Preseason Rookie of the Year Watch
If past trends are any indication, the Rookie of the Year this year will be a top 10 pick. The last player to be named Rookie of the Year in the NBA who wasn’t picked in the top 10 was Mark Jackson of the New York Knicks back in 1987. The lowest player since Jackson was Amare Stoudamire, who was picked 9th overall by Phoenix in 2002. Another trend to notice is that there has only ever been two foreign players to win the award since it began in the early 50’s. Those trends should help us narrow things down this year but it is important to note that many factors go into being chosen. As we’ve also seen in recent years, scoring can have a lot to do with impressing the voters so the ability to score and getting playing time will be important for this year’s candidates. Another important thing to note is that it is not simply given to the first player chosen overall, as the past four winners have all been at least 2.
Just to recap the draft real quick to refresh everyone’s memory and to help the argument of this article, this is what happened in 2008: 1. Derrick Rose, Chicago. 2. Michael Beasley, Miami. 3. O.J. Mayo, Minnesota. 4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City. 5. Kevin Love, Memphis. 6. Danilo Gallinari, New York. 7. Eric Gordon, Los Angeles Clippers. 8. Joe Alexander, Milwaukee. 9. D.J. Augustin, Charlotte. 10. Brook Lopez, New Jersey. We’ll take a quick look at each player and why he does and doesn’t deserve mention, then at the end I’ll let you know who I think has the best chance and why.
Derrick Rose left after his freshman year at Memphis. He was highly touted out of high school, making the McDonald’s All-American Team and was named a First Team All-America selection. He led his high school team to the state championship in Illinois two years in a row and was a huge scorer, even being named Mr. Basketball Illinois in 2007. Rose is one of the new hybrids of point guard who can not only score but also dish out assists. His draft stock rose exponentially after having a huge NCAA Tournament, leading his team to the finals and nearly upsetting Kansas. The arguments for Rose are that he is extremely athletic and not only has the ability to score at will but can also get rid of the ball. He brings a more athletic version of Jason Kidd to the table, with the ability to rebound, assist and score on any given night. Rose should be in a good situation in Chicago, with a good young team and a lot of local support.
Michael Beasley has a few similarities to Derrick Rose, but for the most part they are very different players. Beasley stands at 6’10’ and yet has the ability to score from anywhere on the floor. He has freakish athleticism that allows him to beat players off the dribble as well as spot up and shoot. He also led the Nation in rebounding to spearhead his argument for being chosen National Freshman of the Year. Unlike Rose, Beasley had a monstrous season that was slowed in the NCAA Tournament, but clearly not enough to hurt his draft position. Beasley, like Rose, was a big name coming out of high school after leading the McDonald’s All American game in scoring. The two both declared after their freshman years, and were drafted high enough to make such a decision very much worth the risk. Beasley is going to fit into a very interesting situation in Miami, where Marion and Wade are still the proven scorers on the team. Haslem is the big man on the boards, so it is hard to see where Beasley will fit in. He has the ability and talent to be a fantastic player in the NBA, but will Miami do enough scoring to spearhead a three-man attack?
O.J. Mayo is kind of a mix between Beasley and Rose. He doesn’t have the pure point guard nature or abilities of Rose or the dominant rebounding of Beasley, but he does have the ability to score, pass and rebound. At 6’5" he could play a few different positions in the NBA, but will most likely fit into a small forward or shooting guard type role. He was probably the highest touted player coming out of high school last season, and like the first two picks, elected to head into the draft after his freshman year. Mayo’s game is mainly focused on the offensive end, but he is probably the best defensively of the first three chosen. He has quick hands and works deceptively hard on the other end, but got all of his publicity from his amazing ability to score. In this regard, he is probably most like last year’s Rookie of the Year, Kevin Durant, in that college they both showed an amazing ability to score consistently. Mayo heads to a Memphis team searching for consistency and identity. His advantage is that his situation basically allows anyone on the team to step up, based on performance, so if Mayo proves he can score in the NBA, he will have a shot at plenty of playing time for the Grizzlies.
Russell Westbrook is the only player drafted in the top 7 who spent more than one year in college, leaving after his sophomore season instead. He was not a starter as a freshman, but worked his way into that role in his second year, but his deceptive ability allowed him to become a fantastic player at UCLA. Westbrook isn’t the type of player who has crazy numbers that stand out, but he is regarded as having a ton of upside and great quickness and leaping ability. He has good height for a point guard and his long arms allow him to be solid defensively. Westbrook is much more of a pure point guard than Derrick Rose and fits into the Chris Paul mold much better. Westbrook will not be the same player Chris Paul is, but he definitely has the ability and talent to be a solid point guard in the NBA. Oklahoma City has been looking for a real point guard since Gary Payton left, and Westbrook has the tools to do it. Unfortunately for him, his assist to turnover ratio is going to have to be ridiculous for him to garner Rookie of the Year votes. His drawback is the emphasis on scoring. Westbrook has the ability to score plenty, but tends to look to pass more, as a good point guard should.
Kevin Love was the second UCLA player picked in a row at number 5 and the 4th of the top 5 to leave after his freshman year. The surprise came when he was traded among other players for O.J. Mayo. This landed Love in Minnesota, and interesting but not necessarily better position than he would have been in Memphis. Love will possibly move into the starting center role for the Timberwolves, but seems to be a player very similar to Al Jefferson in my mind. Foye and Jefferson both had great years for the Wolves last year, but I’m not sure they can keep that up. I still think Minnesota doesn’t have the right tools to have a shot at the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see what Love can do. He has a good power forward build, but it is hard to know how his game will stack up against players in the NBA who are actually bigger than he is. He can be a double-double guy consistently in college, but that may not float in the league. Can two nearly identical players thrive on one team?
