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In the NBA, some teams have been using their draft picks more wisely than others over the past few years, crafting new teams filled with young, talented players. The Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings are the three teams benefiting most from the exuberant performances of their rookie and sophomore players.

New York’s sophomore guard Jeremy Lin has been garnering copious amounts of attention from the press for his monster scoring performances since he became a starter three weeks ago. However, Minnesota’s sophomore center Nikola Pekovic has done an equally impressive job filling in for injured center Darko Milicic. After playing four minutes and pulling down two rebounds in his first two games of the season, Pekovic is now averaging 12.6 points and seven rebounds per game. In the Wolves’ Feb. 17 111-98 win over the Houston Rockets, the 6’11’’ center posted 30 points and 12 rebounds. Although not quite as impressive, but still worth mentioning, sophomore guard-forward Wesley Johnson contributes 5.6 points per game.

Besides having two valuable sophomores, Minnesota has two of the best rookie players in the league. Former FC Barcelona Basquet guard Ricky Rubio leads all rookies in assists and steals, averaging 2.3 steals and 8.5 assists per game. To put things in perspective, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving possesses the second best assist average, with 4.8 per game. As if that wasn’t enough, Rubio averages 11.3 points this season. Rookie forward Derrick Williams scores 7.2 points and records four rebounds per game, adding to Minnesota’s young talent. All-Star forward-center Kevin Love can’t be a bad role model for Williams either. The Wolves’ rookies and sophomores have gotten a head start on their path to greatness.

Lin, a Knicks guard and Harvard product, has been making headlines in recent weeks due to the 24.6 points per game average he has maintained since becoming a starter. Last year, as a rookie on Golden State, Lin averaged a mere 2.6 points per game. He also consistently distributes the ball well, as is apparent by his four points-assists double-doubles this year. Second year guard Landry Fields has not improved much since last season, but he still puts up about 10 points per game and crashes the glass, managing 4.4 rebounds per game.

The Knicks invested yet another draft pick, their 17th, in a guard last year. That player, Iman Shumpert, has had a rookie season very similar to that of Fields. He averages 10.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, and has two 20-point games under his belt already. University of Kentucky center Josh Harrellson was also taken by the Knicks in last year’s draft, but fractured his right wrist on Jan. 21 against the Denver Nuggets. He was contributing around five points and five rebounds each game before the injury.

Going into the 2010 NBA draft, DeMarcus Cousins was just a freshman center playing at Kentucky, but now this Sacramento player is one of the most feared centers in the NBA, ranking third in points and fourth in rebounds. He averages a double-double with 16.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. This makes perfect sense if one considers the fact that he has had 20 double-doubles in his past 30 games, the most impressive coming in a Feb. 6 win over the New Orleans Hornets, in which he put 28 points on the board and pulled down 19 rebounds. The Kings scored a massive win in the 2010 draft by taking Cousins.

The Kings found some hidden treasure in last year’s draft as well. Isaiah Thomas, the 5’9’’ point guard hailing from the University of Washington, went last in the draft, but has already earned himself a starting position by putting forth his best effort. On Feb. 17, Thomas was promoted to starting guard after Kings head coach Keith Smart benched veteran guard John Salmons. In his first 40-plus minute game, Thomas recorded his first double-double with 23 points and 11 assists. Ironically, rookie guard Jimmer Fredette was the 10th player taken in last year’s draft, but averages only eight points per game and has an efficiency rating nearly 2.5 points below Thomas’.

Over the past few years, the Wolves acquired two extremely athletic rookies, the Kings took  two of the highest scoring young players and New York addressed its backcourt needs by picking up three productive guards.

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