Early next week, Rookies of the Month for March will be handed out. It is possible that Anthony Davis could end Damian Lillard’s stranglehold on the Western Conference honor, while the East will be a toss-up between Moe Harkless and Jonas Valanciunas.
Davis, Harkless and Valanciunas have yet to win the award. But as we approach the season’s final month, it is the time where many previously unheralded rookies make a name for themselves.
Last year, Atlanta’s Ivan Johnson broke through in the East as Kyrie Irving spent most of April on the sidelines. Ditto Denver’s Kenneth Faried after Ricky Rubio and Isaiah Thomas shared the first three West awards.
In 2010, New Jersey’s Terrence Williams claimed the East award after Brandon Jennings had won four of the first five months. In 2008, Milwaukee’s Ramon Sessions stole the final award for the East.
And in April 2007, it was a dual heist. Atlanta’s Shelden Williams became the East’s fifth different winner in six months and Memphis’ Tarence Kinsey ended Brandon Roy’s three-month winning streak.
If you follow the NBA at all, you don’t need me to tell you that winning Rookie of the Month for April isn’t exactly a stairway to the stars. In addition to the names above that haven’t blossomed, other final-month winners in the new millennium include Shaun Livingston, Courtney Alexander and the immortal Zeljko Rebraca.
But it is a chance for a rookie who has been otherwise buried on either the bench or by a lack of publicity to create a buzz for themselves. And they don’t care whether their showcase is created by injuries, a look to the future or outright tanking.
Suns point guard Kendall Marshall has been getting a long look since Phoenix moved Sebastian Telfair at the trading deadline and had a season-high 13 assists Wednesday night. Sixers forward Arnett Moultrie has worked his way into the rotation and had season highs of 14 points and eight boards Monday night. Hornets forward Darius Miller, who has been in and out of the rotation all season, now appears firmly back in and scored a season-high 16 points Monday.
Perhaps the most unlikely late-season emergence has occurred in Orlando, which has five rookies on its roster. Forward Kyle O’Quinn began the season buried behind Glen Davis and fellow rookie Andrew Nicholson. But Davis went down in December, and Nicholson’s inconsistency and injuries have given an opportunity to O’Quinn.
The New York native and Norfolk State alum had not played 20 minutes in consecutive games until this week but has now done so as a starter in Orlando’s last four games. And he’s not just running around, either. He has two double-doubles and has shot the ball extremely well in that span.
“Some of our young guys haven’t played a lot, this is the only experience we get as far as game experience,” O’Quinn said. “We’re taking advantage of this opportunity to get this game experience.”
With East rookies Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters injured and unlikely to return this season, O’Quinn has a good chance to be Rookie of the Month in April.
What he doesn’t want to be is the next Tarence Kinsey.
On to the rankings.