NBA AM: NBA Rookie Of The Year Race
Rookie Of The Year?: Most NBA teams are into their third game or playing their third game tonight, so the NBA season is still in its infancy so projecting or predicting much after three games is a little crazy, but many of you have already started talking about the top rookies in 2011-2012 so its seemed it was time to give the young fellas a little love.
Winning Rookie of the Year is more about opportunity to play than anything else, but scoring and winning tend to sway the media which votes for the post-season hardware.
With that in mind, here are your top five after basically a week of NBA play:
1. Brandon Knight – Detroit – 16 pts, 3 ast, 59.1 FG%, 23 mins
B-Knight is in a very good situation to be the leader in the ROY clubhouse for most of the season and after dropping nine points in his debut versus the Pacers on 3-of-9 shooting, he answered with a scorching 23 versus Cleveland who opted for guard Kyrie Irving in the draft. Knight has shown a knack for scoring and if he keeps this up versus the Celtics tonight, he could start to earn himself starter consideration and that would give him the opportunity it takes to win rookie of the year.
2. Kemba Walker – Charlotte – 13.5 pts, 3 ast, 4 reb, 47.7 FG%, 20.5 mins
Kemba had 13 and 14 points in his first two games respectively and while he was clearly a little nervous in his rookie debut, he looked every bit the poised veteran in his second game versus the HEAT. The big knock on Walker during the draft process was his height, which clearly has not been a problem at the NBA level. Much like Knight, if Walker continues to shoot the ball like he did versus the HEAT (66.7% from the field), it’s going to be hard to justify not giving him big minutes, and minutes win awards.
3. MarShon Brooks – New Jersey – 13.3 pts, 1.3 ast, 2.3 reb, 44.1 FG%, 19 mins
During the draft process some tried to compare MarShon to Kobe Bryant, and while you can see it in glimpses. MarShon has a long way to go before he earns Mamba status, but after three games his teammates rave about his swagger, and once he figures out the nuances of the NBA game, you can see he is going to be a pure scorer. Not sure he’ll have the opportunity to play major minutes, but even his head coach marvels at how well the rookie is progressing, so don’t write him out of the process because he was the 25th pick.
4. Tristan Thompson – Cleveland – 11 pts, 4.5 rebs, 64.3 FG%, 21 mins
After two games, it is easy to see why Cleveland grabbed Tristan with the fourth pick ahead of some bigger names. Tristan is efficient with the basketball and can score. In his debut he was 4-for-6 from the field for 66.7% field goal shooting. He answered that with a 5-for-8 night versus the Pistons adding 62.5% to his field goal average. He’ll face a tougher matchup tonight versus the Pacers, but so far with two games in Tristan is looking the part of stud rookie, and justifying his high draft status.
5. Norris Cole – Miami – 10.7 pts, 1.7 ast, 2.7 reb, 1.23 stl, 40.6 FG%, 23 mins
If there is a darling of the bunch its Miami’s Norris Cole. It’s not easy for a rookie to play with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It’s even harder to earn minutes as a rookie on a team that is expected to win a championship. Not only has Norris Cole been in tight games situations for the HEAT, he has answered in a huge way on both ends of the floor. It seems like it’s a matter of time before Cole unseats Mario Chalmers as the starter in Miami, but because of the pecking order Cole may not amass the kind of scoring numbers it usually takes to win hardware, but he is in a position where he could be at the top of the rookie class in assists. Top overall pick Kyrie Irving holds that spot now with 7 dimes per game. Norris is 9th in the rookie class with 1.7 assists per game playing roughly the same minutes. A move into the starting lineup could change those numbers drastically. Cole is not likely to win the award, but so far he’s been solid enough to talk about him in this category.
There are some honorable mentions in this category such as Kyrie Irving (10 pts, 7 ast per game), Ricky Rubio (6 pts, 5 ast, 4 reb 66.7 FG%), Jon Leuer (71.4 FG% with 14 pts versus the Bucks) and Markieff Morris (8 pts, 6 rebs 60 FG%).
