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Curry Kirkpatrick
February 20, 1978
The NBA's rookies are resoundingly led by the Suns' Davis, Johnson of the Bucks and King of the Nets
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February 20, 1978

It's Whoooosh! Boom! Whoop! Time

The NBA's rookies are resoundingly led by the Suns' Davis, Johnson of the Bucks and King of the Nets

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Unfortunately, whispers have followed King since he was arrested five times in 15 months while an undergraduate at Knoxville—prowling; drunken driving; burglary; picky, picky, picky. NBA opponents didn't know whether to guard him or book him. But so far the Brooklyn native, who doesn't give interviews so much as he distributes oratory—"In reflection of that particular question," Bernard will begin—has kept his nose clean outside of a one-game suspension for missing practice and arriving late for a game.

"I don't like to formulate assumptions that only provoke thought," King said when asked to name his candidate for Rookie of the Year. "If you think you are most deserving, why offer it to anyone else?"

Why offer it to Marques Johnson? Because, says Milwaukee radio voice Eddie Doucette, who took one look at Johnson's incendiary bomb-dunking prowess and labeled him "the Grand Slam," Marques is "affable, articulate, visible, charismatic, has savoir faire and is the next O. J. Simpson." Well, maybe so. The handsome Californian also scored high in diplomacy when he complimented the inhuman Milwaukee winter weather: "It just gives me a chance to broaden horizons."

On the basketball front, Johnson is equally polished. He does not have the outside shooting touch or scoring ability of his rookie rivals, but he carries a bigger load at both ends of the floor. "We ask Marques to get points and rebounds, to get out on the break and run, to defend the heavy hitters, to take the physical punishment," says Coach Don Nelson. "I haven't seen a guy so willing to learn and to play the non-glory aspects since Dave Cowens."

Johnson is so strong in what coaches call "the low box area," and such a monster of a jumper, that most of his shots are initiated from above the rim. "I've been wrapped up in going to the basket all my life," he says.

The 220-pound Johnson is listed at 6'7" but doesn't look that tall, which makes his numbers off the glass seem all the more outrageous. The Grand Slam has led the Bucks both in scoring and rebounding in 19 games, including the team's exhausting 152-150 triple-over-time defeat of the New York Knicks, in which he played 52 minutes and had 27 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots. In a split of two games against Erving and the 76ers, Johnson's card read 56 points and 28 rebounds to Dr. J's 52 and nine.

Milwaukee Guard Quinn Buckner attributes his teammate's rebounding artistry to extraordinary lateral jumping. "Marques doesn't let too many balls come to him," Buckner says. "He's got a flex span like David Thompson. He's up, then he's over there, then he's way over there. He's ridiculous."

Buck Forward Dave Meyers, who played college ball with Johnson, says, "Did I think Marques would be this good? Marques was this good as a freshman at UCLA."

Walter Davis was not as good when he was a freshman at Chapel Hill. Nor did he possess his currently brilliant all-round running, jumping, passing, shooting and defending skills, which have everybody in the NBA comparing him to—don't strike them dead, Lord—John Havlicek. He was introduced to Havlicek before a Phoenix victory over Boston. Davis then poured in a career-high 40 points, many of them over Hondo's bewildered head.

Actually, nobody could tell how good Sweet D was in college, so frequently did North Carolina Coach Dean Smith run him in and out of the lineup, and so willing was Davis to subjugate his talents within the Tar Heel team concept. Big Carolina names, such as Bobby Jones (with whom Davis also played in high school), Mitch Kupchak and Phil Ford, always got the ink while, Davis says, "I felt like the kind who made A's on his report card but nobody said, 'Good work.' Coach Smith kept me going."

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