– See Also: Brian’s 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year Pick
Like all of the annual NBA awards, the criteria for determining Rookie of the Year are nebulous at best. Is it merely the player who put up the best stats? The guy who improved his team the most? The kid who flashed the most individual potential? The rookie who projects to be the most valuable to his team over his career? The young man who simply acquitted himself most convincingly at the professional level? The player who you would draft first if you had it to do over again? Personally, I think you have to weigh all of those considerations. How much emphasis you put on each is largely going to be dependent on personal preference, which is why most won’t agree – and why the debate is always so lively and fun. Here are my picks, starting with fifth place.
Andrew’s Top Five 2009 NBA Rookies:
O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies
Kevin Love, F/C, Minnesota Timberwolves
Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets
Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls
Rookie of the Year: Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Grizzlies rookie O.J. Mayo has been impressive from day one in terms of offensive production. Starting all 61 games for Memphis this season, and playing a sizable 38 minutes per contest, he’s averaged 19 points, 4 boards and 3 assists with nearly 2 threes a game. His 87.8% from the free-throw line is good for 13th in the NBA, impressive for a 21-year-old. His field-goal shooting has been less than stellar though. He’s hitting just 43.7% of those and taking a whopping 16 attempts per game, and that coupled with his 2.7 turnovers shows a little of the problem I have with Mayo. He’s a player who has demanded and dominated the ball all season to the detriment of his team and teammates – most importantly, to the detriment of potential stud Rudy Gay.
The raw stats are good on Mayo, but they’ve amounted to a -344 in the +/- column. Of course, that number is going to be skewed because the Grizz are a very bad team that loses nearly every game, so of course everybody on the roster is going to have an inflated minus stat. On such a team an individual contribution is better measured by their relative negative, or how much they mitigate their teammates’ losing ways. That doesn’t let Mayo off the hook though: his -344 is the worst on the team.
Next up, we have Kevin Love, a guy I wanted to hate from draft day. His hustle and work ethic on the glass are simply infectious though, and I can’t help but think Love could be one of the NBA’s premier rebounders on both ends of the floor in a few years if the situation is right. That situation may not be backing up or playing alongside should-be All Star Al Jefferson, but we can’t fault Love for that.
The fact remains that Love leads all rookies in total rebounding, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, rebounding rate… every rebounding metric we have. And it’s not just among his peers, Kevin Love is seventh in the entire NBA in offensive rebounding despite playing just 24 minutes a game. Extrapolations of those numbers quickly grow mind boggling. He’s also shown a nice shooting touch of a guy his age and size, hitting 46% from the field and 78% from the line. Right now he’s still clumsy with the ball around the basket, but that should improve with experience. Love is a keeper, even if I project him as a super sub.
Breaking down the NBA’s top three rookies, after the jump…
The next player on my list is the guy Minnesota could really use, a true center who not only rebounds but blocks shots and guards centers: Brook Lopez. This is another player I’ll admit to being wrong on, as I didn’t think he would blossom into this kind of post presence on offense and defense this soon. The line of 12.5 points, 8 boards and 2 blocks on 52% FGs and 82% FGs may not jump out at you – but it should. Lopez has been a remarkably efficient big man this season, a poor man’s Yao Ming who actually has more defensive instincs and runs the floor better than the Rockets All Star.
Living in Brooklyn I’ve had the chance to watch Lopez play in person and on screen plenty of times this season and I can tell you he’s legit. He looks like a center, acts like a center, rebounds like a center and protects the basket like a center. In a league where the true center is going the way of the Dodo, Lopez is an extremely valuable commodity. And as a 20-year-old, his frame and his game will most certainly fill out.
Like Brian my runner up is Derrick Rose, the guy I fully expected to run away with ROY honors. And it’s not like he’s been playing poorly of late, averaging 15.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4 boards while shooting 49.4% in February. He has the look and feel of a leader, of a reliable franchise cornerstone. The Bulls and their fans are getting what they paid for with the first-overall pick. Rose at times looks completely electric, using his athleticism and guile in the paint like a seasoned veteran playing on 20-year-old legs. He takes it to the hole strong and finishes well, but also seems to have a strong grasp of offensive sets and floor spacing which is evident when he’s cut off there and has to dish. Given his natural talent Rose isn’t the defender he should be yet, but with his body, his quicks and his hands that should easily come in time.
And finally, my Rookie of the Year is none other than Mr. Russell Westbrook, already one of my favorite players to watch in the league (and on one of my favorite teams to watch, no less). I still question whether he’s a true point or more of a combo two, but I no longer have any concerns about Westbrook being an impact starter at this level. He’s a scorer and floor general with exceptional quickness and leaping ability which allows him to put the ball in the basket and create for others. His presence handling the ball and generating offense has taken a lot of pressure off of Kevin Durant and the two have complementary games.
Since the All-Star break he’s been simply incredible, averaging 20 points, 6.2 assists, 5.6 boards and 1.4 steals a game. The field-goal percentage, which hovers around 40%, will certainly need to improve, but he’s getting it done at the line as well shooting 88% on 6 attempts per.
Even more promising is that Westbrook is the rare draft pick who has come equipped with NBA-ready defensive skills. The Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Westbrook’s long wingspan and quicks should make him a terror on both ends of the floor for years to come. The Thunder are coming, I’m a believer of that, and Russell Westbrook will be a big part of it.
– Who Should Be The 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year? Weighing in With Early Picks, Part I
– Russell Westbrook Giveth, and Russell Westbrook Taketh Away
– Where’s the Love – Which Rooks Made the Rookie Challenge and Which Should Have
– Anthony Randolph is Going to be Special
– Counting Down the West’s Worst – OKC Thunder