NBA

MONROE: Yao heads the rookie class

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
Call the engraver, and see if you can find one that can inscribe in Mandarin Chinese. The NBA's Rookie of the Year race is over. is your winner. To reiterate a line I first used long before the draft: The Rookie of the Year trophy is going to pass from Pau to Yao. Wow! If , the runaway Rookie of the Year leader through the first half of the NBA season, were going to retain any hope of being named this season's best first-year player his chance ended Sunday in , where Yao outplayed him in the most important game of the season for both the and . Stoudemire actually appeared to be getting the better of Yao late in the critical game when he rejected his dunk attempt as the mounted a fourth-period comeback. But Yao followed by scoring six points in the next two minutes. And he set up two more baskets as they held on for a huge victory that earned them the season tie-breaker with the should the two finish tied for the eighth, and final, playoff berth in the Western Conference. One of the reasons I had named Stoudemire top rookie in the first half was the fact he had been most responsible for turning the from a lottery team to a playoff contender. We can now say the same thing about Yao. Yao finished Sunday's big game with 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting, along with eight rebounds. Stoudemire made only 3-of-10 shots, scored 12 points and had nine rebounds. Yao and Stoudemire clearly are the top two rookies from a rookie class that may be remembered in future years as one of the best in a decade, in part because Yao has averaged 13.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. He has made 51.9 percent of his shots and 80.5 percent of his free throws. He has also averaged 1.88 blocked shots and 1.6 assists. Stoudemire has averaged 13.4 points and 9.3 rebounds. He has made 46.3 percent of his shots and 67.1 percent of his free throws. And just as statistics don't measure the way Yao's passing and defense help the , they don't show the way Stoudemire's inside presence has changed the . The Rookie of the Year was a two-horse race from the moment Yao began to recover from his late start — remember, he arrived in just a week or so before the start of the regular season — to begin playing the way the believed he could when they made him the first overall pick in the draft. Stoudemire's early ascendancy was as much of a surprise as Yao's early struggle. He was the 10th player taken in the first round, not the first. Plus, jumping straight from high school to the NBA hasn't been easy for anyone, not even , and . To say Stoudemire made the jump more successfully than those three MVP candidates is no overstatement. If you still have any doubt that Yao will be this year's Rookie of the Year, check out the results of a poll of actual voters the Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen conducted over the weekend. Feigen contacted 28 voters (including Yours Truly), nearly a quarter of the 126-person voting pool, and asked for whom the voters will cast their Rookie of the Year vote. The results were overwhelming: 20 for Yao, 8 for Stoudemire. Nobody else received even a single vote. Considering how dramatically Yao was criticized through the first few weeks of the season this is a resounding affirmation of his resiliency, not to mention his talent and potential. Yao also has been a marked man every time he has played each team for the first time. Opposing players have measured their machismo by their ability to take their game right at him. That includes and . Add the fact Yao has had to deal with a media circus all season, with pregame press conferences that include his constant companion, interpreter Colin Pine, and you begin to understand just how resilient the 7-foot-6 youngster from Shanghai truly is. Clearly, the made the right decision when they used the first overall pick to take Yao. Just as clearly, the made a mistake making the second pick. Williams has been given every opportunity to succeed as the ' point guard. Only five rookies have averaged more minutes per game: Yao, Stoudemire, , and . But Williams is eighth among rookies in scoring and his shooting percentage is horrid, 38 percent. Let's apply 20-20 hindsight to last June's draft and re-select the Top 10.
  1. — Rookie of the Year, and he's only going to get more dominant.
  2. — A man's man at age 20.
  3. — Ditto Stoudemire, and he'll be better when he learns English.
  4. — Logged more minutes than any rookie.
  5. — Still needs to fill out, but still knows how to play.
  6. — Change of scenery definitely helps.
  7. — Better work on his shooting.
  8. could have used him for the stretch run.
  9. — Top percentage shooter, No. 3 rebounder among rookies.
  10. — "Tweener' who shoots just 37 percent.
You may notice , the No. 5 pick last June, and , No. 8, didn't make our re-draft Top 10. There are reasons the and have been two of the NBA's worst teams for years and year. Draft day mistakes are among them. At least the picked a winner in Hilario. Wilcox hasn't been able to log meaningful time (not even among the top 20 rookies) despite injuries to and . can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bulls, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Magic, Suns, Michael Olowokandi, Elton Brand, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Houston, Wagner, Butler, Nene Hilario, Amar'e Stoudemire, Mike Dunleavy, Yao Ming

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