the rumors that Milwaukee guaranteed Yi 20-25 minutes a night are true, the rookie will at least have enough floor time to make his case for Rookie of the Year. But seriously, Yi has a ton of talent, and while his defense needs work, he can score like a pro already.
Morris Almond, Jazz — After averaging 26.4 points per game last season for the Rice Owls, Almond has found himself in the perfect situation to excel as a rookie. The Jazz, having made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, had their biggest hole at the two-guard position. Teaming up in the backcourt with point guard Deron Williams, Almond possesses an NBA-ready body and an explosive scoring ability which allows him to put up big points in a matter of minutes.
Acie Law IV, Hawks — Is he the point guard Atlanta’s been waiting for? With so many scorers around him, Law should rack up assists this year, and he can score a little bit, too. In fact, he just might be the Hawks’ second option behind Joe Johnson for when they need a big bucket.
Joakim Noah, Bulls — Out of the three bigs we had pegged for this spot – Noah, Spencer Hawes and Brandan Wright – Joakim is the one most ready to contribute right away. Hawes will take a while to adjust to the strength and speed of the NBA, and Wright will just get overpowered on a nightly basis. Noah will obviously make his biggest impact on defense, but don’t overlook his offense. If Chicago got some point-production out of Tyrus Thomas last year, surely they can get something out of Noah.