More special rookie: Irving or Rubio?

February, 25, 2012
2/25/12
5:24
AM ET
By Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
At the All-Star break, two rookies have separated themselves from the rest of the 2011 draft class.

Sure, Kemba Walker has the only triple-double among rookies, MarShon Brooks has proven to be a reliable scorer, Gustavo Ayón has been effective since becoming a starter, and Isaiah Thomas has been a pleasant surprise considering he was the last player drafted.

But thus far, it’s been Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio who have positioned themselves as the frontrunners to win Rookie of the Year. Here’s how they’ve done it:

KYRIE IRVING
Kyrie Irving
Irving
The Cavaliers were the worst in the East last season, but with Irving leading the way, they’re ninth in the conference, a game-and-a-half out of the playoffs.

Offensively, Cleveland is much better when Irving is on the floor. The Cavs score more, shoot better, have more assists and fewer turnovers.

Irving is averaging 18.1 PPG while making nearly 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Only one other rookie has ever averaged 18 points and made at least 40 percent of their 3-point attempts. That was Larry Bird, who averaged 21 points and shot almost 41 percent from 3-point range as a rookie.

And if Irving can improve his field goal percentage (47.6 FG pct) in the second half of the season, he has a chance of shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 80 percent from the free throw line.

Only Mark Price (1987-88, 1988-89) and Steve Kerr (1991-92) have accomplished a “50-40-80” season in Cavaliers history.

RICKY RUBIO
Ricky Rubio
Rubio
The Minnesota Timberwolves had the worst record in the NBA last season (17-65). But they have as many wins this season through 34 games as they did last season. Minnesota sits 10th in the Western Conference, one game out of the playoffs.

Their top six scorers from 2010-11 remain, but the main difference this season is Rubio. When he’s on the court, the Timberwolves are +68, but when he’s off the court, they’re -28.

Teammates thrive when Rubio is in the game. He assists on nearly 39 percent of their field goals when he’s on the floor, the highest assist percentage for a rookie in the last five seasons (minimum 20 games).

Rubio has been especially effective as a distributor in the 4th quarter. He leads the NBA in 4th quarter assists this season with 64, ahead of more seasoned veterans like Jose Calderon and Deron Williams.

Rubio is fifth in the NBA in assists per game and second in steals per game. Only three rookies in NBA history -- Tim Hardaway, Mark Jackson and Phil Ford -- have averaged at least 10 points, eight assists and two steals per game, and Rubio is on pace to join them.

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