Early last week, I overheard a certain local TV play-by-play duo shocked that a player on the team it covers wasn't getting more respect from the media.
The broadcasters went on to praise "their" player while having a hard time coming up with another rookie whose stats could even compare with their guy's.
So, I thought I'd take a closer look at the numbers. Below is a comparison of four of the top rookies since the All-Star break.
Just looking at the numbers, Player A obviously gets the most minutes and scores more but has a low shooting percentage. Player B has a slightly lower scoring mark with a slightly better shooting percentage. Meanwhile, Players C and D have great numbers from the field while contributing in multiple categories.
So which player was the play-by-play team's guy? Player B, aka Al Thornton of the Clippers. I'll be the first to admit that Thornton's numbers are on par with the other three players on the list, but in no way would I say his numbers blow away the competition.
And that's the beauty of this year's rookie race -- there are so many first-year players contributing in big ways. Player A (Kevin Durant) is the go-to guy in Seattle, Player C (Al Horford) is a double-double machine in Atlanta and Player D (Thaddeus Young) has burst onto the scene in Philadelphia.
(Send comments, complaints or hype for your favorite rookie to Drew Packham at email@example.com.)
|NBA Rookie Rankings|
|1 ||1 || ||
Not only does Horford maintain the top spot in this week's rankings, but he also took home the Eastern Conference's Rookie of the Month honors for February. In his first five games of March (which included four Hawks losses), Horford averaged 12.6 points and 9.6 rebounds while going 25-for-41 (61 percent) from the field. Horford is starting to get attention, and not just from those who follow the rookies closely. A guy by the name of Big Al has posted a mix video of the "other" Big Al on YouTube.
|2 ||2 || ||
Durant apparently got word his stock has been slipping in certain rookie rankings compiled by media, and he responded to the criticism. "I just tell myself that I'm getting better," he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Most reporters haven't played a game in the NBA. They don't know how hard it is to play every night, back-to-back against the best players in the world. I let them talk and I just keep getting better. I know it's a process and I am going to make mistakes." I'll be the first to admit that I've never played in the league (my money tear-drop floater couldn't make up for my lack of height), but I've watched all the rookies intently, and my rankings are based on statistics, trends and all-around value to the player's team. It's not easy making distinctions between several of these rookies, but choices have to be made. For Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo's money, Durant should get the nod. "I think he's the best rookie in the league. It's not even close," Carlesimo told the newspaper. "If you've seen him all year, I don't think there's any question who the best rookie in the league is."
|3 ||3 || ||
Like Horford, Thornton has finally earned a pretty decent highlight reel on YouTube. The mix video shows off Thornton's athleticism, in particular a recent play in which he drives baseline, comes under the basket and dunks over Kings center Brad Miller (about 2:19 into video). In four games last week, Thornton averaged 16.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. The only downside to Thornton's week? A 10-turnover dud in the Clippers' 26-point loss to the Sixers.
|4 ||4 || ||
Scola was named Western Conference Rookie of Month for February, ending Durant's three-month string of honors. Scola averaged 11.7 points and shot 62.9 percent from the field during Houston's 13-0 February. Scola's hot play has continued in March, as he averaged 12.2 points and 9.5 boards in the first four games -- all victories for the Rockets, who entered the week with an 18-game winning streak.
|5 ||6 || ||
There aren't too many rookies who have plays designed specifically for them. So it's even more impressive when Young has a game like he did Sunday, when he scored 22 points in the Sixers' 119-97 win over the Bucks. "He scored 20-plus points and we didn't run one play for him," coach Maurice Cheeks told reporters after the game. "That's the way he plays. Thaddeus has been playing that way since we put him in there." In three games last week, Young averaged 17.6 points and 5.7 rebounds and was 21-for-26 from the field (that's a not-so-shabby 80.8 percent for those keeping track).
|6 ||5 || ||
Moon's story is becoming so well known, he says it's ready for the big screen. "They should make a movie," Moon told the Toronto Star. "[Teammate] Anthony Parker can play me." The Raptors are just 2-4 in their last six games, but Moon has found his stride -- especially on the defensive end. Moon averaged nearly three steals, along with 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds, in four games last week.
|7 ||8 || ||
A swollen knee has slowed down the Rockets' rapidly rising rookie, but the praise continues to roll in. "He's got no rookie in him right now. He's playing like he's been in the league for five years," general manager Daryl Morey told the Boston Globe. Morey continued his praise of the Purdue product in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Anybody who tells you they knew he was going to be this good isn't being straight with you. ... We're still waiting for him to play like a rookie."
|8 ||-- || ||
The departure of Ben Wallace has meant more playing time for Noah (29.2 mpg last week), and the energetic big man has made the most of his opportunity. Noah averaged a double-double (13.0 points, 10.2 rebounds) while going 16-for-31 from the field in Chicago's four-game week. Noah had possibly his finest game as a pro in a victory against the Cavs, collecting 13 points and a career-high 20 rebounds -- against Wallace, no less. "I'm not surprised," Wallace said of Noah after the game. "He's going to be a good player. ... It's just a matter of bringing it every game and being consistent."
|9 ||10 || ||
Green's numbers don't always impress, but then you look at the rookie leaders and you see that he is fifth in scoring and near the top in several other categories. For the season, Green is aveaging 9.2 points (tied for fifth with Scola) and 4.7 rebounds in 26.0 minutes. Plus, he's getting it done on the defensive end, which is keeping him on the floor. Last Wednesday in Milwaukee, Green tied his career highs in both blocked shots and steals, with three apiece, but it wasn't enough to save the Sonics, who are on pace to finish with the worst record in franchise history.
|10 ||7 || ||
Navarro's numbers are down lately (he shot 36.2 percent from the field in February and opened March hitting 3-of-17 from three-point range), but he still believes he's worthy of a long-term deal with Memphis. He hopes to sign an extension soon.
"I want to stay here. I'm happy," Navarro told the Memphis Commercial Appeal last week. "But I want to help this team win games. I don't think anybody likes losing. I'm happy with the minutes I have. I've tried to make the best of my game and not only by shooting three-pointers. I've shown I can do more things." As for the Grizzlies, they're taking a wait-and-see attitude. "He is a legitimate NBA player," GM Chris Wallace said. "We have interest in him and he's done a terrific job this year. I don't know what his market is going to be."
|Honorable mention: Jared Dudley, Bobcats (35.4 mpg, 10.8 ppg, 9.0 rpg in last five games); Nick Young, Wizards (11.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg in four games last week); Javaris Crittenton, Grizzlies (8.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg in three games last week); Brandan Wright, Warriors (started five recent games, including 12- and 13-point performances) |