Posted Nov 22 2010 7:43PM
This isn't about Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles, but it is.
Blake Griffin of the Clippers was dunktacular against the Knicks and poor Danilo Gallinari and Timofey Mozgov in particular. He broke out athletic moves that 6-foot-10, 250-pounders coming off serious knee injuries simply don't make, power moves that thundered down on Gallinari and Mozgov and created entries from the same guy and same game for slam of the season. Add to that feathery moves with fall-away banks from the post that glided through the net, all joined by 15 rebounds and seven assists, and it was the entire arsenal on display.
Yet it comes at the same time Derrick Favors and DeMarcus Cousins have had their own early impressive moments. Not the kind of single-game resume builder Griffin had at Staples Center -- few players, of any position and any experience, will have that kind of night this season -- but enough to become a reminder of the unique 2010-11 situation of three lottery rookies playing center and power forward for struggling teams.
That the progress of each will be charted individually is sub-plot enough, Griffin because of the comeback from the knee injury that cost him all last season, Cousins because of the maturity issues that continue as an unwanted counter to obvious talent, and Favors because he was viewed by some teams as the safe pick among bigs in the 2010 draft rather than the prospect with the most upside. But the three against each other, essentially entering the same season and essentially playing the same position, makes for interesting comparisons with surprising early returns.
There is the important disclaimer: Griffin had the running start of a 2009 summer league and most of '09 training camp and preseason before the knee injury, and both are valuable. However, he also had the only pressing health concern among the three.
Had they all been in the 2010 draft, Griffin surely would have been the first big man taken, ahead of Favors going third to the Nets and Cousins fifth to the Kings. Griffin-vs.-John Wall for No. 1 overall would have been the great debate; the chance to get a gifted point guard with warp speed might have won out. But now that Cousins, Favors and Griffin are all being judged against NBA competition for the first time, a new polling sample is fair.
Six executives, head coaches and scouts -- none from the Clippers, Nets or Kings -- were asked what they would do if it was their pick and all three bigs were on the board in the same draft, since Favors, Cousins and Griffin are in the same rookie class. Basically, choose who will have the best career.
Griffin, not surprisingly, fared best, and voting was done before the Knicks game.
But Favors got surprisingly strong support for someone who has yet to start, along with the contrast of minimal backing.
Cousins got blasted. He was the only one who didn't get a clear nod as the preferred choice.
The most positive feedback on Cousins came from the voter who said he couldn't decide on which big man should be taken first and was bound for the best career: "Tough call. I think Cousins has a chance because of his size. He's just got that brute force."
Otherwise, the results fall in line with an opening few months as a pro in which Cousins' work ethic has been questioned, he has been fined for clashing with the coaching staff and he lost the job as starting center as soon as Samuel Dalembert recovered from injury.
"It's really close between two of them," one respondent said of Griffin and Favors. "I definitely don't take the other guy."
"Favors 1, Griffin 2, Cousins way behind at 3," another said.
"I wouldn't want to coach him," replied a third.
Two did say they would take Cousins second.
Griffin's final tally, after the one voter who said he wouldn't make a choice without the chance to sit down and analyze the three-man comparison when it had just been a Favors-Cousins question in June, was three firsts, a first/ second tie, and a second. One called Griffin the "runaway" No. 1.
Favors got a first, a first/second tie, a second and two thirds. Teams love his athleticism, and he's a safer choice than Cousins even though Cousins was rated by some clubs as the second-best talent on the board in the 2010 draft, behind only top choice Wall. Among the two strongest dissenters in the straw poll, one said he likes Favors but simply thinks Griffin and Cousins have a better chance to be great while the other said he thinks Favors will have a long career as an important player but never reach stardom.
It's not even a quarter into the rookie season, but it is interesting. Griffin is as good, if not better, than projected coming out of Oklahoma as the real No. 1 pick of 2009. Favors is getting some very good reviews in just 20 minutes a game. And Cousins has major doubters around the league. There is plenty of time for these players to develop, and while they do, the comparisons will continue.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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