DeMarcus Cousins – My goodness, DeMarcus Cousins has had himself a week. Strong performances from the big man in Sacramento’s last two games have given the Kings a victory over the Lakers in L.A. and then a day later, one against the Hornets, snapping their 10-game winning streak. Very nice, especially since the last time Sacramento won both games in a back-to-back was all the way back in October when they swept their third and fourth games of the season.
Cousins was simply sensational, and his play has drawn plenty of praise. Against the Lakers, Cousins finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, three steals and two blocked shots. A day later he continued to roll, finishing with 25 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a steal. Against the Hornets he made smart plays and smooth passes, against the Lakers, he was everywhere, doing a little bit of everything as he managed to stay on the floor for 32 minutes with just one personal foul.
Shaking off a disappointing performance against the Bobcats where he fouled out in just 20 minutes, Cousins is slowly piecing it all together. Coach Paul Westphal praised his rookie’s game smarts, saying, “(DeMarcus) is intelligent, he learns. He’s learning what works and what doesn’t. He’s changed some habits offensively.”
Paul George – After a quiet start to the season and five weeks without seeing any game action, Paul George has had a much better 2011. Averaging 6.5 points per contest on the season, George has played well in his last 10 games. He scored 17 points against Denver on Sunday night. Two weeks ago he scored 16 points the Mavericks and two weeks prior to that he added 13 against the Wizards. The key, of course, is more consistency, which is likely to happen with increased minutes.
For the month of January, he is shooting 56 percent from the floor, enough to convince coach Jim O’Brien to think about moving George above Brandon Rush in the rotation. When he’s not scoring double-figures, George is showing he can do a little bit of everything, as he is getting some boards, blocks and steals. While he is still trying to find his way and get acclimated to the pace of the NBA, George is using his athleticism to stay on the floor and it’s starting to work.
Blake Griffin – So, we’re not supposed to be talking about Blake in here. But, it’s like he heard we had put a moratorium on discussing his rookie season here in this column and he decided to go out and give us no choice but to talk about his awesomeness. He’s been brilliant — holy hell has Blake Grffin been beasting his way to the Rookie of the Year award. Into the record books, too.
After exploding for a career-high 47 points to go with 14 rebounds in a win against the Indiana Pacers, it’s time we caught up with Mr. Griffin. My goodness — those 47 points on 19-for-24 field goals. The guy almost scores 50 points and misses just five shots in the entire game. Not to mention, all of those points came with only one dunk. Shot 82 percent from the line in that one, too. Wow.
A game prior, against the Lakers, Griffin’s streak of 14 straight games with 20 points and 10 rebounds was snapped as he finished with “just” 18 points and 15 rebounds. The most important thing in all of this is that Griffin has his team winning. Yes, the Clippers, they are winning. Nabbing victories against the Lakers, Nuggets and Heat, the Clippers have won seven of their last 10 games. Griffin is now averaging 22.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
Patrick Patterson — When the Houston Rockets recalled Patrick Patterson from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he was ready to show them what his nine-game stint with the D-League had taught him. After Chuck Hayes went down with an injury, Patterson stepped into the rotation and hasn’t looked back.
New Years Eve, against the Toronto Raptors, he finished with the first double-double of his NBA career, scoring 15 points and collecting 10 rebounds while also adding a blocked shot and playing some solid defense. Two nights later, he pulled down 10 more boards. Most recently, he has topped double-figures in two of his last three games. While his season averages are low (5.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest), Rockets fans are beginning to see why their team used their 14th pick on him.
Perhaps the best part of Patterson’s situation is the maturity he has brought to his rookie season, looking at his D-League assignment as an opportunity to get some experience rather than a demotion. Talent and maturity — Patterson’s going to be alright.
Our always-hot rookie, Blake Griffin, will be participating in the dunk contest this year. Clear your schedules accordingly. Okay, onto the other rookies — besides Griffin, Wall and Fields — who are doing things (both good and bad) in 2011 thus far:
DeMarcus Cousins — He’s been up and he’s been down, but 2011 has gotten off to a solid start for Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. After finishing off 2010 with a 29-point, 16-rebound performance in a thrilling victory over the Memphis Grizzlies — a performance that got overshadowed by that spectacular 48-foot game-winning shot that teammate Tyreke Evans hit to save the day — Cousins kicked off the new year with 16 points and eight rebounds in a loss to the Nuggets. He followed that up with phenomenal 28-point, eight-rebound, six-assist game against the Suns as he spearheaded a fourth quarter run to lead his team to victory. The Kings outscored Phoenix 29-16 in the fourth with Cousins scoring 13 of his 28 in the quarter. He was 11-for-17 from the floor and 6-for-8 from the free throw line. He was balling on a night when Evans struggled, shooting just 2-for-12 from the floor, coming up big when his team needed him. While the Kings lost to the Hawks on Tuesday night, Cousins played 35 minutes and scored 24 points to go with seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. The 20-year-old who sometimes acts like the kid that he is, appears to slowly be growing up — on the floor, at least.
We’re going to officially think of our “Hot” section asthe “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.
Pooh Jeter — Because we’re trying to get away from the obvious Griffin/Fields/Wall trio, we are going to go with some not so obvious choices in this week’s Rated Rookies. How about a little love for our older, undrafted rookies?
One of our Hot rookies is Pooh Jeter of the Sacramento Kings. While Jeter has only played in nine games this season, he was a big part of an almost-comeback loss against the Clippers last week. Scoring all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter as the Kings gave the Clippers a scare, Jeter finished with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in just 17 minutes of play. He followed that performance up by scoring 13 points in a victory against the Wizards where he shot 50 percent from the floor and went a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. He also dished a career-high nine assists without a turnover. Not a bad week for Mr. Jeter.