Though he may be the most fearsome dunker of the bunch, No. 9 pick Amare Stoudemire is not the only first-year player drawing attention around the league. An NBA scout takes a look at the progress of nine prominent rookies in order of the impact they've had (draft order in parentheses).
7'5" Yao Ming, Rockets (1)
13.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.86 bpg, 54.2 FG%
"He should be Rookie of the Year—he's the best player of the bunch, and he's going to be the best for a long time. He's really intelligent, has a soft enough touch [Yao is second in the NBA in field goal percentage], is a terrific free throw shooter and is already one of the top passing centers in the league, behind Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis. Yao's blocks show up in the box score, but that stat doesn't reflect all the guys who are trying cockeyed layups instead of going hard to the hole against him. Teams don't drive on the Rockets anymore. They can't. He could burn out later this season, but Houston is keeping his minutes down."
6'7" Caron Butler, Heat (10)
13.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.58 spg, 40.3 FG%
"He was more ready for the pros than most other guys coming out of the draft because he was 22 and had two seasons at Connecticut. He plays bigger than his size, and he's starting to shoot better. He's a bit of a tweener, though. Not the biggest or fastest, a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. His defense is O.K., but playing the three, he sometimes has trouble defending the bigger threes in the post. He reminds me of Paul Pierce in that he was polished coming into the league and went lower than he should have."
6'10" Drew Gooden, Grizzlies (4)
12.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, .79 spg, 47.0 FG%
"In his three years at Kansas he would disappear for long periods of time, so his fast start worries me. When he's on, he can score almost at will. A big-time post-up threat, he can shoot the face-up jumper and is athletic going to the basket. He's still got to learn that in this league, even if you're putting up numbers, it doesn't mean you're playing great. You still have to be unselfish and play defense straight up. He tries to play center-field too much, going for steals and coming off his man to try to block shots."
6'3" Dajuan Wagner, Cavaliers (6)
16.7 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.14 spg, 37.1 FG%
"He knows how to score, and he's a gritty kid; he'll take it at you every time. He can create space, catch and shoot, and put it on the floor. He'll probably put up 25 a night for his career, but I'm not sure he'll make his teammates better. The problem is that he's an undersized two guard, and he'll never play the point in this league. A natural scorer can't be transformed like that. Look at Tony Delk and Allen Iverson."
6'2" Jay Williams, Bulls (2)
10.1 ppg, 5.5 apg, 1.47 spg, 38.1 FG%
"He's very good with the ball, very aggressive offensively. He reminds me of Jason Terry: excellent at attacking. For a point guard, though, sometimes that can be an asset and sometimes that can take you out of your offense. The triangle just doesn't work for the Bulls' personnel—especially Williams—and I'll be shocked if they continue to run it. He's better off on the run than playing half-court ball, and he's not an effective spot-up shooter yet. The Bulls have been calling more high pick-and-rolls, and Williams is much more comfortable with that."
6'6" Gordan Giricek, Grizzlies (40)
11.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 42.8 FG%, 85.5 FT%
"He was drafted in 1999 by the Mavericks, had his rights traded to the Spurs, then was picked up by Jerry West for a second-round pick. A typical European kid. Mentally strong, not much rattles him. He reminds me of Sarunas Marciulionis and Drazen Petrovic with his toughness. A fantastic shooter, especially coming off curls, but I don't think he can be as clutch as Peja Stojakovic. Defensively he's a tad slow, and I'm not sure he has the fundamentals. His other problem is consistency—he goes from 29 points one night to six the next."
6'11" Nene Hilario, Nuggets (7)
9.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.63 spg, 50.4 FG%
"He's built like a 30-year-old Karl Malone. He and Stoudemire are the two real specimens in this draft. He'll battle anyone, but he's foul-prone. Some of it is that he's overly aggressive instead of technically sound. He needs to become more aware of what's going on around him, which may come when he learns the language. He came here from Brazil with a few low-post moves, but he hasn't found his go-to move yet. He's good at getting deep seals, but because he doesn't elevate well flat-footed, he has trouble getting his shot off cleanly in the paint."
6'9" Carlos Boozer, Cavaliers (35)
8.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, .58 bpg, 54.3 FG%
"He's a tough, strong kid. A little undersized, but he has great arm length, so he plays bigger. Sets real good screens. He's not on a very good team, but he plays with an outstanding center; opponents give so much attention to Zydrunas Ilgauskas that Boozer can exploit the openings. He loves to face up and shoot the 12-footer, and a lot of big men don't want to go out on him. He runs the high post well and has some good up-and-under moves. Ideally, he's not a starter but a Malik Rose type off the bench. In three or four years people will say he should have gone in the first round."
6'9" Mike Dunleavy Jr., Warriors(3)
4.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 35.8 FG%
"He plays under control and has only one speed; he kind of hums along. I think that bothers [coach Eric] Musselman because sometimes it looks as if Dunleavy's not trying hard. He seldom makes rookie mistakes, but he's soft: You don't have to worry about him on the offensive glass. He'd rather catch and shoot, or flair to the three-point line. Put him on a team like the Jazz, with a lot of veterans, and he'd fit in and find open shots, just the way Matt Harpring has. G.M.'s loved Dunleavy because he has a great basketball mind, but that didn't mean he was ready right away. The other problem is that the things that Musselman needs Dunleavy to give him right now—defense, aggressiveness—aren't his strengths. The Warriors will probably get down on Dunleavy, and he'll end up emerging somewhere else down the road."