Clippers Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin in Rookie Challenge

The NBA announced the rosters for the Rookie Challenge game today. As you know, this game pits a team of rookies against a team of second year players. The teams are selected by the league's assistant coaches, and it's not an easy task, since often they're dealing with players for whom opportunity is one of the biggest factors.

The rookie team includes Clippers Blake Griffin and Eric Bledsoe, along with DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, Landry Fields, Wesley Johnson, Greg Monroe, Gary Neal and John Wall. Griffin, Fields, Wall and Cousins were pretty much no brainers: they've each gotten plenty of opportunity to play, and have performed well. Beyond that, it gets dicier. Players like Wesley Johnson and Evan Turner were high draft picks who were given the opportunity to start for their teams right away. Unfortunately, they've been less than impressive on the court. So although Johnson and Turner are among only 8 rookies who have played at least 1000 minutes this season, they rank 16 and 17 in PER among the 19 rookies who've played at least 500 minutes. Why Johnson should have made the team and not Turner is a bit of a mystery, as their seasons have not been appreciably different. Eric Bledsoe is in a similar position of course - he got his chance to play when Baron Davis and Randy Foye were hurt, and cemented a spot in the rotation for himself, but his PER is mediocre. In Bledsoe's case, his passing (he's second behind Wall in assists per game among rookies) may have gotten him a spot in the backcourt.

Meanwhile, a guy like Ed Davis is shooting 58% for Toronto, and is second only to Griffin in rebound rate. But because he didn't crack the rotation right away (he's only played in 32 games), he was left off the team. Davis was also a victim of the numbers game to some extent: front court players Griffin, Cousins, Favors, Fields and Monroe were all deemed to be better, and those are all decent choices at least.

The Clippers third rotation rookie, Al-Farouq Aminu, was presumably considered closely for the game as well. He's gotten his chance, and has looked good at times, but none of his numbers require his presence. One wonders if the NBA would put him on the team in the likely event that Griffin is selected for the All Star game and decides to give up his spot in the Rookie Challenge. Would the organizers replace a Clipper with a Clipper given that the game is in LA? My vote would certainly go to Davis, the most obvious snub on the list, but I could definitely see AFA getting serious consideration in that scenario.

Gary Neal is the most interesting story among the rookies by far. A 27 year old rookie who went undrafted out of Towson State, he's finally made it to the NBA after playing in Europe for four years. He's now a key part of the rotation for the Spurs, the team with the best record in the NBA, making 39% of his three pointers.

The sophomores are often a trickier lot, and this year is no exception. The team is made up of DeJuan Blair, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans, Taj Gibson, Jrue Holiday, Serge Ibaka, Brandon Jennings and Wesley Matthews. These players for the most part have one thing in common that distinguishes them most other second year players: they start. Gibson and Ibaka have in fact been part time starters in Chicago and Oklahoma City, but in their cases it helps that they play for good teams. But it's really hard to justify Jrue Holiday being on the team over either Ty Lawson or Darren Collison. In fact, given that Collison too has been a full time starter and that his numbers tend to be better than Holiday's, it's hard to figure how the voters distinguished between these former UCLA teammates. Lawson's numbers are better still, but he comes off the bench in Denver.

It's worth noting that selection to the Rookie Challenge is not always a great predictor of future success. Al Thornton played for the sophomores in 2009, and Rudy Fernandez played for the rookies that same year while Kevin Love did not. Jordan Farmar and Daniel Gibson played for the sophomores in 2008 against a rookie team featuring Yi Jianlian and Sean Williams. So you just never know.

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