On Tuesday, Cleveland’s rookie point guard Kyrie Irving was awarded the 2012 Rookie of the Year award unanimously, with 117 first-place votes. Considering there were 120 total voters, that’s a pretty dominant showing.
Despite my indifference for all things Cleveland, Irving was far and away the best rookie this season; at times, he was the only reason to catch a Cavaliers game. The former Duke guard was first in scoring, field goal and free throw percentages, and placed second in assists and three-point field goal percentage, showing off an extremely diverse and impressive skill-set.
He was also just the fifth ever No. 1 overall pick to average 18 points and 5 assists, joining Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, and LeBron James. Needless to say, he completely deserved every accolade he was awarded this season.
That’s not what this post is about, however. There were other contenders for the award behind Irving, obviously, but I have to disagree with the sportswriters and broadcasters who vote for the numerous offseason awards.
Here’s how some of Irving’s competitors fared in terms of point totals:
2. Ricky Rubio (Minnesota) – 170 points
3. Kenneth Faried (Denver) – 129
4. Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) – 47
5. Iman Shumpert (New York) – 33
6. Klay Thompson (Golden State) – 30
7. Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) – 28
8. Brandon Knight (Detroit) – 21
The effect that these rookies have on their respective squads, both statistically and mentally, is more important in my book. Can you build for the future with this player? Is your team in a better place now than it was before it had Player X?
That’s why I wonder how Brandon Knight received so many fewer votes than his peers. This article is not to undervalue the effect that the players ahead of Knight had on their respective teams. I just don’t think that Knight received his proper dues.
After averaging just over 23 minutes his first six games, Knight would go on to start every other game of the season, often playing 35-40 minutes. Despite all the minutes, the 20-year old never seemed to hit a rookie wall, forming an effective backcourt along the way with the ever-mercurial Rodney Stuckey. Alongside Stuckey and Monroe, Knight has become a building block for the Pistons.
From all accounts, Rubio appeared to be everything that Minnesota was hoping he would be – a fantastic ball-handler and a creative offensive player. This season, however, he missed the final 25 games of the lockout-shortened season after he tore his ACL in March. He’s also not a traditional rookie. Three years ago (when Minnesota drafted him and stashed him overseas), he was playing against grown men in Spain; Knight was playing against high schoolers. Considering the disparity in terms of talent level, I’d say Knight has developed much more than Rubio in that time span.
Denver’s Faried and San Antonio’s Leonard turned out to be nearly opposites in terms of minutes and effectiveness. While Leonard played most of his meaningful and effective minutes early in the season, the last month of the season saw his numbers dip dramatically across the board. Faried averaged just 10.5 minutes a game for the first two months of the season before becoming a regular part of the Nuggets’ rotation. Unlike Knight, both of them had periods of time where they were either inefficient or non-existent in games.
On a team with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Shumpert took the offense that came his way – put-back attempts, fast break dunks/lay-ups, etc – because he generally didn’t get plays called for him. Instead, the former Georgia Tech Yellowjacket made his mark in another statistical category – stealing passes on defense. With a roster that seems to forget they need to actually play defense, that role is a key one. The Knicks, however, didn’t elevate past “pretender” status with the addition of Shumpert.
Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas have both shown an excellent scoring touch, albeit in different manners. Thompson showcased his ability to hit shots effectively from long-range (41% three-point shooting), whereas Thomas – despite being one of the shortest players in the league – used his speed and agility to get to the basket quickly.
The big question with these two is this: do they make the team better? In my opinion, no. Golden State and Sacramento are two dysfunctional and chaotic teams, not sure of which direction they’re heading in. They were all-offense, no-defense types of teams before they drafted Thomas and Thompson, and they still are with them on the rosters.
I’m not saying that the players who finished ahead of Knight aren’t good. They’re obviously skilled, or else they wouldn’t have even been in the discussion. For the body of work that Knight put in this season, as well as the effects he’ll have in the future, Detroit’s young point guard deserved more when it was time to vote.