By: Travis Heath
Greg Oden, Portland Trail Blazers
It took a year longer than most fans had hoped, but Oden has finally taken the NBA hardwood. The big-man from Ohio State hasn't disappointed, either. His physical size alone has made him a factor. This much is clear so far: If my man gets near the rim, he's going to try and rip it off. Defensively, he's also going to block a heck of a lot of shots this season, too. Just think what Oden will be capable of when he gets into "game shape." He will be a factor for the Blazers this season. When he gets a fully refined offensive game a couple of years down the road, he may evolve into the best big-man in the game.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Yes, Rose looked nervous early during his first action in his hometown of Chicago last week and turned the ball over a few too many times. Of course, it would have helped if his teammates had caught a pass or two. This kid is a big, strong point guard who will be able to get into the lane whenever he wants to. He looks a lot like Deron Williams out on the floor but with better springs. Chicago won't regret taking Rose. This kid has a chance to be a factor for the Bulls for the next decade-plus.
Michael Beasley, Miami HEAT
Everyone knew the Beazer could play, and he's done just that during the preseason. His ability to score inside and out will help him be effective right out of the gate. He's the kind of kid who can score 20 points without even trying. When he's focused, he's shown the ability to be very good on the boards, as well. Miami has been bringing Beasley off the bench so far this preseason, but it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup if he continues to score the basketball like he has been. If he commits to defending and keeps his head right, Beasley has the chance to be special.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
There's something about this kid that just screams professional. He's already started taking on a leadership role and is fiercely competitive. His outside jumper has been questioned by some, but given his work-ethic one would have to believe it's only a matter of time until he becomes a legitimate deep threat from behind the NBA three-point line. And just for the record, Mayo hit six three-point shots in a game on Monday night and is shooting over 36% from beyond the arc in the preseason. At just 6-foot-4, there will be nights where Mayo will get taken advantage of on the defensive end by some of the league's bigger shooting guards. However, he'll become a more crafty defender over time as he gains more experience. Mayo no doubt has All-Star potential.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
No, Love hasn't been the most athletic or physically talented rookie this preseason. However, he has been solid and smart. There will be moments this season like the one in last Friday's preseason game in Denver where he gets embarrassed by athletic veterans like Kenyon Martin. There will also be moments where he throws a great pass from the high-post down to Jefferson in the low-post or where he stretches the defense with his outside shooting ability that leave Wolves' fans optimistic about what the future might hold. His ability to position rebound and throw quick pinpoint outlet passes might not make the highlight reel, but these skills will certainly benefit his team.
Robin Lopez, Phoenix Suns
This is probably not the Lopez many readers were expecting to see on this list, but his defense and hustle have raised eyebrows in the preseason. His brother Brook may have a more refined offensive game, but Robin's energy has been hard to ignore. He's relentless on the offensive glass and a deceptive shot-blocker on the other end. He likely won't ever be a superstar, but he'll be just the kind of hard-nosed energy player every championship-caliber team has to have.
Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
Okay, so Fernandez got injured early in the preseason. But what we saw left us yearning for more. The first thing fans are likely going to do when watching this kid play is check to make sure they didn't accidentally hit the fast-forward button on their Tivo remote; dude is in a perpetual state of motion on the court. His high basketball IQ combined with his flare for the dramatic will make him an instant fan favorite in the Rose City. This guy has a chance to be the next major international superstar in the Association.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook was a somewhat risky pick by GM Sam Presti. Like Rose, Westbrook has had his ups and downs this preseason. Such is life in the NBA as a rookie point guard. However, his physical prowess and defensive effort and instincts have to excite the Oklahoma City faithful. And don't take it from your friendly neighborhood columnist, either. Check out what former UCLA teammate Kevin Love told HOOPSWORLD about Westbrook after getting a chance to compete against him in the preseason. "He looked great the other night. I'm not just saying that because that's my boy, either. His change of direction, how fast he was, the way he can run the point and how he passed the other day... he looked great. The one question-mark about him has been his shooting, but I've seen him shoot at practice. If he can shoot when the lights come on as well as he does in practice, he's going to be a star player."