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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sacramento's Tyreke Evans favorite as rookie; Ex-Tiger has the stats over Curry and Jennings


The Commercial Appeal
By Ronald Tillery
Posted March 28, 2010 at midnight

The 2009 NBA draft produced a number of talented combo guards, underscoring just how much the league has shifted to a heavy reliance on dynamic backcourt scorers who set up teammates with similar ease.

So it's no wonder that the Rookie of the Year campaign is largely considered a three-player race with only versatile guards in the conversation.

Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans' status as the frontrunner seemingly hasn't changed among voters -- print and broadcast media that regularly follows the league -- but the emergence of Golden State's Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings' contribution to Milwaukee's playoff run has made the award far from an open-and-shut case.

Either way, all three players have provided jaw-dropping moments this season.

"Curry is a player. Evans is a player. Jennings got a lot of pub when he scored the 55 points," said Griz coach Lionel Hollins, who will see Jennings up close this afternoon in a road game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Now, Jennings is playing more like how (Bucks coach) Scott Skiles wants him to play. He's penetrating and creating for other people. Their team is better because of it, and it may cost him Rookie of the Year. But if (Jennings) was on one of those other teams, he might have had a few more 40- or 50-point games."

There is some thought that the seemingly large gap between Evans and the field might have closed when the former University of Memphis guard suffered an injury last week that was first believed to be a broken jaw. Evans hasn't played since and could be done for the season, giving more of the stage to Curry and Jennings.

The Rookie of the Year award hasn't been traditionally based on how a player affects his team. More credence is usually given to individual numbers.

Statistically is where Evans and Curry have amazed.

If Evans' averages of 20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds hold up, he'll join LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only players to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists as a rookie.

"They have to give it to somebody, and I think this year it's clear it's going to be Tyreke," Kings coach Paul Westphal said before his star was injured. "If people want to act like it's a race or not, I don't think it is. At the same time, there's great reason for pride and enthusiasm for all those players."

Curry, for example, found a way to put himself in the same sentence as Jordan without Evans or Jennings.

Curry's 30-point, 11-assist performance against the Grizzlies on Wednesday was his fifth this season. He's the first rookie since Jordan to have five games with at least 30 points and 10 assists. Evans and Jennings don't have any 30-point, 10-assist games this season. James (eight) and Miami's Dwyane Wade (six) are the only other players who have accomplished the feat this season.

After a slow start, Curry exploded when the calendar turned January.

"Some guys peak early and then they're down the rest of the year," Curry said. "Some guys have a roller-coaster year. I try to constantly get better each time I go out."

Evans told the Sacramento Bee that it's been difficult to avoid keeping track of his main competitor for the award.

"People call me and text me to tell me how Steph is doing," Evans said. "Steph is a good player. He's been playing good. They've got a good offense. They run and gun and he gets a lot of shots up."

Curry and Evans average more points per game than Jennings and shoot for a higher percentage from the field. But Jennings is the only one who can boast that he's played a significant role in his team securing a playoff spot.

"Like I've said, all those guys scoring all of those points are on bad teams," Hollins said, advocating that team success should factor more into the voting. "They're all talented kids and can score. If (Sacramento) had 45 wins, (Evans) would definitely be my Rookie of the Year."

Hollins' suggestion that team success should be a factor in the voting might be a shared view.

Just the other day, members of the Grizzlies' media relations department asked every player for their Rookie of the Year selection.

Center Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 overall pick, paused for a moment.

He smiled, and then said "Jennings." Thabeet wasn't the only Griz player who uttered Jennings although it's more likely that he'll finish third.

Jennings began his NBA career with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists on Oct. 31, just missing on being the second NBA player (Oscar Robertson in 1960) to record a triple-double in his debut. Jennings, though, was the first player since 1974 to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists in his debut.

His claim to fame so far is a Nov. 14 performance in which Jennings amassed 55 points, the most by an NBA rookie since Earl Monroe had 56 in 1968.

So how should the field be viewed?

Evans has been the most consistent producer for the season.

Curry put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Jennings did what was asked of him in order to win.

"The media will give it to the guy who scores the most points," Hollins said. "It'll probably be Tyreke Evans. Is he deserving? I don't know. He's a very talented player, though. They all are."

NBA'S ROOKIE PHENOMS

The NBA's Rookie of the Year Award still is a three-man race to most observers. What's certain is that Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, Golden State's Stephen Curry and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings will be the top three vote-getters.

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

By the numbers: Averages 20.3 points, 5.6 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 46-percent shooting and 1.4 steals.

By the way: Evans leads rookies in scoring, and could become the second straight guard from the University of Memphis to win the Rookie of the Year as Derrick Rose won last year. Evans stands to join LeBron James, Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan as the only ones to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a rookie season.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

By the numbers: Averages 16.5 points and 5.6 assists. He's shooting 46 percent overall and making 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip.

By the way: Curry laid to rest concerns about whether he could run an NBA team and effectively play alongside Monta Ellis. Against the Grizzlies on Wednesday, he had his fifth 30-point, 11-assist performance. He is the first rookie since Michael Jordan in 1984-85 to have five games with at least 30 points and 10 assists.

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks

By the numbers: Averages 15.6 points and 5.9 assists.

By the way: Jennings' first season includes a 55-point game, a Bucks rookie record and the most by an NBA rookie since Earl Monroe had 56 in 1968. Jennings is shooting 36.9 percent for the season but he turns the ball over less than Evans and Curry.

-- Ronald Tillery: 529-2353

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