Monday , Mar , 21 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Points in the Paint

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Even though there is still one month
left the in the regular season, Chicago’s Ben Gordon deserves to be the NBA
Rookie of the Year.

Originally drafted out of Connecticut by the Bulls in the first round (third
overall) of the 2004 NBA Draft, Gordon rebounded from a slow start and has
proved that he has the skills to shine in the NBA. The 6-3 offensive machine,
who can play either guard position, was drafted into the perfect situation as
he joined a Chicago club that had minutes for him immediately and would allow
him to find his niche on the court. At Connecticut, Gordon showed that he was
ready to put his game to the test at the next level.

The 21-year-old Gordon, who has played in all 64 of Chicago’s games this
season, had a tough time getting his game going during the start of the
campaign. He averaged just 7.9 points in his first seven games and was not
getting consistent time on the court, as the Connecticut product was playing
just over 17 minutes per contest.

Chicago head coach Scott Skiles must have realized that the Bulls are a better
team with Gordon on the court, as he increased the rookie guards playing time,
which has resulted in better production for the Connecticut product and more
wins for Chicago. After starting the season with nine straight losses, the
Bulls won 33 of their next 55 games and are currently in the thick of the
Eastern Conference playoff race. In fact, barring a major setback, Chicago
should be able to earn its first postseason berth since 1998.

Gordon, who has drained 84.9 percent of his attempts at the foul line, is one
of the big reasons for the success of the Bulls. For the season, he is third
on the team in scoring (14.9 ppg) and he is shooting an impressive 42.5
percent from beyond the arc. The rookie has come through in the clutch
throughout the year and has saved his best for the fourth quarter in some key
games for the Bulls.

He has scored in double-digits in 46 of Chicago’s 64 games and has netted 20
or more points in 19 of those contests. Gordon, who is averaging just 2.6
rebounds and 1.8 assists, is on the court for his offensive ability and his
knack for making the big shot.

Skiles has been able to put Gordon, who has started just three games this
season, in situations where he can be effective and also have a big impact on
the outcome of the game. The first-year standout is not afraid to have the
ball in his hands at critical times of a contest and seems to shine when the
game in on the line.

Gordon’s main competition for Rookie of the Year is from Charlotte’s Emeka
Okafor, who also played his college ball at Connecticut and was the second
overall pick in last year’s draft. The 22-year-old Okafor has averaged team-
highs in points (14.8 ppg) and rebounds (10.8 rpg) in his first 56 games as a
pro for the expansion Bobcats. Okafor, who is shooting just over 44 percent
from the floor and is averaging 1.61 blocks, has also registered an impressive
34 double-doubles.

Yes, Okafor’s overall numbers are more impressive than his former college
teammates. But, Gordon has played a major role as a rookie in allowing his
team to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in six
seasons. It is not Okafor’s fault that he plays for one of the worst teams in
the league, but the fact is that Gordon has been able to showcase his talents
on a bigger stage.

Gordon and Okafor should both have excellent careers in the NBA. However,
there will be only one time that they will be eligibile for Rookie of the Year
honors. Unless the vote is split and they share the award, Gordon deserves to
win the hardware for the 2004-05 season.