We’re going to officially think of our “Hot” section as the “Not Blake Griffin” category from here on out. I’m undecided as to whether we’ll have a separate Blake-watch category to show you all of his ridiculousness on a weekly basis, but seriously, raise your hand if you thought this Rookie of the Year race would have unfolded as it has. I have both of my hands still resting on my keyboard. While I knew that Griffin was going to be great pro, I certainly didn’t think he’d be dominating so fast. (I’m also hoping John Wall can stay healthy from here on out. Yeesh.)
I’ve been home for the holidays and I’m without League Pass here in Nova Scotia, so consider this week’s edition of Rated Rookies a bit of a catch-up and wrap-up for 2010.
Landry Fields — He’s been mentioned before, but when a rookie has Spike Lee wearing their jersey courtside at MSG, it’s alright to mention them again. Landry Fields is leading the league in rebounds from the guard position, pulling down 7.6 per game. Dwyane Wade and Andre Iguodala round out the top three. Not bad company, right? Fields has also been an integral part of the Knicks quick start, starting all 31 games this year. The second round pick was a huge part of the Knicks Christmas Day victory against the Chicago Bulls, finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot with all eyes on him as he made the smart play time and time again. Fields might not boast a flashy game, but his star is shining bright under the lights of MSG.
Ed Davis — Playing in just 14 of the Raptors 31 games this season after recovering from knee surgery, Davis is beginning to show why the Raptors were so surprised to find him available with the 13th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. With the injury to Reggie Evans opening up minutes for Davis, he has slowly been gaining his footing in the NBA game while turning in the best performance of his career thus far two nights ago against the Mavericks. Recording a double-double before halftime, Davis finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots, all career-highs and all in just under 31 minutes of action as the Raptors pulled off the upset against the Mavs. The key for Davis is learning how to string together strong performances instead of disappearing every other game, but his performance against the Mavs showed he’s got the skills and natural feel for the game that the Raptors were hoping to see. Can’t help but wonder how far along he would be if he had gotten to play all 31 games with his teammates.
Gary Neal — During the Spurs 97-82 victory against the Lakers on Tuesday night, Gary Neal played 17 minutes and had nine points. Tim Duncan played 29 minutes and finished with two points. Calm down, Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan — I just thought it would be a little fun to show how well the undrafted rookie performed against the Lakers. The Spurs continue to roll this season and are slowly proving to everyone that they are for real. As his team proves their worth, so does Neal.
Another undrafted gem to wind up with the Spurs, Neal is averaging almost 18 minutes (10th among rookies), 8.1 points and 1.5 made three-pointers per game. Neal had back-to-back 22-point performances in San Antonio victories against Phoenix and Denver. He’s gained the trust of his teammates and he has Duncan hopping up off of the bench to show his appreciation during timeouts. He might not have been drafted, but he’s definitely exactly where he belongs.
Avery Bradley — It pains me to do this, but I’m going to have to go with Avery Bradley for this category this time around. With Rajon Rondo and Delonte West out of the lineup due to injury Bradley finally has had a chance to earn some playing time. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as he had hoped. Before I rip on Bradley too much we’ve got to talk about the fact that he, too, started the season on the bench rehabbing from injury. He’s played in just 10 games this season, but is yet to make his mark in any of them. Averaging less than six minutes a game, Bradley has so much more to show, prove and provide for his team. While I hated to put him on this side of this column, I doubt he’ll be here for long.
Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakers — This game isn’t really chosen for a specific rookie match up (yeah, we’re bending the rules all over the place this week), but because we should be watching to see what kind of performance Evan Turner turns in. Without Andre Iguodala in the lineup against the Suns on Wednesday night, Philadelphia went to their young guys and they didn’t disappoint. While Jrue Holiday continues to silence those who doubted him last season, Turner scored a career-high 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting. He also added five rebounds, an assist and a steal as the Sixers spoiled Vince Carter’s Phoenix debut. Turner said that the team had spoken to him earlier about being more aggressive and looking for his shot. He listened and it paid off. Now, we get to see if he can keep things rolling in L.A.