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Rookie Watch: Oden, Augustin race up rankings

NBA fans are well aware of the idea, both real and (sometimes) imagined, of the "rookie wall" -- that point of the season, typically in mid-January, when the total number of games played and the number of games left both exceed the number of games played in the players' last season in college.

Rookie Notes

• Derrick Rose is currently averaging 18.4 points per game, 6.0 assists and 4.1 rebounds. If he finishes the season with averages of at least 18.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.0 apg, Rose would become just the eighth rookie in NBA history to do so. Six of the seven players who accomplished this statistical feat went on to earn NBA Rookie of the Year or Co-Rookie of the Year honors. -- Elias Sports Bureau

• O.J. Mayo scored at least 25 points six times in November, the most by a rookie during November since Michael Jordan recorded eight games of 25 or more points in 1984. -- Elias Sports Bureau

• Mayo leads all NBA rookies in scoring (21.9 points), the highest scoring average for a first-year player since Allen Iverson (23.4) in 1996-97.
-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research

But I always look at late November and early December to see how rookies are handling the routine of 4-5 games per week, after the initial honeymoon is over and the adrenaline of the first few weeks is replaced by snowy airport arrivals at 3 in the morning and players' forgetting what day it is because there are so many games. Some guys are still locked in, while others hardly look like the players they were just two weeks ago.

The season is a roller coaster, but the most successful rookies are the guys who treat it like NASCAR -- it may go round and round super fast, but you have to pay attention the whole time or else you will crash. Let's look at which rooks are managing the race well thus far and who may need to come in for a pit stop.

(Click here to view my complete Rookie 50 rankings.)

1. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose played a big part in the Bulls' having a mostly successful circus trip. I'm especially impressed with some of the numbers he put up on the road trip: 25 points and 5 assists in a win at Golden State, 25 and 9 in a big win at Utah, and 18 and 10 in an easy win in Philly.

On top of that, he's already starting to develop that feeling of being able to will his team to a win.

2. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
Memphis' record might be miserable, but the Grizz must be thrilled with Mayo, who continues to score lots of points with efficiency. However, there is some concern over how he's doing that. Mayo currently gets 80 percent of his shots from the perimeter, but only 37 percent are assisted. For comparison's sake, consider two other excellent outside shooters who play off the ball: Richard Hamilton (82 percent of his shots are from the perimeter, 75 percent assisted) and Michael Redd (74 percent of his shots are from the perimeter, 73 percent assisted).

This suggests that Mayo is very adept at getting his own shot. But combine that with his 2.2 assists per game and an ugly offensive picture forms -- he's not (yet) helping anyone else get involved in the offense. Memphis is fifth-worst in the league in offensive efficiency and dead last in assist rate.

3. George Hill, Spurs
No rookie has exploded onto the scene the way Hill has, putting up huge numbers multiple times with no real expectations coming into the season. And he was the best rookie on the floor in a rout over D-Rose's Bulls last week (19 points, 11 boards, 4 assists). He's finishing creative shots off of tough dribble drives and getting to the free-throw line. His turnover rate is third-lowest among rookies (and he handles the ball a lot more than the two guys ahead of him).

In short, he's been awesome. I suspect his minutes will drop now that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are back and healthy. But Gregg Popovich knows how valuable an energetic scorer can be for his team late in the season, so developing Hill by keeping him in the rotation is likely.

4. Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
It's becoming obvious that the Blazers like to use Fernandez mostly as a 3-point threat. He's taken 94 3s and just 55 field goals inside the arc. Interestingly, he's attempted 38 free throws (and made 36!).

We know he can be more than a deep shooter, but playing this role is working well and there will be no second guessing of Portland's strategies here. However, if the Blazers hit a tough stretch, it would not surprise me to see an increase in Fernandez's overall shot attempts from inside the arc.

5. Greg Oden, Blazers
Want another reason to be bullish on the Blazers? Try this: Oden is hitting only 37 percent of his close shots that are not dunks. And we know he's going to be a better finisher than that.

It's true that teams will be better prepared to defend him after they study him more, but the same is also true in reverse -- as Oden begins to anticipate what's going to happen as he catches the ball, he'll be better at countering the defensive actions he's about to face. The game starts to slow down for players once they can "see" what's going to happen before it does.

