There’s no question that the class of 2008 is front-loaded with talent. And now that the rookie jitters are gone and contract extensions are in sight, how will they fare after a year in the League under their belts? The reality is, a case can be made for almost 30 guys to be on this list in some way. For instance, where do Danilo Gallinari and Roy Hibbert go with such strong coach-backing? It’s still too early to close the book on any of these guys, but so far here are my predictions.
The Good: Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Kevin Love, Anthony Morrow and Anthony Randolph
Rose, Mayo and Westbrook are all three future All-Stars and will each be heavily relied upon for their respective teams’ successes this year. I think the Anthony’s out in the Bay will each have great sophomore years in the League. Morrow is about as deadly as they come for a moving shooter and Randolph is one of the most exciting players in the NBA to watch, hands down. The Warriors might not win too many games this season, but they are going to score a lot of points and these two guys are a main reason why.
The Bad: Alexis Ajinca, Robin Lopez, JaVale McGee and J.R. Giddens
Many, including I, scoffed at the Nuggets decision to send their lone draft pick to the Bobcats in 2008. Charlotte, under Larry Brown‘s suggestions, selected Ajinca and Nuggets’ nation has been content ever since. Ajinca is essentially a cross between Hamed Haddadi and Manute Bol. This comparison alone should eliminate any future discussion about this topic. I think McGee and Lopez can still become strong shot blockers, but nothing about their game excites me if I am a Suns or Wizards fan.
Dark horses: Chris Douglas-Roberts, J.J. Hickson, Nicolas Batum and Jerryd Bayless
Through four games in the preseason, Douglas-Roberts is averaging 18 and close to four boards. With a rookie campaign full of inconsistencies, CDR is now focused and looking more like a seasoned vet than someone fresh out of the second round. Hickson is going to get good time at forward, considering he is currently battling Rob Kurz and Jamario Moon for minutes. He is as strong as anyone the Cavs have in the low post, minus the Diesel; and when his baby-j is on target, he’s as deadly as anyone in the League.
Biggest Surprise: Marreese Speights and Jason Thompson
Speights will surprise a lot people this year. If he does not get buried behind Thaddeus Young and Elton Brand, he can do some damage. Speights has size, athleticism and, along with Young, is the future of the frontcourt for Philly. As for Thompson, he’ll definitely be given the chance to play again this year and should continue to improve.
Biggest Improvement: George Hill
Hill steadily improved over his rookie campaign and played well for the Spurs when Tony Parker went down mid-season to injury spurts. Four games into the preseason and Hill is averaging a hair over 14 points with two assists per game. Look for him to make a push for more minutes and more productivity this year.
Biggest Plateau: D.J. Augustin
The Bobcats re-signed Raymond Felton for another year, which means split time for Augustin. It’s clear that Jordan and Brown believe Augustin is their point guard for the future, but his breakout party might be sidelined until next season. Felton is too good to sit and the Bobcats are not going to turn the reins over to a sophomore just yet.
Best Pick: Westbrook (No. 4)
Westbrook can flat out play and is in the best possible situation for him to prosper as an NBA combo-guard. Imagine if the Thunder can keep their young core intact for the next five years. If they can, you will start to see a swing in powers out West. Having Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and rookie James Harden in your arsenal, just made Oklahoma City a lot more attractive.
Still Undecided: Greg Oden and Joe Alexander
Oden is an interesting case. For whatever reason, I want to see him succeed. He is a nice guy who works hard and generally wants to get better. Unfortunately for him and the Blazers, Oden is a ticking injury-bomb waiting to explode at any moment. If he can give Portland 30 minutes a night without fouling out and throw in a couple blocks, he will be fine. If he doesn’t learn how to correctly defend the post without having Joey Crawford whistle at him (or a bizzaro replacement J.C. at that), it will be another long year for the young Buckeye. As for Joe, I know the Bucks are talking about not picking up your option this season, but just play with more confidence this year.
What do you think?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @jensenjack.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DIMEMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.