2009 NBA Preview: Impact Rookies

Every year, first-year players greatly impact the NBA regular season. They tend to thrive on bad teams for two reasons: 1) the best players generally go early in the draft to struggling franchises, and 2) those teams need their services so they play heavy minutes. In fact, over the last three years, the players that made the All-Rookie First Team played an average of 29.0 minutes per game. Playing time is opportunity, and with opportunity comes production.

Over that span, players that were named to the All-Rookie First Team played on teams with a combined 500-730 (.407) record. Only four players — Andrea Bargnani and Jorge Garbajosa on the 2006-07 Raptors, Luis Scola on the 2007-08 Rockets and Michael Beasley on the 2008-09 Heat — played on teams with a winning record. The other 11 players were on teams that averaged 25 wins.

Looking ahead to the 2009-10 NBA season, there are a number of rookies that will get big minutes on bad teams. I’m going to rank them in order of what I perceive to be their talent plus their opportunity, because a rookie needs both to succeed in his first year. Fantasy hoopsters should take note: Rookies can be great picks on draft day, if you know which ones to pick.

1. Blake Griffin, Clippers
In the preseason, Griffin is averaging 14.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game. The Clippers found a taker for Zach Randolph to clear the way for Griffin to start at power forward, and he should be a fixture there for the next few years. I expect he’ll get 33-35 minutes per game during the regular season, so 16-17 points and 9+ rebounds are a reasonable expectation. From a fantasy perspective, he’s currently PF19 off the board, but will likely finish as the PF11 or better if he stays healthy. 10/27 Update: He didn’t stay healthy. Griffin will miss six weeks with a stress fracture in his knee.

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