6. Michael Beasley, Heat
With Miami looking like a team with solid playoff hopes, a scoring talent like Beasley starts to look like an attractive option to come off the bench. He played that role perfectly against the Clippers on Saturday, pouring in 24 points in 27 minutes.

If Shawn Marion is not traded this season, this might be a great spot for Beasley -- he can play his game without worrying about deferring too often to Dwyane Wade.

7. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Though skeptics might suggest that Gasol is just putting up good numbers on a bad team, dismissing him as a below-average player, I continue to believe that he is part of the solution in Memphis, not the problem.

He is a solid and consistent offensive player (he's scored 10-plus points in 10 straight games on 49-for-84 shooting from the field) and anchors the paint on defense smartly. He's not a shot-blocker, true, but the Grizzlies have much bigger problems.

8. Brook Lopez, Nets
It's not a surprise that the Nets' current hot streak started with a Lopez coming-out party. His 25 points and 9 rebounds sparked the Nets to a win over Atlanta, and he scored 12-plus points in four of their next six wins. Getting points from your center is always an advantage when that player also has the size to help limit the opponent's center (because points inside are typically easier to get than points outside).

His 25 outscored both of Atlanta's starting bigs (Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia) by 15 points combined. In other matchups, he outscored Jermaine O'Neal by 7 and Shaq by 3, and equaled the output of veteran centers Chris Kaman and Brad Miller. Oden is not the only rookie center with a bright future.

9. Jason Thompson, Kings
Thompson really struggled over the past week, scoring just 6 points combined in three of the Kings' four games. He's simply playing too fast, instead of reading and reacting.

Early success can sometimes do that to a young player, but with the Kings getting killed in some of those games, Thompson has to put pressure on himself to get back on track.

10. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
The key to Augustin's recent offensive output (he's averaging 17 ppg over his past eight games) is not that he's an excellent outside shooter but that he's able to get to the rim and finish. Smaller guards who struggle around the rim can be pressed into driving by hot closeouts, forcing them to take shots they can't make or into turnovers because defenses take away their kickout options by not offering help.

But Augustin takes a quarter of his shots near the rim and finishes over 50 percent of them, helping him to establish a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Defenses need to help on his drives, which gives him open kickout lanes.


More observations

Kosta Koufos, Jazz
Utah's 7-foot rookie shooter has made his way into a small part of the rotation -- he started one game, recording 8 points and 7 boards -- thanks to his excellent work ethic. His numbers are a bit underwhelming right now, but it looks like he will be groomed to be Mehmet Okur's replacement down the road; they have similar skills.

Robin Lopez, Suns
I still love Lopez's game and think he will be a nice center in this league. He's playing only 10 minutes a game but has displayed an ability to finish around the rim. If he could shoot the 15-18 footer like his brother, he'd be starter material in the NBA.

Donte Greene, Kings
In his first meaningful appearance of the season, DG put up 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 from 3). But the sweet shooter from Syracuse has hit just 10 of his 38 shots since then, even though he has played 17-plus minutes in all but one of those six games (all losses). Not to worry, though, he just needs more time and experience, which he'll get as the season evolves.

Brandon Rush, Pacers
Rush has averaged 10.4 points in his past five games, four of them ending in Pacers losses. He looks to be a potential Bruce Bowen type of talent, capable of hitting 3s and making plays on defense. He's not slashing too successfully now, and that would be a good attribute for him to continue working on, getting to the rim and finishing. It would help him get to the line more, too -- he's taken just 18 free throws with over 100 shot attempts from the field.

Mike Taylor, Clippers
Taylor is one of many young players who made the league because of his potential as a shooter. But thus far he has failed to make many shots -- he's hit just 9 of his last 26 shots and 1 of his last 6 3s. He looks good shooting those shots, but he needs to slow down and trust his stroke. If I could, I'd check his heartbeat just as he's taking those 3s. I'd probably find that heartbeat going way too fast.

Eric Gordon, Clippers

EG put together two terrific games just before Thanksgiving, scoring 24 and 25 and collecting 4 steals in each game. But he strained his hammy on Saturday and that might slow him down a bit. Like Augustin, Gordon looks like he's a little guy who can finish at the rim.

Click here for the entire Rookie 50 rankings

David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and NBDL players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.