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ESPN INSIDER: Ranking rooks and sophs: Top 20

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As we head into the All-Star break, it seems an appropriate time to take a step back and evaluate the new talent that has entered the league in the past two seasons. No one can deny that each class, taken on its own merits, has been short on top-tier talent. But what about when we look at them combined? When we consider that no fewer than nine different players are considered the likely faces of their team's future and another five play either pivotal or starting roles for playoff teams, we begin to see that the NBA has added plenty of strong players the last two summers. Let's stack them up and rank them, not based on future performances or what they did last year, but strictly on how they have done so far this season. 1. Blake Griffin, Clippers Did you expect to see anyone else here? We'd have to go back to the 2008 draft to find anyone who can compete with Griffin for the top spot. If we did, he'd be notched just below Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and probably Kevin Love as the fourth-best player to enter the NBA in the past three years. No one in the past two drafts comes close to matching the productivity or star power of Griffin. 2. Stephen Curry, Warriors To my eye, he's the best player on an improving Golden State team. He can beat you with his long-range shooting, his passing and his ability to generate buckets against good defense. And none of those things are his best gift, which is his intelligence. He was terrific last season and has been even better this season, improving in almost every metric we keep track of. His defense isn't as bad you think either. Besides, Steve Nash, who isn't known for his defense, won two MVPs. This guy is Nash all over again. 3. DeJuan Blair, Spurs The best college rebounder to enter the NBA in years continues to pound the boards and the teams who passed on him in the 2009 draft (he went 37th overall). He's a solid starter on the league's best team and, after a rough start to the season, playing the best ball of his short career. His great hands are not just good for rebounding in traffic, but also for stripping ball handlers and shooters attacking the rim -- he leads all bigs in steals per 48 minutes. And in a bit of irony, no player in his draft class has appeared in more games. 4. Serge Ibaka, Thunder If you want to see how a player can impact a team without putting up double-doubles or huge scoring numbers, study Ibaka. Everyone sees what he does on defense (he leads all rookies and sophs in blocks), but the Thunder are also a much better offensive team when he's on the floor. He finishes over 70 percent of his shots in the paint and makes 45 percent of his pick-and-pops. In short, he's the third-best player on one of the top 10 teams in the NBA. 5. Jrue Holiday, 76ers A case can be made that Philly is the league's most improved team and Holiday, who leads the Sixers in minutes played, just might be its most valuable player. He sets the stage for the team on offense and defense, ranking second in assists and fourth in steals among all first- and second-year players. He has also proved to be a much better shooter from distance, coming up huge in the scoring department in multiple games this season. Most recently, he poured in 27 of his team's 77 points in an upset of the Spurs. A change in Philly's offense might signal less production from Holiday, however, which would likely move him down this list. 6. Darren Collison, Pacers Collison is quietly coming on as a high-level point guard. Solid for the first half of the season, he has been terrific since the coaching change in Indiana. The Pacers have won eight of their past 10, and Collison is the steady hand at the wheel of this run. 7. Ty Lawson, Nuggets Lawson made an impressive debut last season, and although some people thought he'd be headed for a down year as teams adjusted to his speed, he was my preseason pick to win the MIP award. While it's unlikely he'll actually win the award, he has slightly improved upon his overall production from last season and leads one of the league's best bench units. Lawson has one of the top field goal percentages among all point guards in the NBA, thanks to good shooting and better decision-making. 8. Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers After struggling from deep in November, Matthews has been hot from beyond the arc for three straight months (better than 42 percent) and more than adequate as a replacement for All-Star Brandon Roy. One of the top stories of the season has been Portland's ability to stay in the playoff chase despite devastating injuries to two of its star players. Matthews' play has been a big part of this effort. 9. John Wall, Wizards Has he been as good as advertised? Probably not, but it's closer than you think. Without Griffin in this class we'd be talking about Washington's speed demon a lot more. Although the Wizards have been struggling, Wall has given them something of an identity. He is a joy to play with and has been competing on defense more than highly regarded rookies normally do. 10. DeMarcus Cousins, Kings He still has a lot of growing up to do, but he's the biggest beast of these two classes after Griffin. Try these numbers on for size: He averaged 21.7 ppg and 11.5 rpg in a recent string of games against the Lakers, Celtics, Jazz, Mavs, Hornets and Thunder. That's a lot of lottery picks and All-Stars he battled against. And he made 50 of his 101 shots in that stretch, too. 11. Tyreke Evans, Kings Evans has been on a tear lately, but there is no way to ignore his horrible start and his inability to help the Kings win. The Kings are 24-78 since Jan. 1, 2010, and only