5 Real-Deal Candidates for 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year

Branden FitzPatrick@divingmelvinCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2012

5 Real-Deal Candidates for 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year

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    While there are a handful of good rookies in the 2011 NBA Draft class, there are only a few who actually have a shot at winning NBA Rookie of the Year.

    It's been interesting to see how many quality players have come from last year's draft. The 2011 NBA draft was supposed to be weak. There were no LeBron James'. No Derrick Rose's. Not even a LaMarcus Aldridge. One of the most exciting players in the draft was Jimmer Fredette, the 2011 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year, who played at BYU in the small West Coast Conference. Not necessarily a NBA talent factory.

    The lockout shortened season looked like it would be a recipe for disaster for the young players coming into the league. With no offseason and barely any training camp, the 2011 rookies had to adjust to NBA life on the fly.

    Even with the difficulty of the compressed season, some rookies have flourished and taken advantage of their opportunities. Here is a list of five players who have a legitimate shot at winning the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

5. Brandon Knight

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    This easily could have been Kemba Walker's spot, but it wouldn't seem right to be considered a Rookie of the Year candidate when your team has won fewer than five games.

    As for Brandon Knight, he's been pretty good for the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons should be ecstatic that he fell to them in the draft. Knight may not be a franchise player like a Kevin Durant, but he's a great piece to begin to build a team around.

    As a point guard, Knight needs to improve at getting his teammates more involved if he wants to take the next step as a player. He only averages 3.4 assists a game, which is not good for a starting point guard. Knight also needs to improve in his consistency. There are nights where he will finish with only two points and some nights where he will finish with 24.

    But Knight has the ability to take over games, and that's rare. Head coach Lawrence Frank loves the energy and effort that Knight brings to the team. His teammates also love him. After a win against the Sacramento Kings in mid-February, Rodney Stuckey said

    "I love playing with Brandon, and he is improving every day. We're going to have a lot of years together, and it is only going to get better."

    Knight could be the first puzzle piece in the Pistons journey back to eastern conference supremacy. Look for him to be huge down the stretch of the NBA season.  

4. Isaiah Thomas

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    Have you ever heard of either Robert Dozier or Dwayne Collins? Both were the last pick in the NBA draft. Both never played a game in the NBA. The list goes on and on of former No. 60th picks in the draft that have never played in a NBA game. The last pick in the NBA draft is usually a graveyard for a career.

    But not for Isaiah Thomas.

    While most of the media is focused on the fascinating story of Jeremy Lin, Thomas has been creating a fascinating story for himself in Sacramento. He went from an undersized star at the University of Washington, to the last pick in the NBA draft, to the starting point guard for the Sacramento Kings.

    He was the co-Rookie of the Month in February, along with the No. 1 pick in the draft, Kyrie Irving. In eight games as the starting point guard for the Kings, Thomas has averaged 16 points and 5.8 assists, while shooting 46 percent from the field.

    What makes Thomas special is that he's a true leader. He doesn't care that he was the last pick in the draft. He never gets intimidated and always tries to make the right play, not the big play.

    Thomas is only going to improve as the season goes on. He's learning from former Kings point guard, Bobby Jackson, who is an assistant coach on the team. He is the point guard the Kings have desperately needed.  

    Every year in the draft there's a guy that has been a great college player throughout his tenure, but is overlooked for certain reasons. In 2009 it was DeJuan Blair because of questions surrounding his durability and knee surgeries. In the 2011 draft, it was Thomas because of his height. Teams shouldn't underestimate Thomas' height anymore. He looks like the real deal. 

3. MarShon Brooks

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    MarShon Brooks was a great late first round pick by the New Jersey Nets.

    Brooks is one of the most efficient scorers from the rookie class. He's averaging 13.8 points per game and shooting 44 percent from the field. 

    Brooks is a promising young player. If the Nets can acquire Dwight Howard in the offseason, the roster will be very promising. Brooks could thrive with other teams focusing on Howard and Deron Williams.

    Though Brooks has developed into a dangerous scoring threat, he's not a real threat to win the Rookie of the Year award over the next two guys. 

2. Ricky Rubio

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    The race for Rookie of the Year is really only between two guys—Ricky Rubio and Irving.

    The Timberwolves drafted Rubio in the 2009 NBA draft, but this is his first year playing in the NBA. 

    And so far he's been wonderful. 

    There was some doubt at first if Rubio could become a good NBA player because of his struggles in Europe. But in Rick Adelman's system, he's flourished. Rubio and Kevin Love are one of the most intriguing duos in the NBA. The Wolves, who have been a laughing stock in the league the past few years, are now a young and up-and-coming team. 

    Rubio plays unlike any other point guard in the league. It's beautiful to watch. He's getting all of his teammates involved with dazzling bounce passes and alley-oop lobs. Rubio averages the fourth most assists a game (8.3) in the NBA. His unselfishness has had a contagious effect on his teammates. The whole team is playing better as a unit. What's most impressive about Rubio's play is that he makes all of his teammates better. That's what a point guard is supposed to do. 

    Timberwolves basketball hasn't been this fun to watch since the Kevin Garnett/Sam Cassel era and it's all because of Rubio.  

1. Kyrie Irving

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    The Rookie of the Year award is Irving's to lose. 

    Irving has been a special player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He's not LeBron James, but he's definitely a centerpiece player. The NBA is becoming a point guard league, and the Cavaliers have a special one to go forward with.  

    Irving leads all rookies with 18.6 points per game and he is second to Minnesota’s Rubio with 5.1 assists.

    When it came time to show how he matched up against the other rookies and sophomores in the Rising Stars Challenge, Irving was a perfect 8-for-8 from beyond the arc and finished with 34 points. His supreme talent rose to the top in the glorified pick up game. 

    Irving is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award because he's the Cavaliers best player, where Rubio has Love and a bundle of other quality players.