It is still very early in the season, but so far some of the rookies seem like they are ready to play and that’s generally a good way to get the opportunity it takes to win.
MarShon Is Still Adjusting: It’s not easy being a rookie on a team with several veterans.
While most teams have taken it easy on their rookies because of the compressed training camp schedule, Nets’ rookie MarShon Brooks hasn’t been spared all of the hazing.
“It’s tough,” Brooks told HOOPSWORLD as his teammates listened in on his commentary. “They kick the balls up in the stands and pick on me all the time.”
“It’s pretty good. I’m still learning. I’m still learning and learning to play and just getting used to things, getting into the swing of things. I’m coming along.”
Brooks admits that going from zero to NBA games in three weeks has not been easy, but credits head coach Avery Johnson for trusting him and helping him understand his role.
“It was tough at first,” admits Brooks. “But coach is working me in slowly. He did a really good job of working me in slowly and letting me into practices. I just got to pay attention, because he’s been helping me as well with the plays, just putting the plays on my iPad.”
“The most important thing is just to play, other than that I’ll be all right as far as competing and everything, but just to play. Sometimes I get a little confused because they are throwing so much at me at once.”
Brooks throughout the draft process was compared to a young Kobe Bryant and after a few games in the similarity is there, but the rawness of Brooks is also clear.
“Guys are lot stronger, faster and more athletic,” explained Brooks. “I feel like I’m coming along pretty fast. As long as I just keep improving, that’s my main thing. If I just keep improving day by day I think I’ll be all right.
“I knew that would be the case, with a quick turn around and like I said before, it’s just a lot of stuff thrown at you at one time. In college you had this play, this play, this play and if they did this, you did that.”
“Now it’s like you’ve got plays all over the place. You got plays if you’ve got two seconds left, that you’ve got to remember. You’ve got plays if you’ve got one second left you have got to remember, so it’s just a little tough. But the more reps and the more practice that we get and we are doing a lot of walk-throughs, I’m learning a lot.”
Brooks is not being asked to do a lot for the Nets other than be a spark, and that’s something he thinks he can do as he learns his spot in the NBA.
“Just provide energy, just provide energy,” explained Brooks of his role. “Try to get hands on loose balls and score the ball and just score the ball when it’s time for me to score. “
“Just don’t break down the offense trying to score. Stay patient and let the game come to me and provide energy off the bench like I said before, just go out there and play hard and everything else will work out. “
The good news for MarShon is that team leader Deron Williams really likes what Brooks brings to the team and having the team’s top player in your corner, never hurts your confidence
“There’s not too many point guards like him around,” smiled Brooks. “His unselfishness and he draws a lot of attention coming off ball screens. When he draws a lot of attention I’m getting a lot of open looks or either getting open looks or catching guys when they’re closing out which makes my job a lot easier to drive by them because they’re closing out so they’re at a disadvantage. So I’m just trying to drive the closeouts and just try to be aggressive and make things happen.”
There isn’t a single Nets player that didn’t rave about their rookie. He is a long way from Kobe Bryant, but if he continues to play as he has for the first week of the NBA season, the Nets may have found a nice NBA player with their 25th pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Justin Harper Playing His Role: Magic rookie Justin Harper is a big long stretch four type player. The 32nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Harper is one of the more confident rookies you’ll find. He hasn’t seen much game time yet, logging roughly 90 seconds of game time in each of the Magic’s last two home wins. But even though he’s not playing Harper understands he has to learn the role before he’ll get the minutes.
“Just trying to get used to the routine and the organization and everything,” Harper explained to HOOPSWORLD. “The walk-throughs and getting prepared each and every game day; getting ready for all the travel coming up. A lot of stuff being thrown at you but you’ve got to love it because it’s your new lifestyle.”
