Five rookies to watch, Kevin Durant rookie of the year, Al Horford, Yi Jianlian, Kobe Bryant trade, Shawn Marion trade

Five rookies to watch and a longshot blockbuster

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It’s always interesting to see how the new blood performs and, even without Greg Oden (who is going to miss the season with a knee injury), this year’s rookie crop is talented and deep. Let’s take a look at five rookies who are sure to make an immediate impact this season.

1. Kevin Durant, Sonics
With Greg Oden out for the season, Kevin Durant is almost a shoe-in to win the Rookie of the Year award. He played great in the Team USA tryouts and averaged almost 19 points in the preaseason, so there’s no doubt that his game is going to translate well to the NBA. He’s a terrific scorer and an underrated defender. He’s still a bit on the thin side and doesn’t seem to pass the ball well (1.0 apg in the preseason), but there’s no doubt that he’s a star in the making. He may struggle with his accuracy and with the rigors of the NBA, but he’s the man in Seattle and everyone knows it.

2. Al Horford, Hawks
Horford is a mature power forward who is ready to contribute in Atlanta. In the preseason, he averaged 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting almost 51% from the field, so he looks to be primed for a solid campaign. He’s basically a bigger, better version of Shelden Williams, which makes one wonder if Horford’s arrival makes Williams expendable.

3. Al Thornton, Clippers
L.A.’s other team was dealt a tough blow this summer when Elton Brand injured his Achilles. He’s going to miss most of the season, which will open up a lot of minutes at power forward. Tim Thomas and Ruben Patterson will compete but Thornton had a terrific preseason, averaging 16.3 points and 4.9 rebounds while shooting a blistering 63% from long range. After Durant, Thornton could put up the best rookie numbers if he gets the minutes.

4. Acie Law, Hawks
The team elected to draft Al Horford #3 overall and passed on Mike Conley in the process, but they landed Law later in the first round. He should provide the leadership at the point guard position that the Hawks so desperately need. He’s not going to make fans forget about Atlanta passing on Chris Paul and Deron Williams two years ago, but he’s mature for a rookie and he should develop into a steady floor general.

5. Yi Jianlian, Bucks
As part of his negotiation with the Bucks, Yi received assurances that he’d get a minimum amount of minutes (believed to be 20-25 per game) so that he’d have the opportunity to improve leading into the 2008 Olympic games. In the preseason, he averaged 10.5 points on just 43% shooting from the field and he’s having trouble staying out of foul trouble, so it’s clear that he has some work to do to transition to the NBA, but with guaranteed minutes, he’s going to have an impact.

Other rookies to watch: Aaron Gray has produced in the post in limited preseason minutes and may give the Bulls something they have sorely lacked the past few seasons – a post presence...Corey Brewer, Jeff Green, Mike Conley, Joakim Noah and Julian Wright look like they will be rotation players at the start of the season. Brewer and Green have the best chance to crack the starting lineup because they play for teams in the midst of rebuilding. All five guys should see at least 15 minutes a game…The Rockets’ Luis Scola is 27, so he’s not your typical rookie. He has been one of the best players in Europe for the last few years and could push Chuck Hayes for a starting job by the end of the season. In seven preseason games, he averaged 9.6 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting at a 54% clip from the field.

A blockbuster trade that should be made (but won’t)

Kobe BryantKobe Bryant is unhappy. Shawn Marion is unhappy. Why not swap the two? Okay, Laker fans, I know you’re going to say that you’re not getting equal value. You’re right, so the Suns should throw in Raja Bell and a first round draft pick as well. Given Kobe’s history with Bell, it’s not likely that Raja would be around too long if Kobe landed in Phoenix.

This trade won’t go down for one very simple reason: the two teams play in the same division. Still, it’s the best that both teams are going to get for their disgruntled stars, so why not make the move? Kobe would get his wish; he’d be able to contend for a championship on a team that would feature his scoring and sorely needs his perimeter defense. Plus, he’d feel comfortable playing for Mike D’Antoni, who was one of his childhood idols.

In Marion, the Lakers would get an All-NBA player that they could build around. He doesn’t have Kobe’s star-power but the Lakers are kidding themselves if they think they are going to get that kind of player in exchange for Bryant. Besides, would Kobe be the star he is today if he hadn’t played in Hollywood? There’s a chicken and egg thing going on here. Did Kobe make himself a star or did L.A. have something to do with it?

Sadly, a Kobe-for-Matrix swap won’t happen. Life in the NBA just isn’t that simple. A third team would have to get involved and even then, it’s unlikely that the Suns and Lakers are going to make any trades that could potentially help their division foe.

Still, it would be fun to watch a Steve Nash/Kobe Bryant backcourt.

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