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Finishing kick

Five slow-starting rookies who are coming on strong

Posted: Tuesday April 3, 2007 3:42PM; Updated: Tuesday April 3, 2007 4:00PM
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LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 14.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting in 15 March games.
LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 14.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting in 15 March games.

Other than Portland's Brandon Roy and Toronto's Andrea Bargnani, few rookies this season have generated much attention. Charlotte's Adam Morrison, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Minnesota's Randy Foye have had their moments, but mostly have been playing in the shadows. Then there are the unsung guys who have become key contributors to their teams, such as Toronto's Jorge Garbajosa (now out for the season with an ankle injury) and Utah's Paul Millsap.

But while this rookie crop has not featured as many immediate high-impact guys as in some recent years, it could just be a matter of time. In fact, some first-year players who didn't do much in the first few months are starting to come on. Here's a look at five late bloomers who could bolster the perception of this year's rookie group before all is said and done.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers

The 6-11 forward/center from Texas, drafted No. 2 overall, missed all of training camp after undergoing shoulder surgery and then had to wait his turn behind Zach Randolph and Joel Przybilla (both of whom are now out for the season). Since the All-Star break, however, he has really elevated his game. He had 24 points, 17 boards and four blocks in a March 13 loss at Denver, and 27 points, 14 boards and three blocks in a March 23 win at Atlanta. He also bagged a career-high 30 points in a March 1 win over the Bobcats.

"Ever since the All-Star break, I've been more consistent," said Aldridge, who averaged 14.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting in 15 games in March. "My legs started to get a little tired [before the break]. I didn't do anything during the break. I stayed at my house and rested."

Aldridge's rise is particularly interesting since he was traded by the Bulls on draft night, partly in exchange for the rights to Tyrus Thomas. Chicago could sorely use a big man who can score, and Aldridge so far has shown the ability to hit the pick-and-pop and score in the post off early offense. Some wonder if the Bulls would have been better off keeping Aldridge, at least for the present. The Blazers, meanwhile, couldn't be happier. They feel as if they now have two of the top rookies in the draft in Aldridge and Roy.

Tyrus Thomas, Bulls

Thomas has been making his own strong case that he was the right man for Chicago all along. The 6-9 leaper from LSU has been playing off the bench since the start of the season, but really has come on of late as he has picked up minutes for the injured Andres Nocioni. Thomas might not provide the low-post scoring the Bulls need, but he gives them something else they lack: an athletic dimension.

Thomas, in fact, is quickly becoming a crowd favorite with his penchant for blocked shots and spectacular dunks. He had 23 points and nine rebounds in a March 13 win over the Celtics, and he had 27 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks in last Saturday's loss to the Cavs. Thomas also had a game-winning put-back with 0.2 seconds left against the Nuggets last week. His breathtaking plays just seem to spark the Bulls, and he looks as if he could be an X-factor for them heading into the playoffs.


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