It’s not uncommon to see Harper looking around and checking his surrounding, making sure he is in the right place as he adjusts to his new work environment.
“Still feeling my way around,” explained Harper “Just excited to be here man.”
“Sometimes I wake up and it’s like, wow. I’m here, and you know you’ve got to keep working but at the same time you’ve got to be blessed for the opportunity you’re given every day. “
Harper has had to process a lot of information quickly, and with the Magic’s goal of competing for a championship Harper has had to take on a lot of work on his own.
“I’m learning a lot,” explained Harper. “About how it’s your body, that is what you’re using to help the team. You have to value everything as far as your fuel, everything that you’re putting into your body. Rest. As well as building it up in the weight room, and for us younger guys, getting stronger and getting used to the physicality of the game. “
Harper is known as a shooter and scorer who played a lot of minutes for the University of Richmond last season, so not playing in Orlando has been tough, but Harp understands why.
“I think I’m just a guy that kind of fits in with the offense.” said Harper. “With my shooting ability I think that when I’m able to come into the game I can force a lot of mismatches as far as other fours guarding me on the perimeter, and my ability to shoot is what I help bring to the team. We have a lot of great shooters but I think that as I develop my game I’ll be able to help the team even more in other aspects too.”
Being around great shooters like JJ Redick and Ryan Anderson have also helped Harper understand what it takes to play in the NBA.
“Just looking at how they approach it,” explained Harper. “In their technique and how they approach getting better every day and make sure when they’re shooting, they kind of keep their shot picture-perfect, the same every time. I still have lot to learn but I’m picking up the little things as they go.”
The Magic require Harper to sit with an assistant coach on the bench, who is constantly explaining and teaching during the game. Something Harper is seeing value in.
“A lot of it is my positioning on the floor,” Harper says of what he talks about. “You’ve kind of got to learn that. It’s a little bit different on the professional level. The court’s bigger, as well as knowing the offense and the defense side of the ball. Just know all the right spots to be to help your teammates and stuff like that. That’s usually what I’m asking, trying to figure out where I’m supposed to be or the timing of everything. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
The Magic may not have a lot of time for Harper to find his way in games, but he understands what he signed up for when he was drafted by the Magic.
You may not see much of Harper in games, but that doesn’t mean he’s not learning and working trying to earn a spot on the floor.
No Threes J-Rich: There was a moment last night in Orlando when Magic guard Jason Richardson was checking into the game in the third quarter. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy called out to Richardson who turned back to his coach as Van Gundy bellowed “J-Rich?… No Threes!”.
J-Rich shook his head in acknowledgment of the his coach and proceeded to cap off a 6-for-14 night with 16 points and more importantly a Magic win on their home floor.
After the game Richardson explained he has been working hard on changing his game to suit his teams’ needs for a slasher and scorer that can create his own offense.
“It’s definitely a concerted effort, especially when I haven’t hit a three yet,” explained a smiling Richardson. “I worked on it in the off-season. I know teams, people know me on the scouting report that I am going to be a shooter so I put a concerted effort just getting to the basket more, try to get the free throw line more, and not just be a jump shooter.”
The Magic have been searching for anyone who can create offense, especially on the drive and Richardson sees himself needing to play more of a role getting to the basket.
“It opens up everybody because everybody thinks we have got a lot of spot up shooters,” explained Richardson. “So just to have one more person that can get to the basket, other than Jameer and Turk on occasions. It can help out everybody else on the perimeter.”
There were moments last night when an alley-oop play was tossed up at the rim, with virtually every New Jersey player looking and responding to contain Howard, however the play was to a slashing Richardson for the finish.
“I still got young legs” joked Richardson. “I have been around for a long time but I can still get up there.
Richardson is currently 0-for-9 from three point range on the season, smartly he understands the easiest way to get his shot back is by attacking the basket and fortunately that’s exactly what the Magic need from him to win games.
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