Kyrie Irving and the 25 Most Sensational NBA Rookies of the Last Decade

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2012

Kyrie Irving and the 25 Most Sensational NBA Rookies of the Last Decade

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    Rookies are usually some of the most fun players in the NBA to watch because they're full of unrealized potential. It's nothing but excitement as you watch in an attempt to discover which of the young rising stars in the league will become true superstars. 

    The following 25 players just happened to enjoy the most sensational rookie seasons we've seen over the course of the last decade, which is being defined as the 2002-2003 season through the current one for the purposes of these rankings. 

    What makes a season sensational though? It's a combination of excitement generated, team success, statistical prowess and just overall level of play. 

    As you can see from the title, Kyrie Irving does qualify for this list, even though he's nowhere near through with his rookie season. Because it's all we can do, I'm going to have to assume that he maintains his current level of play throughout the year.

    Is he the only current rookie to make the list? You'll have to read on to find out.  

25. Luis Scola (2007-2008)

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    Draft Position: No. 55

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 16.1 PER, 6.5 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.234 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    Luis Scola's numbers really aren't as impressive as anyone else's on this list, but I'm giving him a spot just because it was sensational for a No. 55 pick to produce at this level as a rookie. 

24. O.J. Mayo (2008-2009)

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    Draft Position: No. 3

    Team: Memphis Grizzlies

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats:14.2 PER, 3.2 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.410 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    O.J. Mayo may have only shot 43 percent from the field as a first-year player for the Memphis Grizzlies, but that didn't stop him from jacking up enough shots to average 18.5 points per game. 

    In a draft class that keeps looking better and better as they get more experience, Mayo managed to finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting, thanks no doubt to his gaudy scoring average masking his lack of defensive ability. 

    As you can probably tell, I'm of the opinion that the former USC Trojan was a little bit overrated during his rookie season. 

23. DeMarcus Cousins (2010-2011)

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    Draft Position: No. 5

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 14.6 PER, 1.1 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share:  0.137 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    DeMarcus Cousins didn't get nearly enough credit for his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings, mostly because of the attention that was paid to fellow rookies John Wall and Blake Griffin. 

    Although he was already a bit of a head case, Cousins was a tremendous talent on the basketball court, falling just 1.4 rebounds per game short of averaging a double-double. 

    If he hadn't struggled with his shot all season long in a bit of a prolonged shooting slump, Cousins would have shot up this list. 

22. Andre Iguodala (2004-2005)

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    Draft Position: No. 9

    Team: Philadelphia 76ers

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks 

    Advanced Stats: 13.6 PER, 6.6 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.022 (Finished No. 4 in the balloting)

     

    Even during his first season in the NBA, Andre Iguodala was a stat-stuffer, although the stats weren't stuffed quite as full as they are now. 

    The only player on the Philadelphia 76ers to record a triple-double (which he did with exactly 10 points, rebounds and assists) during the 2004-2005 season, Iggy made an impact on both ends of the court and used his athleticism to produce quite a few highlight-reel plays. 

    He started all 82 games during the regular season and five more during the postseason, putting up a Defensive Rating of 102 that just happened to be better than the marks of both Emeka Okafor and Dwight Howard, two of the three players voted ahead of him in the Rookie of the Year balloting. 

21. Brandon Jennings (2009-2010)

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    Draft Position: No. 10

    Team: Milwaukee Bucks

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 14.5 PER, 4.2 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.332 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    Brandon Jennings made his NBA debut against the Philadelphia 76ers and totaled 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, falling just short of a triple-double to start his career. 

    Fifteen days later, Jennings scored 55 points, more than anyone had scored during a first season since Earl Monroe dropped 56 in 1968. 

    He was incredibly inefficient but fun to watch. 

20. Al Horford (2007-2008)

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    Draft Position: No. 3

    Team: Atlanta Hawks

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 14.7 PER, 5.5 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.624 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    Al Horford may not have been spectacular during his rookie season with the Atlanta Hawks, but he consistently played at a very high level, nearly averaging a double-double in his first year out of the University of Florida. 

    Not much has changed for the big man who manages to score the quietest points of any All-Star-level player. 

    More so than any other addition to the Atlanta Hawks for the 2007-2008 season, it was Horford who became the catalyst in Atlanta's successful bid to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1998-1999 season. 

