February 18, 2011
This year's Rookie Challenge (and, uh, Youth Jam) takes on an added bit of intrigue. For just the second time in the contest's history, the 2009 draft class actually toppled their sophomore combatants. And yet, the best player from the 2009 draft class won't actually be playing for the former rookies this year. No, Blake Griffin(notes) will suit up for the rookies, as he is a technical rookie, despite sharing the draft podium with Tyreke Evans(notes), Stephen Curry(notes) and DeMar DeRozan(notes) a year and a half ago.
Evans, last year's MVP, will be out of this year's contest, as he battles a case of plantar fasciitis, a veteran injury if we've ever heard one. And although Griffin (who will be suiting up for the NBA All-Stars on Sunday) will be lining up for the rookies, seemingly ready to dominate, it should be noted that the 2010 draft class is pretty lacking.
Feel like a breakdown?
Eric Bledsoe(notes), L.A. Clippers, G
DeMarcus Cousins(notes), Sacramento, C
Derrick Favors(notes), New Jersey, F
Landry Fields(notes), New York, G
Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers, F
Wesley Johnson, Minnesota, G
Greg Monroe(notes), Detroit, C
Gary Neal(notes), San Antonio, G
John Wall(notes), Washington, G
Mike Budenholzer -- San Antonio Spurs
Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) -- New York Knicks
Kevin McHale -- NBA TV/ TNT analyst
Lots of bigs in that lineup, but not a lot of passers to go around.
Eric Bledsoe has run the point some for the Clippers this season, but he's still learning the position and prefers to play off the ball. Same with Gary Neal, and quite a few Timberwolves fans will tell you that the farther Wesley Johnson stays from the ball on one of his wilder nights, the better.
John Wall could be the show-stopper, of course, if he puts his head down and drives to the basket pell-mell. This is a guard's game, especially a ball-dominating guard's game, as Evans proved last year. And with Griffin due to suit up for both the dunk contest on Saturday and the actual All-Star game on Sunday, we're hoping for a few first-quarter lobs before he sits down and rests those puppies for the bigger draws.
How about the sophomores?
DeJuan Blair(notes), San Antonio, C
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto, G
Stephen Curry, Golden State, G
* Tyreke Evans, Sacramento, G
Taj Gibson(notes), Chicago, F
James Harden(notes), Oklahoma City, G
Jrue Holiday(notes), Philadelphia, G
Serge Ibaka(notes), Oklahoma City, F-C
Brandon Jennings(notes), Milwaukee, G
Wesley Matthews(notes), Portland, G
Lawrence Frank -- Boston Celtics
Carmelo Anthony(notes) -- Denver Nuggets
Steve Kerr -- TNT NBA basketball analyst
(If Anthony gets traded Friday night, does he have to move to the rookie bench?)
This group won't blow you away, either.
Matthews is a clear talent, but he's not the sort of player created to take over a game like this. Brandon Jennings still can't shoot or score accurately in the paint, and James Harden has taken a step back this season.
But in both Jrue Holiday and Stephen Curry, the second-year kids could have a pair of game-changers. They won't have the lob-finishers that the rookies boast -- outside of Ibaka, none of these bigs are really getting off the floor, though that didn't stop Blair from dominating last season -- but someone like Curry could take this game over with shots, shots, and shots. Long ones.
Or, his stroke could be off, and the rookies will win by 37. Followed by a Youth Jam, I suppose.
I like the rookies in this one. DeMarcus Cousins has the sort of rear end that could allow him an 18-and-18 game, once all the jumpers go astray or lobs get tipped back inbounds to a trailing big man. Wall can push the ball, Griffin even in short spurts will go beastly, and Landry Fields could extra-pass his way into America's hearts. The sort of American that watches this stuff on basic cable on a Friday night. Americans like me.
Whatta you reckon?