With the regular season nearing its end, teams are either gearing up for the playoffs, or prepping for the NBA Draft. With that said, now may be as good a time as ever for teams to take stock on their first-year experiments and weigh-in on their overall impact. Although the Rookie of the Year is all but wrapped up for Blake Griffin, I decided to bestow some unconventional awards for rookies who have stood out of the crowd, for one reason or another.
And if you didn’t catch part one of this series, check out what I had to say on Landry Fields, Jordan Crawford and DeMarcus Cousins.
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Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree Award
Like his father Terry before him, Ed Davis seems to be carving a name for himself within the pro landscape. He’s already shown flashes of a great transition game for a big man, he’s an effective team defender and his proficiency on the offensive glass is not too shabby either. Coming off a season-high 22 points and 13 rebounds against the Knicks last week, things look up for the Tar Heel product heading into the offseason where has taken the bulk of the interior load with Andrea Bargnani out. The 20-year-old rook still has some work to do before he can really compete against the NBA’s elite bigs but with a vow to hit the weight room hard in the offseason and add some muscle to his slender 6-10, 215-pound frame, you gotta think a starting spot is in the cards for next season.
The Rookie Veteran Award
Gary Neal knows what it means to grow up quickly. Going from rape accusations to switching college programs to not getting drafted is something hard to bounce back from. But after playing overseas in Turkish and Italian leagues for a few years, he landed on the Spurs summer league team this past year and was quickly signed to a three-year contract with them. Neal has proven himself a strong facilitator on offense with a terrific mid-range game and I believe he and George Hill have emerged as one of the best backcourt reserve tandems in the league. As a standout 26-year-old rookie on a championship-caliber team, Neal has proven to be invaluable to the Spurs’ success and will be crucial in their playoff run this year.
Flower Growing Out Of Concrete Award
Greg Monroe is a workhorse with leadership qualities that seems to be getting better with each month. Taking over in Jonas Jerebko’s absence, Monroe has shown he can be a cornerstone piece in this Pistons franchise with his energy, rebounding efficiency and his round-the-basket cleanup abilities. His below-the-basket game is developing nicely and if he just ups his field goal attempts, he can do some serious damage. He’s doing all this on a Detroit team in shambles and a coach way out of his element who can’t even control his players. Kudos Greg, Kudos.
The Great White Hype Award
With a foundation crushed from the loss of Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan, Gordon Hayward has stepped up to provide a glimmer of hope for the bruised franchise. He had a career night last week against the Lakers, posting 22 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds, not to mention disrupting Kobe’s potential game-winning shot and holding Kobe to 6-18 shooting. In his final regular-season game last night, Hayward dropped 34. Overall, he has really shown his versatility on offense with being able to create his own shot effectively as well as playing an efficient pick-and-roll game. When arguably the best player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant admits to being “fond” of you and compares you to “a more talented Jeff Hornacek”, you have to be doing something right.
The “Britney” Award (Most Surprising Player to Elope)
If you’ve ever seen Timofey Mozgov in the locker room before a game, you’d often see him by himself in his locker area immersed in a novel; he’s definitely a quiet and reserved type of player. Which is why it came as such a surprise when over All-Star Weekend, he went all Britney on us and decided to get hitched in Vegas. Probably the funniest part was that the ceremony was conducted at a drive-thru church while the rook was still rockin’ his sweats.
What rookies can make an impact in the playoffs?
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