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|How deep is this rookie class? Brook Lopez was drafted with the 10th pick on draft night.|
One guy is a pure point guard, running the show and creating one highlight after another. One is a slasher, punishing people with his huge will and explosive body. Another is a shooting machine, deft at creating just enough space to let another jumper fly but also athletic enough to make plays at the rim. And one is an adept center, sparking his team to better-than-expected play and leaving many to wonder how he was drafted so low.
Yes, much can be said about Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo and Brook Lopez. All four have exceeded high expectations. And at this point in the season, I can't pick one that deserves to be rated over the other. To my eyes, it's a four-way tie for the No. 1 spot in my rankings.Take a look at what they've done recently.
Lopez averaged over 18 ppg and 12 rpg in a 5-game stretch. Westbrook poured in 34 points in a road win and had a near triple-double a week later. Rose scored at will last week and handed out 26 assists with just 5 turnovers in a four-game span. Mayo put up 32-plus points in back-to-back games and went for 22 points and 16 boards on Monday night. Wow, wow, wow and wow.
Most importantly, all four guys are helping their teams win basketball games.
Perhaps one of these guys will jump ahead of the rest and become the clear-cut choice for ROY. Or maybe it will be two other guys -- Kevin Love or Greg Oden -- who take control. But today, in light of the superlative play of all four of these guys, I'm calling it a dead heat as we head to the All-Star break. For the sake of the rankings, where someone has to be listed first, we're going with Lopez because L comes before M, R and W alphabetically.
He has added some floaters on penetrations. He is knocking in his midrange jumpers with regularity. He is taking much better shots most of the time. And he is even learning how to throw lob passes off ball-screen penetrations, which has helped teammates Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas get more involved in the offense.
He still gets cooked on defense too often, but his offensive (and rebounding) efforts more than make up for that issue. I've never been higher on him than I am right now.• Click here for more observations on Derrick Rose
When I see him wheel around the pinch post-extended and drive toward the rim after faking a handoff, I think of Tim Duncan. He doesn't move like Duncan, but he is going to be able to do a lot of the things that Duncan does. He has a chance to be a truly special player.• Click here for more observations on Brook Lopez
As the Grizzlies saw a 16-point lead cut to six halfway through the fourth quarter, Mayo had the ball on the right wing in space matched up with Shane Battier. Then a teammate came to set a screen and Ron Artest switched onto him. Yep, Battier, then Artest. As the clock wound down, everyone expected Mayo to pull up for one of his patented jumpers with a slight fade, especially since he had been hitting them all night. But instead, Mayo made a hard left-hand drive and finished with a lefty floater over Yao Ming.
Then, up four with 3½ minutes left, he used a brilliant flat screen by Marc Gasol, who craftily switched the angle and side of his screen just before reaching Battier. Yao contained on the ball screen instead of showing. And Mayo was able to build up speed and finish strongly over Yao. If Mayo starts mixing in more drives like these two, he will become even harder to defend.• Click here for more observations on O.J. Mayo
The big differences are in how they finish. Westbrook is making 1 percent more of his perimeter shots (38.1 to Wade's 37.1), but Wade finished far better inside (50.8 percent to Westbrook's 44.7 percent). But remember, Westbrook is over a year younger in this comparison and not quite as developed physically, so finishing with contact is somewhat tougher for him.
The amount of contact they both created as rookies is similar too, with Wade getting to the free throw-line on 14.6 percent of his overall field goal attempts, and Westbrook a bit better at 15.4 percent. That's an incredible stat, especially when compared to other rookies. Eric Gordon is at a strong 13.5 percent. But Mayo's free-throw rate is 6.9 percent, and Rose is at 8.1 percent.• Click here for more observations on Russell Westbrook
Of the eight players currently averaging a double-double for the entire season, none of them has a teammate who also averages 10-plus boards a game. And none of them plays less than 31 minutes a game (Andris Biedrins plays 31 exactly, on the fastest-paced team in the league, hence more rebound opportunities).
Love, however, plays with Al Jefferson (before his ACL injury), who ranks sixth in the league with 11 rpg. And up until Monday, he averaged just less than 26 minutes per game in 2009.
With Love likely to see an increase in minutes now that Jefferson is done for the season, he has a chance to be the only rookie who will finish this season averaging a double-double.• Click here for more observations on Kevin Love
Oden has developed a better touch and feel for scoring inside with his left hand compared with his right hand. This is not uncommon following a wrist, arm or hand injury (see David Lee). Spending as much time as Oden did finishing with only one hand, he couldn't help but see significant improvement.
So now it looks like he is more comfortable finishing touch shots with his left. Over time, as his right hand continues to improve, he could be totally ambidextrous around the rim like Lee and Carlos Boozer.• Click here for more observations on Greg Oden
Perhaps now, the rookie leader in Player Efficiency Rating (20.22) will be given solid rotation minutes for the rest of the season, especially with the loss of Elton Brand. I'm not sure what else Speights can do to earn more playing time.• Click here for more observations on Marreese Speights
Here's another sign that coach Lionel Hollins has lit a fire under Gasol: He is averaging 7.8 boards per game in February, which also marks a monthly best (not including his two games in October). And we repeat: He's doing this despite playing fewer minutes.• Click here for more observations on Marc Gasol
He's making lots of good decisions in the Heat's pick-and-roll game, rarely getting himself in trouble by over-penetrating, and often finding the correct open man with the easy pass. As always, he's competing and creating havoc on defense, too: He's picking up 2.3 steals per game thus far this month.• Click here for more observations on Mario Chalmers
Coach Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job of holding Beasley accountable for his defense and rebounding in each game, using playing time as a carrot on a stick. Rookies often start taking the All-Star break a week early, especially when they have to help make travel and ticket plans for family and friends coming to see them at the events. Beasley will learn to lock into every game, or he'll keep riding the playing-time roller coaster.• Click here for more observations on Michael Beasley
• Click here for the entire Rookie 50 rankings and more observations
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European League and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.