Hope springs eternal on NBA Draft night each June as perennial lottery teams hope to select a franchise-defining star, and the playoff outfits with picks, extra cash and roster spots try to unearth late first and second-round gems.
This season's Rookie of the Year race boasts plenty of qualified entrants. Impact scorers and high flyers lead this talented creme of the crop, but no more than two can snag the coveted award. Might the current co-leaders share the honor a la Jason Kidd and Grant Hill? That discussion should resume in February when John Wall and Blake Griffin can flaunt a more substantial body of rookie work.
You did not think anybody else would lead off the debate, did you? Aw, poor baby.
A week of regular season action might not provide an extended curriculum vitae for any of the hopefuls, but the ten-day snapshot does paint an early picture. The consensus is the probable winner won't win much. Just one of the applicants mentioned here plays on a team that harbors realistic playoff hopes.
This projection assumes the seven squads remain on their current pace—a more likely scenario than some fans will want to admit. This annual welcome-to-the-league congratulations, though, nine times out of ten favors individual numbers (see Evans, Tyreke) over team performance.
The incubus is that each of these standout pro basketball freshmen will engineer many W's when the supporting cast improves with their own experience. Griffin and Wall, for example, are tasked with turning disastrous organizations to victorious ones.
I considered the following criteria when compiling the list:
- Current playing time vs. expected playing time (20 minutes was the minimum allotment)
- Anticipated role vs. current one
- Raw statistics
- Player's stardom chances
- His burden/impact on wins
- My own scouting reports that come from extensive NBA viewership
I excluded reserve specialists and support men and decided to restrict the conversation to one player per team. That requirement eliminated Eric Bledsoe, Gordon Hayward, Tiago Splitter, Omer Asik and Timofey Mozgov. All of those rookies will fulfill important roles this year. Bledsoe has sparkled as the Clippers starting point guard in Baron Davis' injury absence. The Utah Jazz need Hayward to bag open jumpers and become a tolerable defender to go anywhere of consequence.
Splitter's exquisite pick-and-roll defense and basketball IQ could keep Tim Duncan's door to a fifth title ajar. The Brazilian forward-center beckons physicality, navigates the interior with above average mobility for his size and, as Gregg Popovich noted, possesses the same "winning fiber" that permeated Manu Ginobili upon his stateside arrival.
The Spurs rotation also features two other impressive rookies, sharpshooters Gary Neal and James Anderson.
San Antonio's youngsters missed the cut because they suit up alongside three future Hall of Famers and a title-worthy cast and crew. Ditto for L.A. Lakers' draftees Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter. They can ball, too!
Mozgov has been a revelation as the Knicks surprise starter at center (even I did not expect such a fast role ascension for the Russian pivot), but his foul-prone defense and early averages ambushed his candidacy. A rookie New York teammate, though, did crack my seven-man rotation.
The closest ROY marathon in recent memory may not deliver any shockers, but it will provide plenty of sports column fodder. The deliberation continues...