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The 2005 NBA Rookie Class: Making the Grade.

The NBA is about youth. The specter of Jordan, Magic and Bird is farther in the distance, and the LeBron James era has arrived, as the prodigious star continues to climb to the top of the basketball elite. While James is poised to be king, a number of talented players are fighting for recognition, including the top members of this year’s rookie class.

With the NBA season scheduled to begin on November 1st, there is a buzz around the incoming group of freshman. With a seven-foot Aussie, three All-America point guards and four North Carolina Tar Heels, the commencement of the 2005-06 season is being met with great anticipation. Here’s a look at the top six picks from this summer’s draft, and what to expect in their inaugural NBA campaigns.

Andrew Bogut – Milwaukee Bucks.

The only Australian-born player ever drafted first overall in the NBA, 7-foot center Andrew Bogut will bring size, power and skill to a Milwaukee team that finished 20th in rebounding last season.

Bogut put together a storied collegiate career at the University of Utah. His senior season was an absolute trophy-case stuffer: The Aussie received the most votes on the Associated Press All-America team and won a host of national individual awards. He earned Player of the Year honors from AP and ESPN.com, plus the Naismith and Wooden Awards.

Andrew comes to the Bucks with a significant amount of experience for a 20-year-old. Aside from his freshman and sophomore campaigns at Utah, Bogut has played with the Australian National Team for the past two years, including a “coming out” party at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. As the starting center for the Boomers, he averaged 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds in five games, including an impressive performance guarding Team USA’s Tim Duncan.

He’ll be thrust into the limelight in Milwaukee, a team that has gone without a dominant center for years. Lauded for his “triple threat” ability to pass, shoot and rebound, Bogut will complement a team built around solid guard play and strong outside shooting. With sharp shooters Michael Redd and Bobby Simmons manning the perimeter, Bogut seems primed to post a high number of rebounds and put-back points. This should play to his strengths (Bogut’s 40 career double-doubles is a Utah school record).

If his statistics with Milwaukee’s summer league team were any indication, he stands to translate his collegiate success to the professional ranks with ease. The Big Aussie ended his summer-league play averaging 13.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. Those stats give new Bucks head coach Terry Stotts reason to believe Bogut can immediately provide a presence in the paint. Bogut will likely enter the season as Milwaukee’s starting center and should be the preseason favorite for Rookie of the Year.

Marvin Williams – Atlanta Hawks.

“Marvelous” Marvin Williams arrives in Atlanta oozing potential. Williams almost entered the 2004 NBA draft out of high school before opting to enroll at North Carolina. The move paid off. Williams was a key member of the Tar Heels team that won this year’s NCAA Championship, and his performance in March helped propel his draft stock. At one point, he was even challenging Bogut for the first overall selection.

In his lone year at UNC, Williams was named ACC rookie of the year, a unanimous selection to the ACC all-freshman team and an honorable mention for the all-ACC team.

Scouts drooled over Williams’ upside. He played a reserve role with the Heels last season, coming off the bench as a sixth man while playing alongside three other first-round picks: Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashard McCants. At 19, Williams has raw talent and athleticism matched by few – yet he displayed a great deal of humility and unselfishness in accepting a reserve role at UNC. This attitude so enamored the Hawks, they selected the 6-9 small forward despite already having a logjam of talent in that position.

Because of his relative inexperience and Atlanta’s depth at small forward, Williams likely will be brought along slowly as he adjusts to the NBA. Whereas Bogut is expected to start immediately for Milwaukee, Williams is afforded the luxury of playing behind forwards Al Harrington, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Josh Childress.

Williams is a pick for the future. He’s only a year removed from high school and averaged 22 minutes per game with the Tar Heels. He’ll need significant seasoning before he fulfills his massive potential. Regarded, by many, as the best long-term prospect in the draft, he’ll have be a cornerstone of the Atlanta franchise for years.

Deron Williams – Utah Jazz.

Deron Williams comes into Utah hoping to do what Howard Eisley, Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez and Keith McLeod have all failed to do – fill the void at point guard left by John Stockton.

Pegged by several NBA pundits as the most complete point guard in the draft, Williams arrives in Salt Lake after three solid years at the University of Illinois. A second-team All America last season, Williams led the Illini to a championship game appearance, along with fellow first-round pick Luther Head. His combination of strength and basketball smarts has drawn comparisons to Jason Kidd and Andre Miller – a lofty parallel for a player who didn’t register on the NBA radar until an outstanding junior season.

Williams comes into the NBA with a solid frame. At 6-3, 210 pounds, he possesses unusual size and strength for a rookie point guard. He seems to be a good fit for Utah and head coach Jerry Sloan. Williams led a half-court offense at Illinois and that will translate well with the Jazz, a team noted for disciplined, meticulous offensive sets.

