Last year, Stephen Curry shot 44 percent from three-point range on his way to averaging 18 points and six assists in his rookie campaign. Brandon Jennings lit up the Warriors for 55 points and led the Bucks to an encouraging playoff berth.
Neither of them won Rookie of the Year.
In one of the stiffest competitions ever for the prestigious award, Tyreke Evans won by becoming only the fourth rookie in history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists per game.
However, some years the competition is a bit less fierce. In 2001, the NBA gave the Rookie of the Year award to Mike Miller mostly just because they had to give it to someone following one of the most disappointing draft classes ever. Simply put, there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to young players. Injuries, shooting slumps, or just cracking under pressure can undercut any seemingly promising career.
The best example to prove this is by looking back at the top picks in each draft and comparing them to the Rookies of the Year. Despite the fact that many of these players were "can't-miss" prospects, only three of the last 12 first overall picks have won the Rookie of the Year (and only two have done so on their own, as Elton Brand shared the crown with Steve Francis in 1999).
|Draft Year||No. 1 Pick||Rookie of the Year|
|1998||Michael Olowakandi||Vince Carter|
|1999||Elton Brand||Steve Francis/Elton Brand (shared)|
|2000||Kenyon Martin||Mike Miller|
|2001||Kwame Brown||Pau Gasol|
|2002||Yao Ming||Amar'e Stoudemire|
|2003||LeBron James||LeBron James|
|2004||Dwight Howard||Emeka Okafor|
|2005||Andrew Bogut||Chris Paul|
|2006||Andrea Bargnani||Brandon Roy|
|2007||Greg Oden||Kevin Durant|
|2008||Derrick Rose||Derrick Rose|
|2009||Blake Griffin||Tyreke Evans|
So who will do it this year? Will it be the first pick, John Wall, the former first pick, Blake Griffin, or someone else? If history is any indication, any prediction can only be described as an educated guess.
While he may have been a bit of an reach at the fourth spot by Minnesota, there is no denying that Wesley Johnson is going to have an immediate impact in the NBA.
After a disappointing sophomore year at Iowa State, Johnson waited the mandated year before transferring to Syracuse, where his college career took off. He demonstrated a tremendous touch from three-point range, was a hugely improved defender, and finally harnessed some of his athletic gifts that had gone untapped, leading Syracuse to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Here's just a quick comparison of his sophomore and junior seasons to show his tremendous improvement.
Now, playing on a team which only won 15 games in the 2009-2010 season, Johnson will be asked to help right the ship and resurrect a team which has struggled mightily as it tried to transition out of the Latrell Sprewell-Sam Cassell-Kevin Garnett phase. With a pretty weak wing rotation after Corey Brewer and Martell Webster, Johnson will get every opportunity to do so.
His athleticism, length, and shooting touch allow him to be a very successful player. If he can learn to make others better, he could be as good as anyone in the draft class. He's a great rebounder and an even better shot blocker.
Will he be the NBA's Rookie of the Year then? Probably not, but he will be one of the league's top rookies and an exciting player to watch.
The National Player of the Year, Evan Turner, played one of the more memorable seasons in recent memory despite breaking his back early in the season. He hit an incredible buzzer-beating gamewinner against Michigan, scored tremendously well, and led Ohio State to a Big Ten title and an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen.
A tremendously skilled and diverse player who can score the ball, defend, and rebound like a big man, Turner would be able to help nearly any team. Unfortunately, while he'll be a huge lift for the 76ers, he fits in fairly poorly with them.
With two great young players in Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday, the 76ers seem like they will have an incredible threesome at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward, but they all play very similar games. They excel at driving to the basket and scoring, but none of them are great scorers. Potentially playing with no true shooters on the floor at times, the 76ers and Turner will struggle on offense without spacing.
Unfortunately for Turner, this is really the only reason why he isn't up there with Wall as a Rookie of the Year candidate. He was the nation's best collegiate player last year and there's no reason to think he can't continue.
Perhaps if he hadn't shown similar maturity issues that plagued a recent No. 2 draft pick, DeMarcus Cousins would have been the one who had his name called first instead of his freshman teammate, John Wall. Having the best offensive season of anyone in the league last year (see chart below), Cousins has a very high potential to be one of the league's most dominant big men.
Often compared to a bigger and more healthy version of Al Jefferson, Cousins is a tremendous post player who scored on anyone in college. Now, in the NBA, he will still be bigger than almost anyone he faces, but he will have to showcase some of the finesse that appeared sporadically in his freshman year to become the player he could develop into.
Looking at NBA centers, there are very few who can work in the post, shoot three-pointers, and inhale rebounds like Cousins; therefore his potential value is enormous. While Evan Turner could turn into a fantastic shooting guard, there are so many great shooting guards that he would likely be one of many; however, Cousins could be a top two or three center in a couple years and maybe even a top five center in his first year if all goes well.
It all depends on him. If he works his butt off, he could easily be the Rookie of the Year, but if he merely skates by on physical gifts and talent alone, he will merely be a good player, a shadow of what he could potentially become.
The presumed Rookie of the Year favorite in a supposedly otherwise weak rookie class, Blake Griffin was lost to injury early on and his season ended before it even started. However, Griffin looks like a top candidate to take the crown as he rejoins the Los Angeles Clippers in a year that holds a lot of promise for the up-and-coming squad.
An incredible athletic specimen, Griffin was supposed to come in from day one and overpower opponents with his physicality and motor down low. He is an outstanding rebounder and is a tremendous finisher at the rim. So why is he not the favorite for Rookie of the Year?
The reason lies in why he did not play last season: his knee.
He has always had injury concerns with his knees before suffering a stress fracture in the preseason last year, and its failure to heal properly did not help him win over any supporters. He required surgery in January and sat out the rest of the year.
While he is reported to be fully healthy for training camp and the beginning of the season, one cannot under represent the potential effect that not playing competitive basketball for a year can have. It will take him a while to work his way back into a rhythm and the risk of re-injury is enough to preclude him from being the odds on favorite for Rookie of the Year.
The consensus No. 1 pick before he even stepped on the court for his first game in a Kentucky uniform, John Wall has managed to surpass even the highest of expectations as he led Kentucky to the Elite Eight.
While he still needs to improve his long distance shooting, there is no doubt that he should be able to come in and blow by opposing point guards from day one and show off his tremendous playmaking skills. He's already a good passer and should continue to improve as he plays more and more at the NBA level. While he may not be more athletic than Nate Robinson or a better passer than Chris Paul, he clearly is the complete package and will help the Wizards tremendously.
Perhaps most importantly, the Wizards appear to be handing off the team to Wall, something that has hurt previous candidates in the past when their team had someone blocking him with an older player. While the Wizards had a former franchise point guard (with four years, $80 million left on his contract), they chose to move Arenas to shooting guard to accommodate Wall. He has a terrific mentor who helped a previous No. 1 pick (Derrick Rose) in Kirk Hinrich, and appears to have all the tools to put together an incredible rookie campaign.
Whether he does or not will likely depend on whether he works hard or skates by on talent alone, but Wizards fans should be salivating at the prospect of having him as their next franchise point guard.