Just Call Him Ben
Rookie guard proves to be one-of-a-kind
May 5 -- All season, the fourth quarter heroics of Chicago Bulls reserve guard Ben Gordon drew him comparisons to another Windy City star. His ability to score in bunches and strong, compact body also drew comparisons with former Philadelphia guard Andrew Toney.
On Tuesday April 3, Gordon became incomparable.
Gordon came off Chicago's bench in 79-of-82 games to average 15.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He was a key catalyst for the Bulls in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 or more points in the final period 21 times -- second best in the league -- including a 22-point outburst in a 102-99 comeback win at Charlotte March 30.
"That was about a good a performance as I've ever seen in a critical time in a basketball game, from not only a rookie but from anybody that I've ever been around," Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said after watching the 6-3 former UConn All-American burn the Bobcats for 35 points, including all 16 of Chicago's final points.
With Gordon's scoring prowess in tow, the Bulls returned to the playoffs for the first time since the dynasty era concluded with a title in '98. Chicagoís 47 wins is a 24-game improvement from last seasonís mark.
The NBA's newest idol was not the only rookie who grabbed headlines, however.
Orlando Magic forward Dwight Howard became the first player ever to start 82 games directly out of high school and the youngest athlete to record 20-plus rebounds in a game, doing so on three occasions. Likewise, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith became the youngest player to accumulate 10 blocks in a game against Dallas Dec. 18.
Nevertheless, no rookie was able to accomplish what has only been done twice before -- a first-year player winning the Most Valuable Player award.
Wes Unseld did it during the 1968-69 season after helping the Baltimore Bullets to a 57-25 record and an Eastern Division title -- a 21-game improvement over the club's sixth-place finish the previous year.
The 6-7 Unseld finished the campaign with per-game averages of 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds and was named both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for his efforts.
Legendary center Wilt Chamberlain also accomplished the feat in 1959-60. The 7-1 Philadelphia Warriors pivot averaged 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds as the Warriors vaulted from last to second place in the Eastern Division standings.
Accomplishments like those achieved by Chamberlain, Unseld and Gordon prove a simple "rook" can do anything a vet can.
Well, except for one thing -- win Most Improved Player.