Danilo Gallinari is the only foreign player drafted in the top 10 so he as always comes in with the weight of a country on his shoulders. Andre Bargnani is the other noteworthy Italian in the NBA, and he has managed to work well so it will be interesting to see how Gallinari stacks up. He has good size and athleticism for a European flavor, and of course possesses the European ability to shoot the ball. Gallinari is a very young player, and his downfall this season is going to be that foriegn players have very rarely come right in and gotten accustomed to the league. There are of course the exceptions, but Gallinari will most likely not get major playing time in New York until year 2 or 3. His other problem is that playing for the mess that is the New York Knicks currently will hurt his potential. New York has underachieved in recent years and has not been known to allow promising rookies to get much time on the floor.
Number 7 saw Eric Gordon, the point guard for Indiana, head to the Los Angeles Clippers. The general feeling in Clipper country is that Shaun Livingston could be running out of chances in LA and the team is hoping to bring in another young gun to take his place. Livingston showed signs of being a fantastic player but unfortunately a horrific knee injury may have ended his career. That opens the door for Gordon, a promising college player who also left after his freshman year, to have a good opportunity on a team who was on the cusp of being great. The problem is that when Elton Brand left, Baron Davis came in, which means Gordon may end up with a year of learning from the sidelines. If the rookie can show signs of talent, he may get some playing time off the bench, but I wouldn’t expect him to get enough time for Rookie of the Year numbers barring an injury. Gordon is a scoring point guard who may actually end up with a game similar to that of Davis’s. His playing time this season could be his biggest downfall. Hopefully he won’t be the next great point guard to take a fall in LA.
Joe Alexander was the most experienced player taken in the top 10. He left after his junior year and like Rose, really bolstered his draft position with a great NCAA tournament. Alexander is a deceptively fantastic player who is highly underrated and has the ability to score at will. Alexander most reminds me of Dirk Nowitzki. I understand that is a very strong comparison and he is not nearly the caliber of player Nowitzki is, but his ability to shoot from the outside over his defender reminds me of that type of player. Alexander is a great shooter who can also rebound and can even sneakily take other teams off the dribble. Alexander’s problem is that he comes to a team searching for a new identity after an extremely disappointing year. The team has added a few new players but already has plenty of scoring. Redd, Jefferson, Villanueva and Bogut will all be calling for the ball and there may not be enough left over for Alexander. His situation at best will probably be coming off the bench as the 6th or 7th man. This unfortunately probably won’t lend him the numbers to be a Rookie of the Year Candidate.
D.J. Augustin is a scoring point guard who happens to have good assist numbers. He is very similar to an early point guard pick in last year’s draft, Acie Law. Augustin had a great freshman year with Kevin Durant, and may have even found himself in a similar draft spot had he entered last year. He was named as an All-American this past season, but because of the offense he plays in his assist numbers tend to be a little bloated. The truth is, Augustin is a decent scorer who may have trouble converting his game to the NBA. He heads to a Charlotte team who will no longer be able to rely on the ageless wonder Brevin Knight. The jury is still out on whether or not Ray Felton can be a consistent player in the league and stay away from nagging injuries. Charlotte may be young, but they definitely have a solid young core of capable players who can play well if they learn how to put it together. They are much like the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference, so if they somehow manage to figure things out, Augustin may end up being a decent option off the bench. His lack of playing time may as well lead to his downfall, but his advantage is that he is the main point guard coming off the bench and Felton still has question marks over his head.
Rounding out the top 10 was Brook Lopez, the Stanford twin who was the only true center and seven footer to be taken in the top 10. He left after his sophomore year at Stanford with his brother, and is generally regarded as the better of the two. Lopez is solid offensively, on the boards and defensively, and has the potential to be a decent player in the NBA. He has good touch for shooting but can also body up on the inside against some of the bigger and stronger forwards in the league. Lopez’s biggest problem will be playing time, as he sits on a fairly deep bench in New Jersey. Josh Boone and Sean Williams will probably be the primary two fighting for post player playing time, so Lopez will have to impress immensely to get into the rotation. The Nets had a fairly bad year last year, but they may spend this year rebuilding after losing Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd. There are plenty of good young players on the team, but the question is who will step up and who will show they can help the team win games. It is hard to say whether or not Lopez will even get a decent shot.
So there’s the top 10, now let’s see if we can’t figure out who has the best shot at winning this thing. The problem is that of course we think certain things will or won’t happen, but some people will get hurt, others will play poorly, some won’t adjust and a million other things will happen this season. But the player with the best chance to win Rookie of the Year this season is O.J. Mayo. He has many similarities to last year’s winner, Kevin Durant, and has a ton of publicity coming out of college, much like he had coming out of high school. Even if his numbers are not the best, everyone will still be paying attention to him which should give him a leg up on the competition. He scores very well and Durant showed last year that players who score a lot for a bad team can still be the Rookie of the Year. Mayo will have all the opportunities he needs to get into the starting lineup and prove himself in the NBA, but it will be up to him to prove himself and earn the playing time. Rose and Beasley should have good years as well and should be the other names in the fray, but Mayo will come out on top.
So there you have it, O.J. Mayo, my preseason pick for Rookie of the Year. What do you think? Am I way off or does he have a leg up on the competition? Only time will tell…