Rose closes season as top rookie
Throughout the season, we've offered up a weekly pecking order of the first-year players, with an emphasis on the previous week's performance. But for the final edition of SI.com's Rookie Rankings, we're going to take the season-long body of work into account.
Which means this week's headliner -- and our choice for Rookie of the Year -- should come as no surprise.
(All stats and records are through Tuesday.)
Derrick Rose, Chicago BullsThe top overall pick in any year's draft is bound to feel the pressure of expectations. But what if he's a 20-year-old point guard who's given starting quarterback duties from opening night? What if he's the designated savior of the team he grew up supporting, toiling in the glare of the country's third-largest media market? If you're Rose, you simply compartmentalize and deliver. Not only has the South Side native averaged 16.8 points and a rookie-best 6.3 assists in 37.0 minutes, Rose has also become the sixth No. 1 pick since 1980-81 -- and first backcourt player -- to help his team make the playoffs, joining David Robinson, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut and Andrea Bargnani.
Brook Lopez, New Jersey NetsIf point guard isn't the most difficult position for a first-year player to make an impact, it's center. But you'd never know it from watching Lopez, whose swift learning curve belies the conventional hoops wisdom. The 7-footer out of Stanford has appeared in every game for the Nets, averaging 13.1 points (on 53.4 percent shooting) to go with 8.1 rebounds and a rookie-high 1.8 blocks With 18 points and 20 rebounds against the Bobcats on Monday, Lopez set the Nets' single-season rookie record for double-doubles by a center with 15. He'll be a fixture in New Jersey (or Brooklyn) for years to come.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City ThunderWestbrook's on-the-job training at the point hasn't always been pretty. But the do-everything playmaker is averaging 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.4 steals -- and has made Thunder general manager Sam Presti look awfully shrewd after reaching for him with the No. 4 pick. Westbrook's high-charged performances have ranged from transcendent (31 points and 11 assists at Golden State on Feb. 21) to maddening (10 points and nine turnovers against the Bobcats on Friday), but coach Scott Brooks is confident Westbrook will be more consistent in his sophomore season by trimming his NBA-high 272 turnovers (he's tied with Dwyane Wade in this department). "Russell has the ability to improve a lot," Brooks told The Oklahoman. "He has a lot of athletic ability. He has a lot of talent. He works extremely hard. And the thing that I see is he understands and he knows that he needs to get better."
O.J. Mayo, Memphis GrizzliesNo one questions Mayo's scoring ability. He's averaging a rookie-high 18.4 points and was set to break the franchise rookie scoring record held by Shareef Abdur-Rahim (1,494 in '96-97). But no one in this uncommonly deep 2009 class hit the proverbial rookie wall as hard as Mayo, whose scoring average and shooting percentage dipped considerably after his memorable All-Star weekend. Perhaps more careful management of his workload -- he's averaging a rookie-high 38.0 minutes -- could benefit Mayo in the future.
Kevin Love, Minnesota TimberwolvesLove overcame early growing pains to quietly put together a solid season. He's recorded 28 double-doubles while averaging 9.1 rebounds -- both tops among rookies -- and he's done it while averaging a modest 25.3 minutes. He's also one of just five rookies in NBA history to collect better than 20 percent of the available rebounds during his minutes on the floor. For his trouble, the Timberwolves have produced an As-Seen-On-TV-style viral media campaign hawking "Mr. Love Miracle Glass Cleaner," which promises to leave a streak-free shine while cleaning up the Rookie of the Year race.
Eric Gordon, L.A. ClippersCritics have slammed Gordon as a one-dimensional chucker filling up the stat sheet for a lousy team. But the 20-year-old shooting guard has blossomed into a fairly efficient scorer since moving into the starting lineup around Thanksgiving. He's averaged 16 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his 64 starts, hitting 45.3 percent from the floor, 38.7 percent from three-point range and 85.5 percent at the free-throw line. Since Jan. 1, he's averaging a rookie-high 19.8 points.
Marc Gasol, Memphis GrizzliesPau's younger brother offered the Grizzlies a consistent post presence from opening night, and he still managed to improve markedly as the season progressed. The high point came in March, when Marc averaged 14.4 points (on 56.0 percent shooting), 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 blocks, and challenged Love for Rookie of the Month honors in the Western Conference. "I showed myself that I can go with anybody in this league," Gasol told the Memphis Commercial Appeal of his rookie campaign. "This season gave me a lot of confidence. I showed myself and my teammates that I'm willing to do what it takes to stay in this league and play to the best of my abilities."
Mario Chalmers, Miami HeatThe only rookie besides Mayo to start every game this season, Chalmers has taken care of the basketball for a playoff-bound Miami team, which won only 15 games in 2007-08. Playing alongside Dwyane Wade in the backcourt, Chalmers sparks the Heat with his tireless defensive intensity and timely offensive punch. In addition to establishing the franchise's single-season rookie record for steals (160), the hero of last year's NCAA tournament has also set Miami's rookie mark for three-pointers (114).
Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail BlazersPerhaps the most important contributor on Portland's second unit -- he's paced the so-called "White Unit" in scoring on 23 occasions -- the athletic Spanish sharpshooter needed five three-pointers in Portland's season finale to match Kerry Kittles' NBA single-season rookie record (158). He's provided instant offense off the bench for the Blazers throughout the season as they've made a serious push for the division title -- and the No. 3 seed in the West. There's a good chance Fernandez could be the last of the prominent rookies standing in the postseason.
Michael Beasley, Miami HeatJust because Beasley came up furlongs short of Rose in their anticipated Rookie of the Year showdown -- and struggled throughout the year to come to terms with his reserve role -- doesn't mean we can't consider his rookie season a success. The Kansas State product is still averaging 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds while converting 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts. And when presented with the opportunity to start, Beasley has responded favorably: like in Boston on Friday (23 points), against the Knicks on Sunday (a career-high 28 points) and in Atlanta on Tuesday (23 points). It will be interesting to see whether Miami coach Erik Spoelstra tweaks his postseason rotation based on Beasley's recent production.
Honorable MentionJason Thompson, Kings (11.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg in 28.0 mpg); D.J. Augustin, Bobcats (11.8 ppg, 3.5 apg, 44.6 3PT%, 89.0 FT% in 26.3 mpg); Courtney Lee, Magic (8.5 ppg, 1.2 apg in 25.2 mpg); Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Bucks (7.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.1 spg in 25.7 mpg); Anthony Morrow, Warriors (9.7 ppg, 46.4 3PT% in 22.3 mpg); Greg Oden, Trail Blazers (8.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 56.5 FG% in 21.6 mpg).