Evans, Jennings give glimpse of NBA's next greatest rivalry
After Brandon Jennings exploded for 55 points last month, it looked as though he'd be the runaway favorite for Rookie of the Year. But nearly two months into the season, not only is the race for the league's top rookie a dead heat, but we're beginning to see the birth of the NBA's next great rivalry, and question: Jennings or Tyreke Evans?
The two point guards couldn't be any more different. Evans, who led Memphis to the Elite Eight in last season's NCAA Tournament, is beginning to draw comparisons to LeBron James with the way he is able to physically take over a game. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he simply overpowers defenders and his numbers so far this year (20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists) put him in an elite class only shared by King James and Dwyane Wade as the only other players to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.
Meanwhile, Jennings, who skipped college to play in Italy last year, is drawing comparisons to every talented small guard to ever play in the NBA, from Allen Iverson to Nate "Tiny" Archibald. Despite leading all rookies in points (21.2) and assists (5.7), the 6-foot-1, 169-pound Jennings has struggled with more physical teams that trap him with a bigger guy and guard against the pick-and-roll. The Jennings-Evans debate will rage on this season, but for now, Evans still holds the top spot in the rankings for the third straight week.
(All stats and records are through Dec. 9.)
Last Week: 1
Tyreke Evans, Sacramento KingsOnly three players in league history have finished their rookie season averaging at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists - James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. Evans has scored 20 or more points in 12 of his last 15 games, and has 13 20-point performances this season, more than any other rookie. "He has the most complete game, as a rookie in the league," Wade told the Sacramento Bee. "When you talk about the best rookies, he has the most complete game. He can do it all. He's a great player."
Last Week: 2
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee BucksIn some ways, the worst thing that could have happened to Jennings was his 55-point showing two weeks into the season, a couple of days after scoring 32 points. Many fans expected Jennings to make it a nightly routine. He's since averaged 19.1 points, 6 assists and 3.6 rebounds -- amazing numbers on their own -- but it seems like everyone is still waiting for him drop 40 points or get a triple-double. Jennings was Milwaukee's leading scorer in eight of the Bucks' first 11 games when they started 8-3, and since then he has led the team in scoring just once and they've gone 1-8.
Last Week: 3
Jonny Flynn, Minnesota TimberwolvesMaybe, just maybe, this whole triangle offense thing is beginning to make sense for Flynn. Through the first three weeks of the season, Flynn was averaging more turnovers than assists. In his last seven games, he is averaging 6.6 assists and 2.3 turnovers. Flynn has become a more consistent scorer, kicking his college habit of simply trying to score off pick-and-rolls. Flynn, who went to Niagara Falls High School, had a homecoming of sorts this week in Toronto where a bus load of friends and family came to see him score 17 points and dish out 8 assists in a loss to the Raptors.
Last Week: 4
Stephen Curry, Golden State WarriorsAfter a rough six-game stretch to start November in which he averaged 5.8 points and was benched against the Knicks, Curry has come into his own. He's scored in double figures in 12 of his last 13 games, and in the past four games he's averaged 14 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals. Curry, who scored a career-high 22 points and had 4 steals against Oklahoma City this week, has improved under the guidance of assistant coach Keith Smart, Don Nelson's replacement while he recovers from pneumonia. The problem for Curry and the Warriors is that they are too dependent on Monta Ellis, the team's No. 1 scoring option who plays close to 48 minutes a night.
Last Week: 10
James Harden, Oklahoma City ThunderHarden is just beginning to transfer his talents from the college game, where he was an aggressive scorer who got to the free-throw line more than any player in Arizona State history outside of Ike Diogu. Against the Warriors on Monday, Harden scored a career-high 26 points and went 13-of-14 from the foul line. He also didn't have a single turnover (while his team collected 19) in the Thunder's 104-88 win.
Last Week: 5
Darren Collison, New Orleans HornetsEveryone, including Collison, knew this day would come. After starting eight straight games in place of the injured Chris Paul, Collison went back to the bench this week as Paul returned. As a starter, Collison averaged 14.9 points, 6.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds. He scored in double figures for 10 straight games, including a 22-point, 11-assist performance in a win over the Hawks and a 20-point showing against the Lakers, his last start. Since Paul's return, however, Collison has scored just 9 points in his past three games, going 0-for-3 and committing four turnovers against the Kings. Collison proved he can start in this league, but with Paul back, he'll have to prove he can also contribute off the bench if he's going to stay on this list.
Last Week: 9
Marcus Thornton, New Orleans HornetsThornton has cooled off since his hot six-game streak following the firing of Byron Scott when he averaged 18 points. Since then, he's averaged 9.2 points in his last six games. While Thornton has proven that he can be a scorer off the bench for the Hornets - he put up 20 in the Hornets' 97-96 win over the Timberwolves this week -- he must also show that he can defend. He is only averaging 1.8 rebounds this season and only has 14 combined steals and blocks. Thornton is a great talent, but he's going to have to beef up the rest of his stat line to be known as more than just a scorer and get more playing time in New Orleans.
Last Week: 6
Omri Casspi, Sacramento KingsIf Casspi could ever become a consistent free-throw shooter he'd be a mainstay in the top half of the rankings. He's still shooting a better percentage from beyond the arc (51.1) and from the field (52.7) than from the charity stripe (48.1). Casspi is fourth in the NBA in three-point shooting and first among rookies, but he continues to be one of the worst free-throw shooting guards. Against Miami, Casspi hit all four of his three-point attempts but missed both his free throws. Not withstanding his deficiencies from the line, Casspi has become a solid contributor for the Kings off the bench, scoring in double figures in eight of his last nine games.
Last Week: --
DeJuan Blair, San Antonio SpursSince Blair is averaging less than 15 minutes a game, it's hard to compare him to other rookies with established roles. For example, Blair put together back-to-back double-doubles last week, recording a combined 29 points and 21 rebounds. But in his last three games, he's put up a combined 6 points and 8 rebounds. There's no doubt that Blair, who is averaging 5.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, were playing major minutes every night he'd be a force. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds against Boston in 21 minutes. When Blair has played more than 21 minutes this season, he's averaged 12.75 points and 10.2 rebounds. He's tied for second among rookies in double-doubles (3), second in field-goal percentage (.600) and second in rebounds per game (5.4).
Last Week: 8
Ty Lawson, Denver NuggetsSo much of what Lawson does for the Nuggets doesn't show up in the box score. Such was the case this week against the Sixers when Lawson played 24 minutes and put up a respectable line (12 points, four assists and six rebounds), impressing even Iverson in "The Answer's" first game back in Philly. Not only did he block an Iverson shot as he drove to the basket, but Lawson ran by him time after time on the other end in the second half, causing Iverson to call the rookie "the fastest guy in the league." Still, the best part of Lawson's game is that he plays quick yet smart. Lawson, who is averaging 8.9 points and 3.4 assists this season, only has 1.3 turnovers a game - quite the feat for someone who plays as fast as he does.
Honorable MentionChase Budinger, Houston Rockets (scored 19 against the Clippers last week), Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz (scored 18 against the Pacers), Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls (leads all rookies with 5.6 rebounds per game), DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors (scored 21 points against the Hawks).
Dropped OutTerrence Williams, New Jersey Nets.