19. Caron Butler (2002-2003)

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    Draft Position: No. 10

    Team: Miami Heat

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 15.1 PER, 5.1 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.306 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    Now with the Los Angeles Clippers, Caron Butler was drafted at No. 10 by the Miami Heat after his last season with the Connecticut Huskies. 

    It didn't take long for the forward to make an impact as he started all 78 games he appeared in and put up some impressive numbers.

    Tough Juice played with his trademark passion and intensity throughout his rookie campaign but failed to help the Miami Heat return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. 

18. Brook Lopez (2008-2009)

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    Draft Position: No. 10

    Team: New Jersey Nets

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 17.9 PER, 5.8 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.212 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    Before Brook Lopez forgot how to rebound in recent years, he actually put together a great rookie season after a stellar career with the Stanford Cardinal playing alongside his twin brother. 

    He started the season coming off the bench but ended up in the starting lineup for 75 games once Josh Boone went down with an injury. 

    Lopez's contributions weren't enough to push the New Jersey Nets into playoff contention, but he did block the fourth-most shots in the NBA and stood out on a consistent basis. 

17. Stephen Curry (2009-2010)

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    Draft Position: No. 7

    Team: Golden State Warriors

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 16.3 PER, 4.6 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.636 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    No one knew what to expect from Stephen Curry during his rookie season in the NBA. The baby-faced assassin had one of the best seasons in college basketball history for his Davidson Wildcats in 2008, but no one knew if his lack of skill on defense, and overall lack of size would prove to be too much to overcome. 

    It wasn't. 

    Curry made more three-pointers than any other rookie in NBA history and still shot 43.7 percent from downtown. 

16. Emeka Okafor (2004-2005)

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    Draft Position: No. 2

    Team: Charlotte Bobcats

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.7 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 16.3 PER, 4.0 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.816 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    Emeka Okafor may be an afterthought in the minds of many NBA fans now, but he made one hell of an impact during his rookie season in the NBA. 

    After a standout career with the Connecticut Huskies, Okafor was drafted No. 2 overall in the 2004 NBA draft and started all 73 games he appeared in during his first year at the next level. 

    Playing on an expansion team as the star and future franchise player, Okafor didn't let the pressure get to him and played well from the first tip-off the season until the final whistle of the last game. 

15. Brandon Roy (2006-2007)

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    Draft Position: No. 6

    Team: Portland Trail Blazers

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 18.0 PER, 4.8 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.997 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    It's such a shame that Brandon Roy had to retire prematurely. His career was off to such a promising start, no doubt thanks in part to his rookie season for the Portland Trail Blazers. 

    In a sad bit of foreshadowing, Roy missed 20 games with a heel impingement, but he received 127 of a possible 128 first-place votes for Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. Despite playing just 57 games, he was that good when he was on the court. 

    Even if the voters back in 2007 didn't, I do have to downgrade him a little bit for not playing as many games as some of these other guys. 

14. Kevin Durant (2007-2008)

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    Draft Position: No. 2

    Team: Seattle SuperSonics

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 15.8 PER, 2.3 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.872 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    Kevin Durant may have averaged 20.3 points per game during his rookie season with the Seattle SuperSonics, but he wasn't the fine-tuned, efficient-scoring machine that he became a few seasons later. 

    Other than the month of February, Durant was the Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month, thanks to his incredible scoring prowess and his tendency to put up the occasional triple-double or game-winning jumper.

    His 43 percent shooting from the field and lack of defensive instincts are the only things keeping him from rising higher on this list.  

13. Amar'e Stoudemire (2002-2003)

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    Draft Position: No. 9

    Team: Phoenix Suns

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 16.2 PER, 6.2 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.783 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    We've come to expect Amar'e Stoudemire to be one of the better scoring power forwards in the game, but it was a bit of a surprise when he came out blazing during his freshman season, nearly averaging a double-double. 

    The first prep-to-pro player to win Rookie of the Year, Stoudemire's season-high of 38 points was the most by a prep-to-pro rookie until LeBron James broke his record just one year later. 

12. Dwight Howard (2004-2005)

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    Draft Position: No. 1 

    Team: Orlando Magic

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 12.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 17.2 PER, 7.3 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.256 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    Dwight Howard was absolutely robbed in 2005 when he finished third in the balloting for Rookie of the Year, losing out to both Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. 