Cleveland's Mo Williams has a usage rate of 25 or more and has lost more games than Evans this season. Evans still scores in bunches and he's a much improved defender, but among starting point guards he ranks in the bottom five in true shooting percentage and is dead last in assist rate. His talent is undeniable, but he hasn't figured out how to use it within a team concept yet. 12. DeMar DeRozan, Raptors As a starting 2-guard in the NBA, DeRozan still needs to improve in a lot of areas -- namely the 3-ball -- but watching the Raptors lately is basically watching the DeMar DeRozan Show. He is their most dynamic young player and, since December, has been their most productive and consistent scorer after Andrea Bargnani. DeRozan has become lethal as a shooter off curls and is attacking the rim more when closely guarded on the perimeter. He pairs nicely with Ed Davis in Toronto as consecutive first-round picks who look like core guys going forward. 13. Landry Fields, Knicks As New York has struggled to keep up its momentum from earlier in the season, the love affair with Fields has faded into the background, even though he's doing what he's done since Day 1. Simply put, his combination of 3-point shooting and rebounding at the wing spot might be the best in the league. He competes all over the floor and plays with a swagger that belies his years. 14. Greg Monroe, Pistons Anchoring the middle as a rookie starter is difficult, but Monroe has stepped up and is looking like the team's center of the future. He has shown the potential to average a double-double as early as next season, which is impressive considering that only seven bigs will likely accomplish that this season. And while he's not a shot-blocker, he's large and agile enough to be a basket protector. His top two skills coming into the league -- passing and perimeter shooting -- have not taken root yet, but if they do and he learns to compete with more edge and passion consistently, Monroe can jump into the top five of this list next season. 15. James Harden, Thunder Consistent, poised, smart and focused. Those qualities are what made Harden the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft and he's using them to help the Thunder win a lot of games. He still has to improve as a finisher inside 10 feet and could use his athletic ability more, but his feel and talent make him an excellent complement to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. If he ever took over the starting 2-guard spot in OKC, it might help him raise his game to another level, which I believe exists. 16. Taj Gibson, Bulls Gibson has proved he can help the team win whether he's starting or coming off the bench with energy and defense. He's not shooting as well as he did last season, which could be the result of fewer minutes and touches, but he's one of the top defenders on the Bulls, who are contenders because of the way they defend. Gibson will play a crucial role in the playoffs. 17. Gary Neal, Spurs His consistent shooting threat -- he's connecting on 40 percent of his 3s -- is making a big difference in San Antonio. It seems that every shot he takes is the perfect shot, which is a big part of why the Spurs have the league's second-best offense. His worst month from 3-point land was January, when he shot a strong 37.9 percent. Guys who make 40 percent of their 3-point shots don't knock down two of five every game. There will obviously be some 3-for-4 performances and 0-for-6 nights mixed in, too. But great shooters try to avoid long slumps by focusing on taking nothing but good shots as opposed to chasing shots that might start a hot streak. Neal has been doing that for the Spurs. 18. Brandon Jennings, Bucks Jennings would be higher on this list if he hadn't missed so many games due to injury. Although he hasn't been the same shooter since his hot rookie start, he still manages the game and is always a threat to knife into the lane to create easy shots for a teammate. He's become a much better finisher at the rim, too, and now needs to find his midrange game to take the next step towards being a top-tier point guard. 19. Reggie Williams, Warriors He hasn't been able to get to the rim as often this season, where he's a spectacular finisher despite being an average athlete, but Williams is still one of the most efficient shooters in basketball. He has made 53 of his last 116 3s (46 percent) and is one of the most reliable ball handlers among designated shooters in the NBA. On a team packed with skill, the Warriors' offense is at its best when he's in the game. 20. Paul George, Pacers Now playing significant minutes for one of the league's hottest teams, George uses his length and feel to make him perhaps the Pacers' most important perimeter defender. He uses those same tools, plus a skilled dribble-drive game, to be their best finishing slasher, too. He's got a chance to be one of the best rookies in this class over the last two months of the season. Five guys to watch Sam Young, Grizzlies: He's my pick for most underrated player in the NBA. Better off the dribble than you'd think, and just as strong as you'd expect. Wesley Johnson, Timberwolves: He has all the tools to be very good, plus a great head on his shoulders. Now he just needs to figure it out. Evan Turner, 76ers: I doubt he'll ever live up to his billing as a No. 2 pick, but he can still be a very productive player. Derrick Favors, Nets: I'd guess that by this time next year, he'll figure prominently in the top 10. Marcus Thornton, Hornets: He was one of the best rookies last season, but started out on the wrong foot with his new coach this season. Lately, though, he seems to be back in the mix. We know he has the offensive game to punch up some impressive numbers

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