NBA Awards 2012: Projecting the Top Rookie of the Year Candidates

Kevin Van PeltCorrespondent IMay 7, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 19:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during warm ups against the New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center on March 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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This year's class of NBA rookies did not disappoint. Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 and has played well enough to win Rookie of the Year.

However, there are other players who have deserved to be in the discussion for this award.

Let's take a look at who will be in contention.


Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

As mentioned, the No.1 overall pick in the 2011 draft has not disappointed. Irving was drafted as the Cavs' franchise point guard, and there is no reason to think that he will not be that for the upcoming future.

Irving is far and away the favorite to win the award, and it will be a shock if he doesn't. He led the team in scoring, averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. He also had good control of the ball for a rookie and limited his turnovers to just three a game.

Irving lived up to his No. 1 pick in his rookie season, and his future is bright. The award should be his unless something unusual happens.


Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Leonard is a rookie who probably won't get much attention during the voting period for Rookie of the Year.

However, he was clearly one of the best rookies in this class. Leonard fits perfectly into coach Greg Popovich's game plan and has been a great role-player for the Spurs.

His defensive presence was certainly noticed, as he led the team in steals with 1.3 per game in just 24 minutes.

Leonard has a bright future with the team and will keep the Spurs' train rolling after the Duncan era has passed. His high basketball IQ makes him do all the intangibles that a coach looks for, and he helps his teams wins games.

Voters who may be consumed in stats may overlook Leonard, but he deserves a nod.


Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings

The last pick in the NBA draft rarely gets mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate.

This year, though, Thomas has played exceptionally well for the Kings. He averaged 11.5 points and 4.1 assists for his rookie campaign. 

The Kings have been in the bottom of the Western Conference standings for the past six years, and Thomas has provided some hope for the team. He has been one of the biggest surprises of the season, as even the Kings' fans probably didn't think much of picking him in the draft. 

Don't be surprised if Thomas finishes second to Irving in the voting.


Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets forward is a type of player whom any team would like to have.

Faried is a hard-nosed player who always gives second and third efforts on plays. He is not afraid to do the dirty work for the Nuggets and is a great asset for a team that lacks star power.

In just 22 minutes, Faried averaged 10.2 points per game, along with 7.7 rebounds. His ability to grab rebounds is uncanny; he stands at 6'8", but plays like a seven-footer. Faried also shot 58 percent from the field and was very smart on the court.

In my mind, Faried is the Rookie of the Year, but I don't get a vote. Expect him to get some attention during the voting process, but Faried will fall short to Thomas and Irving.