    But let's compare Howard's rookie season to that of Okafor. While the only commonplace statistic that Howard won was steals per game, he was significantly more valuable and efficient, posting a higher PER and more Win Shares.

    Moreover, Howard's Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating were both better than Okafor's respective numbers during that 2004-2005 season.

    I'll say it again: Dwight Howard was robbed.  

11. Dwyane Wade (2003-2004)

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    Draft Position: No. 5

    Team: Miami Heat

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 17.6 PER, 4.6 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.198 (Finished No. 3 in the balloting)

     

    You know it's a stacked draft class when Dwyane Wade finishes third in the Rookie of the Year balloting despite putting up monstrous numbers for a first-year player. 

    Fresh out of Marquette, the blazingly fast guard made a large impact during his inaugural season at the professional level, helping the Miami Heat make the playoffs despite a down year from former rookie sensation Caron Butler. 

    In the postseason, Wade not only hit a game-winner in his very first game, but also led his team in both scoring and assists. 

10. John Wall (2010-2011)

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    Draft Position: No. 1

    Team: Washington Wizards

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 15.8 PER, 2.2 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.500 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    John Wall racked up every single second-place vote in the 2011 Rookie of the Year balloting, but his first season with the Washington Wizards was still a little bit overrated. 

    Don't get me wrong here, Wall was still very good. You can't be bad and average 8.3 assists while playing with the collection of scrubs known as the 2010-2011 Washington Wizards. 

    However, the former one-and-done Kentucky Wildcat was a turnover machine and a very inefficient scorer whose reputation was boosted by his athleticism and occasionally jaw-dropping plays. 

    He does get bonus points for dougie-ing onto the court in his first game. 

9. Ricky Rubio (2011-2012)

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    Draft Position: No. 5 (in 2009)

    Team: Minnesota Timberwolves

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 11.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 17.4 PER, 2.3 WS (So far)

    Rookie of the Year Share: No idea

     

    Let me make it perfectly clear: this slide is operating under the assumption that Ricky Rubio maintains his level of play, and the Minnesota Timberwolves continue contending for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

    Rubio has been a wizard with the ball and just a little bit better than the member of the Washington Wizards who you just read about. 

    Think about it this way. If you took Rubio and put him on the Wizards, I'm convinced that he'd transform Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and the rest of the team into a much better squad.

    But if you took Wall and asked him to distribute the ball to a much more talented Timberwolves team, I don't think he'd have the same level of success. 

8. Tyreke Evans (2009-2010)

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    Draft Position: No. 4 

    Team: Sacramento Kings

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 18.2 PER, 5.4 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.798 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    Tyreke Evans' rookie season may be the best and worst thing that ever happened to him. 

    Evans was the definition of sensational as he joined LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game during his rookie season. 

    He was a fantastic scorer all season long, but he created heightened expectations for himself, and he may never live up to the glory he got during that first season in the league. 

7. Yao Ming (2002-2003)

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    Draft Position: No. 1

    Team: Houston Rockets

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.8 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 20.6 PER, 8.7 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.692 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    Yao Ming made a tremendous impact on the basketball court during his rookie season with the Houston Rockets, but his biggest impact came off the court as he really helped to expand the fanbase of the NBA into a global market. 

    The 7'6" center became the first rookie to start an All-Star Game since Grant Hill in 1995 and even made Charles Barkley lose an embarrassing bet. 

6. Carmelo Anthony (2003-2004)

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    Draft Position: No. 3

    Team: Denver Nuggets

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 17.6 PER, 6.1 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.729 (Finished No. 2 in the balloting)

     

    If you've ever been surprised that LeBron James wasn't a unanimous winner of the Rookie of the Year award in 2004, it was because of this guy. 

    Carmelo Anthony, the former freshman sensation at Syracuse, was named the Western Conference's Rookie of the Month during each and every month of the season. Only four other players had ever done that: David Robinson, Tim Duncan and LeBron James in that same season. 

    Leading all rookies in scoring in a stacked class, Melo helped the Denver Nuggets go from 17-65 during the 2002-2003 season to 43-39 and a playoff spot. He was the first rookie since Robinson to lead a playoff team in scoring. 

5. Derrick Rose (2008-2009)

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    Draft Position: No. 1

    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 16.0 PER, 4.9 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.957 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    The Chicago Bulls and their 1.7 percent chance of winning the lottery lucked into the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft and have reaped the benefits ever since. 

