ROY Race: Trimester Report
It’s no longer a Rose vs. Mayo discussion.
Since the premiere edition of ROY Race, we’ve learned a lot.
Certain players are exactly who we thought they were, and it appears others came into the League with too much hype. Rookies like Russell Westbrook, D.J. Augustin and Eric Gordon came in overlooked, but are gaining serious attention.
No player hatin’ this time around—we’ll just focus on what these rooks have done to stake claim over the rookie hardware. The moving and jocking for position has started, but the numbers and production on the court almost always speaks for itself.
Also, for the full rookie experience, stay tuned to Rookie Spotlight, as SLAM goes one-on-one with the top first-year pros learning the NBA life.
1. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Pros: While DRose has looked invisible at times—by his own doing, not by the hands of the defense—he continues to hover over 17 points and 6 assists per game. Still, you’d like to see more from No. 1. It may be asking too much, but having a couple of weeks of him averaging 20 and 10 isn’t beyond his capabilities. Putting it together as a rookie would cement him atop this list for good.
Cons: The Bulls had an off-year a season ago, so if the addition of Rose doesn’t get the Bulls back to the Playoffs—or even back to .500 basketball—then Rose’s candidacy for ROY may suffer. Also, while he always seems to be in control, teams are realizing that stopping his transition opportunities and chances in the lane makes Rose rely on an inconsistent jumper, which may be why his numbers are starting to drop just a little.
2. O.J. Mayo, Memphis Grizzlies
Pros: There are nights when O.J. simply carries the Grizzlies with his sweet jumper. He’s still the leading rookie scorer, and pulling down 4 boards and dishing 3 assists a night shows the kid can do a little of everything. The Grizzlies aren’t going to the Playoffs, but they have pulled some impressive upsets, so Mayo’s impact has already been felt around the League.
Cons: Once scoring over 21 per, Mayo’s scoring has dropped to just over 19 ppg. He’s still unquestionably the most gifted scorer in the class, but you can often check out the nightly box score and see him in the low teens or less. It doesn’t help that he is averaging more points in Grizzlies’ losses than in their wins.
3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Pros: December’s Rookie of the Month, and the subject of this week’s Rookie Spotlight, stepped his game up big time of late, and, in doing so, put the Thunder ahead of the 1972 Sixers’ pace for the worst record in League history. Elevating his numbers to 14 points, 4 boards and 4 assists per outing, the converted point guard is looking like the third-best rook at this stage. Having exploded for 30 and 31 this season, he relies on getting to the lane at will. His quickness and athleticism make him a “poor man’s Derrick Rose.”
Cons: He is still an inconsistent shooter, and his team is still the worst in the League. Need we say more?
4. D.J. Augustin, Charlotte Bobcats
Pros: Augustin’s 20-point night against the Celtics paled in comparison to him bucking up to The Truth. The kid is the best true point in the class, and with him putting up 12 points and 4 assists in less than 30 minutes per game, he is making people forget that M.J. look smart for making him the 9th overall selection in June. Augustin is just getting better with time, and his game is starting to resemble a young Jameer Nelson.
Cons: No matter how well Augustin plays, the Bobcats will probably lose on most nights. In addition, if Rose and Westbrook keep posting vet-like numbers then Augustin will only be seen as the third-best point in the class.
5. Michael Beasley, Miami Heat
Pros: Albeit in a loss, B-Easy finally got his first career double-double against the Spurs, after collecting 30 during his freshman season at Kansas State. While playing the fewest minutes of any rookie on this list, clocking just 25 minutes of tick per game, Beasley is still putting up 13 and 5. Not to sound like an apologist, but he is doing what he can with the opportunities he gets.
Cons: The 2008-09 Michael Beasley’s biggest competition is Kansas State’s 2007-08 version. Basically, you are always going to compare him to what he did in college.
6. Eric Gordon, L.A. Clippers
Pros: After a slow start, Eric Gordon is proving to be every bit of the scorer that we all saw at Indiana last year. With six straight 20-plus point games, Gordon possesses scoring ability that appropriately rivals O.J. Mayo’s. He is coming on at just the right time, and he is capable of sky-rocketing up this list as the season progresses.
Cons: A slow start for EG may have him out of everyone’s minds, and the Clippers’ struggles may keep him there. Quick starts other highly touted rooks may keep Gordon from claiming the ROY honors, even if he finishes strong.
7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Pros: Proving to be a much better scorer than expected, Marc is putting to shame every big man in this class. Currently giving the Grizz 11 points and 7 boards, the sky is the limit for Pau’s little brother.
Cons: If you are watching the Grizzlies on your League Pass, it is solely to see O.J. Mayo.
8. Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers
Pros: Rudy has had to score more with Brandon Roy temporarily on the pine. Like Beasley, he isn’t playing huge minutes but when given the green light, has shown he can be as reliable a perimeter scorer as any.
Cons: The comparison to Manu Ginobili was unjust, because he doesn’t seem to have that X-factor in him to take over a game whenever he sees fit.
9. Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Pros: Chalmers is the best defensive rookie guard with close to 2 steals per game, but it’s his 10 points that makes him a second-round steal for the Heat.
Cons: He’s beginning to struggle with his shot. Miami needs him knocking down much better than 36 percent from deep to stretch the court for DWade’s penetration.
10. Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets
Pros: Brooke Lopez is doing everything for the Nets that the Blazers hoped Greg Oden would do for them. Scoring 10 points, while pulling down 8 boards and blocking close to 2 shots per game is prototypical of a servable young center.
Cons: He doesn’t dominate, and he hasn’t been consistent in crunch time.
Rookies on the fringe (no particular order): George Hill (San Antonio); Courtney Lee (Orlando); Kevin Love (Minnesota); Greg Oden (Portland); and Luc Mbah a Moute (Milwaukee); JaVale McGee (Washington); Anthony Morrow (Golden State) and Brandon Rush (Indiana)
The Rose vs. Mayo debate may be on hold for now, as Westbrook, Augustin and Gordon are making it a real discussion. If either Rose or Mayo has a bad January, these rookies are playing their best ball and ready to move up the ranks.
Previous 2008-09 ROY Races editions: Dec. 23