This Year RoY Should be Spelled R-O-S-ENo rookie averaged 20 ppg or made the All-Star team this season but Derrick Rose has been consistently productive from day one and his Chicago Bulls are in contention for a playoff berth. Point guard is generally considered to be the toughest position for a young NBA player to learn, which makes Rose's smooth transition to the NBA even more impressive.
Here is an analysis of the performances of this year's top rookies:
It is very difficult for a rookie to make an impact in the NBA, either individually or in terms of helping his team to substantially improve. Only two rookies have made the All-Star team since 1998, Tim Duncan (1998) and Yao Ming (2003). Since 2000, only four rookies have averaged at least 20 ppg (Elton Brand, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant). The last Rookie of the Year whose team made the playoffs is Amare Stoudemire (2003), who was a distant third in scoring (13.5 ppg) for the Phoenix Suns.
This season has not broken any of those patterns: no rookie made the All-Star team and no rookie is averaging 20 ppg. We cannot yet say whether or not the Rookie of the Year will play in the playoffs, because we do not know who the Rookie of the Year will be nor do we know the final playoff seedings. However, the fact that only one of the top Rookie of the Year candidates has his team in contention for a playoff berth certainly speaks in his favor; Derrick Rose has responded very well to the pressure of being the No. 1 overall draft pick and playing for his hometown team, the Chicago Bulls, who currently hold a 1.5 game lead over Charlotte for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth. Rose is averaging 16.6 ppg, 6.2 apg and 3.9 rpg while putting up very solid shooting numbers from the field (.470) and the free-throw line (.791). His three-point shooting percentage is terrible (.235) but he is attempting less than one three-pointer per game, so he understands that he should not be firing away from long distance until he improves his accuracy.
Rose ranks 10th in the NBA in minutes played, which is a very impressive statistic for a young point guard: that shows that he has not hit the "rookie wall" mentally or physically and that his coach trusts him to be the team's leader at all times. Rose ranks first among all rookies in assists and second in scoring. He has been a very consistent performer, both in terms of his month to month production and by posting nearly identical scoring, rebounding and assist averages at home and on the road. Point guard is generally considered to be the toughest position for a young NBA player to learn but Rose has immediately emerged as a very solid contributor for a Bulls team that -- with six games remaining -- has already won three more games than they did last season.
O.J. Mayo averaged 23.1 ppg on .480 field goal shooting in November to unofficially take the early lead in the Rookie of the Year race but his numbers have dropped off dramatically since that time; in March he scored 14.7 ppg on .430 field goal shooting. Mayo is not a great rebounder, passer or defender, so his value mainly consists of how much -- and how efficiently -- he scores. While some people touted him as the most "NBA ready" rookie, I was a little less optimistic after I saw him play in the Summer League, when I offered this early assessment: "Mayo has the tools to be a good NBA scorer but it remains to be seen if he will be an impact player overall -- let alone a superstar -- or if he will primarily be a guy who, as the saying goes, "gets buckets.'" Mayo still leads all rookies in scoring (18.3 ppg) and his three point and free throw percentages (.375 and .876 respectively) are good but the Memphis Grizzlies are just as terrible this year with him as they were last year without him.
When Kevin McHale traded Mayo's draft rights as part of a deal to acquire Kevin Love, some critics made the predictable jokes referring to McHale's track record as Minnesota's General Manager and suggested that he had made a boneheaded move. It is unfortunate that snide comments are passed off as intelligent basketball analysis but the problem is that too many of the so-called experts do not have the foggiest idea about how to watch a player and actually form an intelligent opinion about whether or not he can play, so they shift the issue to a tired, old familiar storyline. I am not going to defend McHale's record because it has nothing to do with the real issue in this context, which is whether or not Love can play.
After I watched Love play in the Summer League, I wrote, "Regardless of the superficial impression that Love's movement creates, he knows how to play the game. He sets screens, makes the correct passes and goes to the glass aggressively at both ends of the court. Love seems to intuitively understand where he is supposed to go, like in one sequence when (teammate Pooh) Jeter drove, drew the defense and Love faded to the perimeter a la Bill Laimbeer, catching a pass and without hesitation drilling a jumper from just behind the college three-point line...In his first NBA action, Love displayed better than advertised mobility, willingness to attack the glass at both ends of the court and a good understanding of how to play offensively in terms of setting screens, making passes and operating in the paint. He made some 'rookie mistakes,' particularly defensively, but most of the things that he did wrong are correctable errors as opposed to fundamental problems with his game/skill set."
Love has surprised a lot of people who did not pay attention to the skill set that he displayed during the Summer League and he is averaging 11.2 ppg and 9.0 rpg (first among rookies, 10th in the league) while shooting .466 from the field and .787 from the free throw line. Love has really played well since the All-Star break, averaging 14.9 ppg and 9.5 rpg while increasing his shooting percentages to .487 and .803 respectively.
Mayo is arguably not even the best rookie on his own team: Marc Gasol is averaging 11.7 ppg (seventh among rookies) and 7.4 rpg (third among rookies) while shooting .532 from the field. While Mayo has been fading fast, Gasol has increased his production across the board since the All-Star break (13.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, .552 field goal shooting).
Brook Lopez has provided a solid inside presence for a New Jersey team that stayed on the fringes of the battle for the eighth playoff spot in the East until recently sliding backwards in the standings. He is averaging 12.9 ppg (sixth among rookies) and 7.9 rpg (second among rookies) while shooting .528 from the field. He ranks 10th in the NBA in total offensive rebounds and ninth in the league in blocked shots.
Two explosive rookie guards have emerged in the latter portion of the season. Eric Gordon of the L.A. Clippers is averaging 18.8 ppg on .458 field goal shooting since the All-Star break. Overall, though, Gordon is scoring 15.7 ppg (tied for third among rookies) for a team that has the second worst winning percentage in the West and the worst winning percentage for the franchise since 1999-00 -- remember, we're talking about the Clippers here! That just does not look like a Rookie of the Year resume, particularly in contrast to what Rose has accomplished.
The Oklahoma City Thunder's Russell Westbrook is averaging 17.3 ppg since the All-Star break but he is only shooting .395 from the field during that time. For the season, he is averaging 15.7 ppg (tied with Gordon for third among rookies) and 5.1 apg (second among rookies) for a team that started slowly but now has a marginally better winning percentage than last year.
Mayo's early scoring exploits probably left a lingering impression that will garner him some Rookie of the Year votes but Rose is the most deserving candidate. It will be interesting to see if the voters are savvy enough to appreciate the non-flashy but quite substantive contributions being made by Gasol, Love and Lopez.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:45 AM