The summer league campaign was difficult for Williams. Struggling with inconsistency, he averaged 9.3 points with a meager 3.7 assists per game. Despite these unimpressive numbers, there were some positives: Williams finished fourth in steals at the Rocky Mountain Review, led the team in assists and showed maturity as the starting point guard.

Although his challengers for the starting point guard spot are a host of career backups – Eisley, McLeod and Milt Palacio, Williams will likely spend the early part of the season on the bench. It makes sense for Sloan to use his veterans while Williams becomes acclimatized to the rigors of pro basketball.

Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets.

If Williams was considered the most complete point guard in the draft, the man taken right after him as the number four pick, has to be the most promising.

After a stellar two-year stint at Wake Forest, sophomore sensation Chris Paul decided to take his game to the NBA. It was a decision he likely could have made after his freshman year – aside from winning the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2003-04, he was named third team all-ACC and was an honorable mention All-America. Paul followed his fabulous freshman campaign by making first team All-America. His sophomore season included averages of 21.0 points at the NCAA Tournament as he pushed the Demon Deacons into the Sweet 16.

At just under six feet, Paul is short for the professional ranks. He compensates for his lack of height with foot speed and shooting range, unmatched by many other point guards in the draft. A superb three-point marksman, Paul’s career three-point percentage (.469) is the second highest in Wake history.

Yet his offensive exploits do not tell the Paul story. After leading the ACC in steals as a freshman, he quickly established himself as one of the toughest matchups in collegiate basketball. His ability to score at one end of the floor and harass an opponent with his defense had NBA scouts drooling.

His potential? Unlimited. His situation? Almost ideal.

By dealing incumbent point guard Baron Davis to Golden State at last year’s trade deadline, Hornets general manager Allan Bristow opened a spot for Paul at the point. Competing with four-year veteran Speedy Claxton for the starting job, Paul will be thrust into the spotlight on a young, inexperienced team that won all of 18 games a year ago. He’ll cut his teeth on the floor, as opposed to the bench. It’s a familiar scenario for him, as only one Wake Forest freshman – Frank Johnson in 1977 – played more minutes than Paul as a first-year Demon Deacon.

Raymond Felton – Charlotte Bobcats.

The run on point guards at the draft was a sight to behold. For the first time since 1999, three floor generals were taken in the top 10 picks. If there was a sentimental favorite among the guards selected, Raymond Felton’s selection was it. Felton was a high school star in South Carolina, NCAA Champion at the University of North Carolina, and the fifth overall selection by Charlotte, talk about keeping it “in house”.

Felton is by far the quickest player coming into the NBA – his baseline-to-baseline speed was unparalleled at UNC. Felton was the first UNC player to record 1,000 points, 600 assists, 300 rebounds, 150 steals and 100 three-point field goals. His status at Chapel Hill was cemented with his selection to the NCAA Final Four all-tournament team after helping Carolina to the title.

Along with Brevin Knight, Felton forms a point-guard tandem that should make the Bobcats’ backcourt one of the fastest in the league. Knight, an eight-year veteran whose 9.0 assists per game was second in the NBA last season, will provide Felton with savvy leadership in what may become one of the more intriguing teacher-tutor combos in the league.

Felton will also have the familiarity factor on his side. With the 13th selection in the draft, Charlotte took UNC teammate Sean May, the MVP of the Final Four. It was a public relations bonanza for the Bobcats. They landed two of the stars from the NCAA champions who both have close ties to the community.

Recently, while meeting with an eighth-grade class from Piedmont Middle School in Charlotte, Felton guaranteed a playoff appearance for the second-year club. Lofty aspirations for a rookie guard on a sophomore team, but evidence of the leadership and confidence Felton will bring to the Bobcats.

Martell Webster – Portland Trailblazers.

For the first time since 2002, no high school player was taken in the top six of the draft. The run may have continued had the Portland Trail Blazers not pegged a 6-7 high-flyer from Washington as their swingman of the future.

Martell Webster, a McDonald’s All-America from Seattle Prep, wowed several basketball pundits in his pre-draft workouts. A silky-smooth shooter, with an NBA-ready body, Webster shot up mock boards in the weeks prior to the draft, thanks in large part to his enticing mix of athleticism and long-distance accuracy.

With the Trail Blazers rebuilding, Webster could play major minutes in his rookie campaign – an uncommon practice for most players coming out of high school. Derek Anderson, Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are all gone, meaning Portland will audition a variety of young players for court time. Webster looks to be one of the leading candidates to step in and contribute. Despite his age, he’s only 18, and lack of experience, Webster can play alongside youngsters like Sebastian Telfair, Travis Outlaw, Zach Randolph and Darius Miles, and create chemistry.

Webster’s performance with Portland at the Las Vegas Summer League gave much hope to long-suffering Blazers fans. Playing a shade over 30 minutes per night, he averaged 12.7 points and shot 37.5 percent from downtown. He’s impressed new head coach Nate McMillan, and could be in line to make major contributions off the bench this season.

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