— Just like the NCAA Tournament or a well-attended rock fight, only a handful of the NBA's 60-70 candidates for Rookie of the Year truly have a chance to survive to the very end.
They'll vie for an award that has been a perennial signal flare for stardom (or in the case of 2000-01 Rookie of the Year Mike Miller, a signal flare for solid all-around production in the NBA's cellar).
Here's a look at the top contenders’ credentials:
Michael Beasley, Heat
A recent poll of NBA general managers tabbed Beasley as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
That probably has something to do with the fact that he averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds last year as a Kansas State freshman, followed that up with a strong preseason (16.4 ppg) and could probably find a means of getting his shot off while handcuffed inside a burlap sack stuffed inside a trunk at the bottom of the ocean.
Quite simply, Beasley can score. Scoring gets people’s attention. And attention gets first year players the title Rookie of the Year.
Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
Little-known fact recently discovered during a typing mistake: "Oden" is only one keystroke removed from "oxen." This tidbit would be largely irrelevant if not for the fact that the Blazers center spent his year of knee rehab transforming from reasonably large to immensely strong in preparation for a significant low-post burden right away.
Oden doesn’t have anything resembling Beasley's offensive repertoire, but comparing Beasley’s multi-faceted game to Oden’s is like comparing a 15-pronged Swiss Army knife to ... well, an ox. Oden's game is zero parts finesse, 280 parts (or pounds) pure thunder.
And though he clearly faces some schooling in the ways of the NBA center, he should be ready to rebound and block shots right away. That may not be enough to sway voters, but if the Blazers make the playoffs, Oden has a good shot at upstaging everyone and taking this award.
O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
The circumstances are ripe for a strong statistical output: no established veteran to fight for minutes at his position, a coach who at least wants to play up-tempo offense and a rising star on the wing to deflect a considerable amount of defensive attention in Rudy Gay.
Add to those tangible factors two intangibles: Mayo's boiling temper (he inadvertently — or on purpose, depending on who you believe — broke USC teammate Daniel Hackett’s jaw last year), and his understanding of theatrics (hard to forget his dunk and heave the ball into the stands combo in the closing seconds of his high school championship game).
Some might see those latter two factors as negatives, and they certainly could be spun that way. But they could also be taken as indicators that Mayo’s going to be a ruthless and dynamic performer right away.
Derrick Rose, Bulls
The Bulls originally planned to bring the number one pick along slowly. Somewhere along the way, they must have remembered that their other option was Kirk Hinrich, the man who had been so maddeningly tantalizing and inconsistent that they felt forced to take Rose number one in the first place.
The other thing that happened was that Rose himself spent this preseason making it abundantly clear that the timetable needs to be accelerated. Rose started six of the Bulls' eight exhibition games, averaging 13.9 ppg and 5.0 apg on 51.8 percent shooting, notably engineering a comeback win over Dallas with 30 points on October 21. Though Rose’s outside shot is far from perfect, he has strength, quickness and explosiveness that few at his position can match.
If you were a wagering individual, you might consider putting your money down on one D. Rose leading all point guards in dunks this season. Or, instead of getting involved in that bizarre prop bet, you might consider a more conventional wager of tabbing Rose as 2008-09 NBA Rookie of the Year. More than an outside shot that one pays off.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
He may not immediately announce himself as a factor in this race, but before the end of the year, Westbrook could make a strong push. Ultimately, his viability largely depends on the whims of coach P.J. Carlesimo vis à vis incumbent point guard Earl Watson.
Westbrook appears to be ready to contribute right now (14.3 ppg in the preseason), but Watson is one of those players who not only has sticking power, but can also be strangely intoxicating, not unlike rubber cement.
Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Yes, he was very good in college. Yes, he has NBA three-point range, a tremendous set of all-around basketball skills and can chest-pass a basketball across a medium-sized lake. But Love didn’t show signs of an upcoming breakout this preseason (8.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and will likely need time to establish his game.
Brook Lopez, Nets
Some historical perspective here is key. Prior to Brook Lopez and his twin brother Robin (a rookie for the Suns), the last time two much-ballyhooed twin seven-footers entered the NBA out of Stanford … nothing of consequence happened.
In fairness, the Nets’ Lopez has far more upside than either Jason or Jarron Collins, evidenced in part by his strong preseason averages (11.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks). But it must be noted that Lopez received increased playing time while Josh Boone was sidelined by an irregular heartbeat, and with Boone now healthy, Lopez appears to be locked in a timeshare. Translation: If you’re expecting 11.8, 7.8, 2.3 and a surprise R.O.Y., your expectations are in for a letdown.
Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers
His weight training regimen leaves something to be desired — Fernandez is listed at 6-6, 185 but looks more like he’s 170. Furthermore, the young Spaniard is expected to come off the bench. But this is also the guy who scored 22 points and dunked in the not-often-dunked-upon mug of Dwight Howard during a near-upset of the U.S. in the Olympic gold medal game this summer.
The point being, even though Fernandez is not the most likely candidate for 2008-09 Rookie of the Year, it’s probably not a good idea to overlook him. The good news is, as is the case with most of these talented rookies, you probably won’t be able to.