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Posted: Tuesday March 31, 2009 2:37PM; Updated: Tuesday March 31, 2009 6:25PM
Bryan Armen Graham Bryan Armen Graham >
NBA ROOKIE RANKINGS

Emerging Lee helping lead Magic into playoffs from backcourt

Story Highlights

Bulls' playoff push likely to sew up Rookie of the Year award for Derrick Rose

O.J. Mayo is averaging 14.7 points per game in March, his lowest mark of season

Courtney Lee's careful play has earned praise from Magic coach Stan Van Gundy

As Chicago's Derrick Rose creates some separation in the Rookie of the Year race -- and SI.com's Rookie Rankings -- the most interesting developments are happening at the bottom of our table.

No fewer than half a dozen players made a serious play for the No. 10 spot over the past week. There was Miami's Michael Beasley, who's made important contributions for the playoff-bound Heat. There was Charlotte's D.J. Augustin, the reserve point guard whose second-half resurgence is coinciding with the Bobcats' unlikely postseason push. And there was Golden State's Anthony Morrow, whose 29-point eruption (on 10-of-11 shooting) last Wednesday in Dallas secured his place in the conversation.

But it was Orlando's Courtney Lee who earned his Rookie Rankings debut for his standout play alongside Rafer Alston in the Magic backcourt. Twelve months after leading Western Kentucky into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Lee is producing as the starting shooting guard for one of the league's best teams.

(All stats and records are through Monday.)

NBA Rookie Rankings
 
1Derrick Rose
Last Week: 1
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
After bruising his wrist on a missed dunk attempt during a March 23 game in Washington, Rose missed his first game of the season last Tuesday and came off the bench in Thursday's win over the Heat. He returned to the lineup over the weekend and showed no signs of the injury Saturday against Indiana (16 points, eight assists, nine rebounds) and Sunday in Toronto (23 points, nine assists, three rebounds). As the Bulls inch toward the postseason, Rose appears more and more a lock to bring home Rookie of the Year honors.
 
 
2Russell Westbrook
Last Week: 3
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
The 7-footer deserves more ROY consideration than he's going to get. The lone Net to appear in every game this season, Lopez is averaging 12.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and a rookie-leading 1.8 blocks. If the offensive production seems on the low end for a top rookie candidate, consider that Lopez is averaging a mere 2.46 free-throw attempts -- a mystifying figure for a traditional post player averaging 32.3 minutes. The Nets' postseason dreams may have faded -- they've slipped 5 games behind Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot -- but the emergence of Lopez has made this season an important building block.
 
3Brook Lopez
Last Week: 2
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook has shot the ball poorly lately while his Thunder, after winning four of five games to open the month, have dropped seven of their past nine. But Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks isn't ready to sound the alarms just yet. "All guys have shooting slumps," Brooks told The Oklahoman. "He hasn't shot the ball well but he's done other things we like that he's improving on. He's making his teammates better. He's passing the ball. He makes his free throws, rebounds and is playing good defense."
 
4Kevin Love
Last Week: 5
O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
It's too little, too late for the fading freshman, whose days as a serious Rookie of the Year candidate have passed. Mayo is averaging just 14.7 points in March, his lowest monthly clip of the season and an obvious symptom of his inability to get to the charity stripe. Mayo had attempted just 26 free throws in 14 games in March before stepping to the line eight times Monday against Golden State.
 
5O.J. Mayo
Last Week: 8
Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
With Portland very much in the mix for a Northwest Division title, Fernandez has been delivering in the home stretch. Following a 19-point outburst against the Sixers last week, Fernandez scored 23 points against Phoenix on 8-for-10 shooting, including 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. The highlight came at the end of the third quarter, when Fernandez scored five points in 1.7 seconds to slam the door on Phoenix's comeback hopes. "That's the Rudy I think everyone knows," teammate Travis Outlaw told The Columbian after the game. "I'm glad he's back now." With 139 three-pointers, Fernandez needs 20 more in the next nine games to break Kerry Kittles' single-season rookie record.
 
6Marc Gasol
Last Week: 4
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
In three games over the past four days, Gasol has averaged 17.0 points on 61.5 percent shooting. The Spaniard pumped in a team-high 27 points (8-for-12 from the floor and 11-for-11 from the stripe) to help Memphis to its first victory in Sacramento in 11 years. You have to admire the guy's season-long efficiency; his rookie-high field-goal percentage (52.9) remains on track to break his brother Pau's franchise rookie record (51.8 in 2001-02).
 
7Kevin Love
Last Week: 4
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Love recorded his 15th double-double in the past 28 games Sunday against the Nets, finishing with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds to help the Timberwolves snap a seven-game skid. "It's just different," Love told the St. Paul Pioneer Press about his freshman orientation. "Everything's been an adjustment, whether it's on the court or off the court. I just feel like it's gotten better and better. Not as far as winning, but if we're talking about how I feel out there and confidence, I feel a lot better."
 
8Jason Thompson
Last Week: 7
Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings
It's been some stretch for Thompson, who's connected on 64.0 percent of his field-goal attempts over his past five games. He's averaging 16.0 points and 10.4 rebounds with three double-doubles over that span, including a team-high 21 points and eight rebounds Sunday in a victory against Phoenix. But turnovers have emerged as a concern; the former MAAC Player of the Year is averaging 2.3 giveaways in March. Still, Sacramento's woeful record means Thompson should get the opportunity to play through his mistakes and work out the wrinkles in his game.
 
9Eric Gordon
Last Week: 10
Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers
Perhaps the best pure scorer in this year's rookie crop, Gordon overcame a mid-month swoon to post another week's worth of prolific offensive performances. In three games over the past six days, Gordon averaged 18.0 points while shooting 40.1 percent from the floor and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc. He's averaging 19.5 points since New Year's Day, tops among first-year players.
 
10Eric Gordon
Last Week: NR
Courtney Lee, Orlando Magic
Lee is averaging 17.6 points on 57.1 percent shooting in his past seven games. He's made 33 starts for the Magic since passing Mickael Pietrus and J.J. Redick on his way up the depth chart -- and doesn't seem ready to give up the starting spot anytime soon. "I don't feel like we're playing with a rookie out there," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. "He just doesn't make very many mistakes."
 
Honorable Mention
Michael Beasley, Heat (10.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg in three games); Mario Chalmers, Heat (9.3 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 spg in four games); D.J. Augustin, Bobcats (15.7 ppg, 2.3 apg, 6-of-9 from three-point range in three games); Anthony Morrow, Warriors (15.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg in four games); Greg Oden, Trail Blazers (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg in two games); Roy Hibbert, Pacers (8.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg in three games).

 
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