    Derrick Rose was tremendous throughout the majority of his first season in the NBA, helping the Bulls earn the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. 

    As for that rookie wall, well, let's just say that Rose obliterated it. He scored 36 points (tied with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in a rookie playoff debut) and dished out 11 assists in an overtime victory against the Boston Celtics

    The Bulls went down to the defending champions in seven games, but Rose averaged 19.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game, cementing his status as a star in the league. 

4. Kyrie Irving (2011-2012)

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    Draft Position: No. 1

    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 22.1 PER, 2.2 WS (So far)

    Rookie of the Year Share: No idea

     

    Let me make it perfectly clear: this slide is operating under the assumption that Kyrie Irving maintains his level of play, and the Cleveland Cavaliers continue contending for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. 

    The word "sensational" was really included in the title of this article because it's the only way to describe this rookie point guard's level of play. 

    Now I'm sure that putting him above Derrick Rose is going to be a little bit controversial, especially because it's hard to remember D-Rose's first year in the league without thinking about his most recent MVP-winning campaign. So here's a full breakdown comparing the two. 

    On the surface, Irving and Rose have pretty similar stats. Irving has been a slightly better scorer and Rose was better at dishing the ball of to teammates, although he did have better teammates than Irving has now. But when you dig deeper, Irving is pretty clearly superior. 

    Irving is scoring more points despite playing almost eight minutes per game less, thanks to his vastly superior 58.2 TS%. Rose's was only 51.6 percent during his first season with the Chicago Bulls. 

    As always though, there's way more to basketball than just scoring. 

    Irving's AST% is higher than Rose's, with a mark of 34.9 percent to Rose's 28.8. 

    According to Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating, Irving has been better on both ends of the court. His 111 ORtg is slightly better than Rose's 108, just like his 107 DRtg is a bit better than Rose's 113. 

    It's weird to think about, but Irving has simply been better than Rose as a rookie. 

    Now that's not to say that Irving will end up being a better player in the future. Rose made a dramatic jump in level of play to his current form, and I seriously doubt that Irving will win an MVP award anytime soon. 

3. Chris Paul (2005-2006)

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    Draft Position: No. 4

    Team: New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.1 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 22.1 PER, 10.4 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.997 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    Chris Paul was already one of the best point guards in the NBA as soon as he first stepped onto the basketball court for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. 

    En route to a near-unanimous victory in the Rookie of the Year voting, Paul led his team in minutes played, points, assists and steals. The only first-place vote he didn't receive was that of Ron Boone, a Utah Jazz analyst who voted for local favorite Deron Williams. 

    Paul recorded a triple-double during that incredible rookie season and was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month each and every time the award was handed out. 

2. LeBron James (2003-2004)

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    Draft Position: No.1 

    Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 18.3 PER, 5.1 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 0.861 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    It didn't take long for the world to recognize that LeBron James was a future stud as he put up 25 points (on 60 percent shooting), nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in his NBA debut. He quickly became the only rookie besides Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson (at the time) to average more than 20 points, five rebounds and five assists during his rookie season.

    The Rookie of the Year in 2004 scored 41 points in a game during his rookie season, making him the youngest player to ever break the 40-point barrier.

    But most impressively, the Cleveland Cavaliers improved by 18 wins and came away just one game short of making the playoffs for the first time since 1998.   

1. Blake Griffin (2010-2011)

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    Draft Position: No. 1 (in 2009)

    Team: Los Angeles Clippers

    Rookie Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks

    Advanced Stats: 21.9 PER, 9.8 WS

    Rookie of the Year Share: 1.000 (Finished No. 1 in the balloting)

     

    I feel comfortable saying that Blake Griffin leads all rookies in NBA history in YouTube highlights. 

    The big man for the Los Angeles Clippers came off a one-year absence from competitive play and just Mozgov-ed the opposition all year long. Most impressively though, he improved each and every month as the year progressed, and he got more and more experience. 

    No matter how good you say this rookie season is, you're probably not going to be exaggerating. 

    He was the first rookie to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in more than a decade (Elton Brand in 1999-2000 was the last player to do so) and was the first unanimous Rookie of the Year since David Robinson in 1990. 

    Most impressively though, Blake single-handedly made the Clippers relevant in the NBA world.