When Kevin Garnett averaged 10 points and six rebounds 13 years ago during his rookie season we knew there was something special about him. Despite the low numbers it was apparent that he was going to develop into the dominant force he is today. The same could be said for Amare Stoudemire after he produced 13 points and eight boards a game his first season. They didn't produce on a nightly basis then like they do now, but they were extremely exciting to watch. The 2008 draft class has several players that will warrant special attention as well. While it's not a guarantee that they will develop into dominant forces like KG and Amare eventually did, you'd be foolish to pass up watching these guys when you get a chance to this upcoming season. Here's a look at this year's must watch rookie team:
Derrick Rose – Chicago Bulls
In March we watched Rose develop into the best point guard in the country at Memphis. In June we watched him struggle significantly against fringe NBA talent at the Orlando Summer League. How good he'll be in year one is a major question mark right now, but Rose has had ample time to rest his knee that was giving him trouble in Orlando. He should be 100% healthy now and with all the weapons the Bulls have he's going to be worth your time to check out. He's going to be splitting time early on, but the Bulls drafted Rose to be their point guard and the plan is to eventually hand the reigns over to him. Very few point guards in the league have the talent that Rose does, and once he gets acclimated to the NBA game he should put himself among the elite.
Jerryd Bayless – Portland Trail Blazers
After a disappointing slip on draft night Jerryd wasted no time on proving people wrong at the Las Vegas Summer league by earning MVP honors. He's projected to be the backup point guard right now in Portland, and Bayless has the skills to contribute right away. He's a lot like Tony Paker in the sense that he's a better scorer than passer, and also like Tony he has speed that is uncontainable. Bayless is a fiery competitor that will bring the intensity this young Trail Blazer squad needs to make the playoffs in the West. Portland is overflowing in young talent that will help open Bayless up to do what he does best: score. However, don't be surprised to start seeing his assist numbers climb up as the long term expectations are for him to become a full time point guard.
Michael Beasley – Miami HEAT
There may be questions about his work ethic, intensity, and maturity level, but Beasley is undoubtedly going to be a rookie to watch this season. He's an elite level talent, even at this level. He's slated to be the 6th man this season in Miami, which is scary when you think about what he's capable of. There's very little Beasley cannot do on the basketball court. We should see him at both forward spots this year, giving him a chance to showcase his extensive skill set. If Beasley produces consistently early on the HEAT could start to seriously consider trading Udonis Haslem or Shawn Marion to open up time for him. Before the draft the HEAT were said not to be very high on him, but watch how quickly that becomes a complete afterthought.
Anthony Randolph – Golden State Warriors
If you missed out on getting to watch Randolph at the Vegas or Salt Lake Summer Leagues you're in for a treat. At 6'11 Randolph is extremely athletic and possesses more than adequate perimeter skills. Randolph will thrive in Golden State's up tempo offense and should eventually turn into one of the tougher players to match up with in the league. The big problem for Randolph though is his slight frame, and in the very physical NBA he could have some issues early on with injuries. Offensively he's a lot like Lamar Odom, but on the defensive end he is much more active. He has the potential to be a fantasy powerhouse because he can impact the game in so many ways. Randolph will have people thinking right away that the Warriors got an absolute steal at 14.
Greg Oden – Portland Trail Blazers
We have been waiting for Oden's rookie season since he was a sophomore in high school. Microfracture surgery pushed it back a year, but Oden is finally ready to start what many believe could be a Hall of Fame career. Incase any of you have forgot, Oden is a freakishly athletic 7 footer with an incredible wingspan and a frame similar to Dwight Howard's. Reports and players out of Portland say he's lost nothing in terms of athleticism despite the surgery. Oden is going to be a force defensively and on the boards, but in order to establish himself as a dominant center his offensive skills are going to need to improve. We saw what sitting out a year did for Amare's overall game, and if it has any kind of similar impact for Greg – watch out for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Rudy Fernandez – Portland Trail Blazers
It was tough to fight off the urge to put him on the first team after how great he was in Beijing. Fernandez is a terrific offensive player that also appears to be a major part of Portland's rotation this season. How well he plays on the defensive end could dictate how much he plays, but offensively Fernandez is already ready for the NBA.
O.J. Mayo – Memphis Grizzlies
Mayo would probably make a lot of other people's first team, but after Vegas Bayless earned a slight edge in this writer's mind. Memphis presents a great opportunity for Mayo, and with Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay there he won't be expected to do too much offensively. If Mayo really focuses in on the defensive end the Grizzlies could win more games than people expect.
Eric Gordon – Los Angeles Clippers
While the signing of Baron Davis definitely takes minutes away from Gordon, it's going to make him a much better player. The two players have similar builds and are incredible offensive players, but Gordon needs help developing into a point guard. Baron has established himself as one of the league's best, and his guidance should make Gordon a much better player.
Brook Lopez – New Jersey Nets
The New Jersey Nets have obviously embraced the rebuilding process and Brook Lopez is going to be a big part of that. The hope is that Lopez will provide some offensive punch inside that they have been lacking for years now. During summer league he showed signs of being able to produce just that, and with expectations being so big he will certainly see a lot of minutes.