by Jack Maidment
Barring a succession of spectaculars from Blake Griffin when he returns from injury in the new year, the Rookie of the Year award would appear to be a firm two horse race.
After a quarter of the season Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans sit comfortably atop the Rookie mountain, separated from their peers by their consistently superior performances.
No one else is even close to the level of these two first year point guards, both of whom have become the faces of their respective franchises.
1. Tyreke Evans
To install a sense of hope in the fans for the future of the Sacramento Kings is a very special achievement for the #4 pick. When he was chosen not even the most smiling of optimists could have predicted a 11-13 record.
Last year’s NBA worst are now sat just below .500 and they have Tyreke to thank for it. His stat line of 20, 5 and 5 with 1.6 steals has carried a Kings team that has little experience but much promise.
Gilbert Arenas said that as one of the League’s bigger guards he felt small going up against Evans and it is this size and physicality that make him such a tough opponent: if fellow rooks Stephon Curry and Brandon Jennings struggle with their shot they are usually in big trouble, but Evans’ body allows him to switch straight into attack mode.
It is his consistency that has him above Jennings and it will in all probability lead him to the ROY award.
2. Brandon Jennings
Missing out on the #1 spot by a whisker, there is no rookie more fun to watch than Jennings who has put the Bucks on his back, propelling them to a surprising 11-12 record.
When Jennings is hot he is simply un-guardable. His shot, which was scrutinised heavily leading up to the Draft, has proven more reliable than forecast and his quickness, if anything, was under rated, allowing him to attack the rim with ease and with little regard for his slight frame.
At this point, there is no better scorer than Jennings; he leads all rookies with an average of 21.1 ppg while also disproving the pre-Draft notion that he was a selfish player, with a rookie best 6 dimes a game.
When Jennings plays well the Bucks win and it is his occassional tendency to go missing in games that has him second.
Evans’ is consistently good while Brandon is inconsistently great.
3. Jonas Jerebko
The Detroit Piston’s #39 pick is this weeks best of the rest and the fluctuating performances of everyone outside the top 2 makes it entirely possible that he will not be here next time.
8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds hardly scream ‘deserved of recognition’ but Sweden’s first ever NBA player finds himself at #3 not for his stats but for what he has brought to his team.
In the absence of Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince, Jerebko has been the personification of hustle, making plays and helping the Pistons win games.
He works so damn hard on the floor that he is a guaranteed fan favourite at The Palace: what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in determination.
4. Johnny Flynn
Flynn is gradually getting to grips with the triangle offense implemented by Kurt Rambis and as he does so his numbers are steadily increasing.
Playing in a new and utterly unfamiliar system left the Syracuse man looking a little lost and turnover prone but his game winning performance against the Utah Jazz has seen his stock rise.
His 14.2 ppg and 4.3 apg may not quite be enough to banish all thoughts of longing for Ricky Rubio from the Minnesota fans, but they are a good place to start.
Kevin Love’s recent return to the Wolves’ front court alongside Al Jefferson should allow Flynn to get even better, running with a big man tailor made for the triangle, passing skills and all.
5. Taj Gibson
In limited minutes Gibson is finding major ways to contribute to a Chicago Bulls team struggling for production from their starting 5.
He leads all rookies in rebounding with 6.1 a game in just over 20 minutes of playing time.
Throw in 8.3 points and just over a block a game and the 6’9 forward out of USC is doing everything he can to show he deserved to go higher than #26 overall.