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ROOKIE REPORT
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Tyreke Evans (left) and Stephen Curry are two of the top three guys in the Rookie of the Year race.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Rankings: A three-man race to ROY honors

By Drew Packham, NBA.com
Posted Mar 31 2010 10:16AM

And down the stretch they come.

With just two weeks left in the season, the push for Rookie of the Year has boiled down to a three-horse race.

10_Columnist_Banner_Rookie.jpg

Brandon Jennings jumped out to an early lead, capturing everyone's attention with his memorable 55-point outburst. Then Tyreke Evans retook the lead and steadily pulled away from the field. Stephen Curry, meanwhile, got out of the gates a little slowly, then inched his way back to pull even with Evans, at least in some observers' eyes.

All that sets up what could be a wild sprint to the finish.

So, to handicap the race, here are the cases for and against each of the three contenders.

Tyreke Evans (Click to watch Evans' Top 10 plays)

For: Could average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists, a feat accomplished as rookies only by Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

Against: A 25 percent three-point shooter who has missed 11 games due to injuries during the Kings' 24-win season.

Stephen Curry (Click to watch Curry's Top 10 plays)

For: Has consistently improved as season has progressed. Has seven games scoring 30 points or more (Warriors are 5-2 in those games).

Against: Plays in Don Nelson's up-tempo system, on a team that has managed just 21 wins through 73 games.

Brandon Jennings (Click to watch Jennings' Top 10 plays)

For: Has the Bucks on course for a playoff berth. Leads rookies in assists.

Against:
Numbers have dropped, especially shooting percentages.

What once appeared to be a runaway victory for Evans has turned into quite the intriguing finish. Will voters go with the beyond-his-years dominance of Evans? Will Curry's court presence and jaw-dropping passes win over voters? Or will they be wooed by Jennings' playing for a winner?

Don't look away, because this race is going down to the wire.

NBA.com's Rookie Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Wednesday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for Drew Packham, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter. For past week's rankings, click here.

1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7135.916.54.35.61.80.2.462.433.887
Last Week: 2 | Drafted: 7
For as much as the pro-Evans camp likes to throw out the 20-5-5 argument, Curry is in some elite company himself. With five 30-point, 10-assist games this season, Curry trails only LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who have done it eight and six times, respectively. The last time a rookie had at least five 30-point, 10-assist games was when Michael Jordan did it five times in 1984-85. Only Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat more, doing it 25 times in his rookie season.

2. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings
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6537.420.25.25.71.50.4.461.256.749
Last Week: 1 | Drafted: 4
Evans didn't skip a beat in his return to the Kings. After missing five games due to a concussion, Evans just missed a triple-double in Sacramento's 102-95 loss to the Pacers. Evans had 17 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists while trying to adjust to a mouthpiece needed after the injury forced him to have some dental work. "Tyreke was a little rusty, some of his ball handling errors we uncharacteristic," coach Paul Westphal said. "I wanted to get him some minutes. He's young and he recovered as the game wore on he looked more like himself."

3. Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7333.015.83.65.91.30.2.373.389.811
Last Week: 4 | Drafted: 10
Jennings finished his week out with back-to-back good games -- both wins for the Bucks. In Sunday's 108-103 overtime win over the Grizzlies, Jennings broke out for 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds on 10-for-24 shooting. Tuesday night, Jennings followed that up with 17 points, five boards and six assists while resting the fourth quarter of the Bucks' 107-89 win over Chicago. Jennings was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, which typically bodes well for the Bucks, who are 11-2 at home when he hits three or more triples.

4. Darren Collison, New Orleans Hornets
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6926.911.92.55.61.00.1.470.379.843
Last Week: 5 | Drafted: 21
Talk about getting a hot hand. Collison may have returned to the bench (he still averaged 30 minutes in three games this week) with Chris Paul's return, but he continues to prove his worth. In those three games, Collison averaged 18.7 points and 5.0 assists, while shooting 71.9 percent from the field. Yes, you read that right: 71.9 percent. Thanks to a 10-for-10 performance in a loss to the Blazers (in which the Hornets were eliminated from the playoffs), Collison finished the week going 23-for-32 and hitting three of four 3-pointers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Collison joined Dwight Howard as the only players to take at least 10 shots and make them all in a game this season. (Howard was 11-for-11 at Houston on Feb. 24.) Collison joined Anthony Mason and Tyson Chandler as the only players in franchise history to accomplish the feat.

5. Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets
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6624.513.82.81.40.70.2.451.392.818
Last Week: 3 | Drafted: 43
Thornton has received plenty of attention -- deservedly so -- for his scoring (he averaged 15.3 points in three games this week). But it's the rookie's attention to defense that's caught the eye of coach Jeff Bower, who wasn't worried about Thornton before what appeared to be a mismatch with Lakers star Kobe Bryant this week. "I don't mind because of his aggressiveness, because of his competitiveness, the speed and quickness that he has and the ability to get close to the man he's guarding," Bower told the Times-Picayune. "Those are all big plusses. And the steps that he's made toward improvement with his concentration defensively. Those are very noticeable. I'm real pleased with the progress he's made in that area." Bryant had 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting Monday night, but the Hornets got the last word, beating the Lakers 108-100.

6. Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls
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7426.39.07.30.90.61.2.497----.661
Last Week: 6 | Drafted: 26
Another week, another slew of double-doubles for Gibson as the Bulls fight to stay in the playoff picture. In the Bulls' four games, Gibson averaged 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds and had three double-doubles to raise his rookie-leading total to 15. It's hard to believe, considering Gibson's success, that he wasn't welcomed warmly after being drafted by the Bulls. "I got a couple letters or emails from people saying I shouldn't be here," Gibson told the Chicago Tribune. "Not being welcomed at first was kind of tough. I told myself I had to prove the doubters wrong. I talked to my dad the first day I got to Chicago, and he said I have to play hard and earn their respect. As soon as camp started, I wanted to earn minutes and contribute. I never thought I'd be starting and playing (26.2) minutes a game. So I'm pleased with how it worked out."

7. Wesley Matthews, Utah Jazz
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7523.69.12.21.40.70.2.487.382.815
Last Week: 9 | Drafted: NA
The Jazz have vaulted to the top of the Northwest Division (and currently third seed in the West), and Matthews is sounding like a seasoned veteran. "It's a great place to be," Matthews told the Deseret News, "but our mentality can't change. We've got to keep grinding, keep working, keep pushing, keeping fighting and take everything game-by-game, and then everything will play itself out." Does that sound like a rookie to you? Hard to believe how far Matthews has come, from undrafted last summer to starting for a playoff contender. In three games this week, Matthews averaged 11.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and hit six of 11 3-pointers as the Jazz went 3-1.

8. Jonny Flynn, Minnesota Timberwolves
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7428.913.42.44.41.10.0.411.342.825
Last Week: 8 | Drafted: 6
While other rookies are finding their grooves, Flynn is going in the opposite direction. In the first two months of the season, Flynn was shooting a respectable 43 percent, but is under 40 percent since the start of the new year. In three games this week, Flynn averaged just 10.7 points and 3.0 assists while hitting just 36 percent of his shots (10-for-28) as the Wolves saw their losing streak reach 16 games.

9. Reggie Williams, Golden State Warriors
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1526.914.93.82.50.50.1.509.411.838
Last Week: 10 | Drafted: NA
The Warriors won two of three games this week, and Williams played a big part in both wins. Williams had 23 points in a 128-110 win over the Grizzlies, hitting eight of 14 shots (2-for-4 on 3s). In Golden State's other win, a 121-103 drilling of the Clips, Williams was 11-for-22 from the floor for 25 points to go along with six rebounds and seven assists. "He doesn't even know how big a gift he has because we have just dusted off the surface," coach Don Nelson said after the win in L.A. "He is a rare basketball player as far as I can see. He is able to have the mental capacity to understand the total game, read who's open, read defenses and score." What did Williams do in the Warriors' loss? Six points on 3-for-15 shooting.

10. Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks
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4912.77.31.41.30.50.2.519.426.804
Last Week: NR | Drafted: 25
Back on March 10, Beaubois made it into the rankings for the first (and only) time, thanks to a string of seven-straight doulble-digit scoring performances. This week, Roddy Buckets returns, thanks to one of the most impressive performances by a rookie this season. Beaubois exploded for 40 points (second most by a rook this season) in a 111-90 win over the Warriors, going 15-for-22 from the field and hitting nine of 11 3-pointers. "What a performance by Beaubois," Warriors coach Don Nelson said. "Unbelievable. We left him open a couple of times, but it didn't matter. He made shots when we covered him. ... I didn't expect that." Teammate Dirk Nowitzki said it's nothing new to him. "We see it a lot in practice," Nowitzki said. "He's a very, very explosive scorer. He's long. When he makes his shots, he's tough to guard because he's so good at penetrating. He's got a great floater, he can finish in the paint. When he's on like that, he's a tough matchup for anyone."

Honorable Mention: James Harden, Thunder: Scored 23 points Wednesday in his first game back after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury; Chase Budinger, Rockets: Had 13 of his career-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, including a game-changing jumper with 29 seconds left to give Houston a 98-94 win over Washington; Terrence Williams, Nets: Break up the Nets! Williams averages 14.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists this week as New Jersey wins two of three; Jrue Holiday, Sixers: Had 13 points, 12 assists and seven -- yes, seven! -- steals in Sixers' 105-98 win over the Hawks. Averaged 13.0 points and 7.7 assists in three games; Jermaine Taylor, Rockets: Started last two games, averaging 14.5 points in 27 minutes per game.

Dropped out: Toney Douglas

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