- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

Emeka Okafor is leading Dwight Howard in the rookie of the year race, but it’s not a fair fight.

Okafor is three years older than Howard: He should be better.

The 22-year-old Okafor is the same age as All-Stars Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade and Gilbert Arenas.

The 19-year-old Howard, however, is the same age as college stars like Wake Forest’s Chris Paul and Pittsburgh’s Chris Taft.

This is why the rookie of the year award has become antiquated. There are a variety of rookies — college stars, foreign wunderkinds and high school phenoms — entering the league from every direction.

Okafor and Howard shouldn’t be judged against each other just because they were in the same draft class. They should be judged against players of the same age.

In the case of Okafor, the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t make a poor selection with their No. 1 overall pick last summer. After all, their 6-foot-10 power forward is averaging 14.9 points and 10.8 rebounds.

But Okafor isn’t the best player in his “age class” when measured against Stoudemire, Wade and Arenas.

Howard, meanwhile, is a phenom. At 19, his numbers (10.7 points and 10 rebounds a game) aren’t too far off Okafor’s pace. In fact, Howard is the best player in his “age class” — at least among players in the NBA.

Paul and Taft also are impressive because they are excelling against players older and more physically mature than themselves. But what they are doing at the college level can’t be compared to what Howard is doing in the NBA.

Here is a breakdown of the best young players in basketball:

19-year-olds: NBA — 1. Howard, Magic; 2. Luol Deng, Bulls; 3. Josh Smith, Hawks. College — 1. Paul, Wake Forest; 2. Taft, Pittsburgh.

20-year-olds: 1. LeBron James, Cavaliers; 2. Chris Bosh, Raptors; 3. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets. College — 1. Andrew Bogut, Utah; 2. Deron Williams, Illinois.

21-year-olds: 1. Josh Childress, Hawks; 2. Ben Gordon, Bulls; 3. Nenad Krstic, Nets. College — 1. Wayne Simien, Kansas; 2. Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga.

22-year-olds: 1. Stoudemire, Suns; 2. Wade, Heat; 3. Arenas, Wizards; 4. Tony Parker, Spurs; 5. Okafur, Bobcats. At an early crossroads: Kwame Brown, Wizards; Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, Bulls.

23-year-olds: 1. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz; 2. Carlos Boozer, Jazz; 3. Zach Randolph, Trail Blazers; 4. Drew Gooden, Cavaliers; 5. Jason Richardson, Warriors; 6. Kirk Hinrich, Bulls.

24-year-olds: 1. Pau Gasol, Grizzlies; 2. Yao Ming, Rockets; 3. Troy Murphy, Warriors; 4. Richard Jefferson, Nets; 5. Mike Miller, Grizzlies.

25-year-olds: 1. Tracy McGrady, Rockets; 2. Elton Brand, Clippers; 3. Michael Redd, Bucks; 4. Rashard Lewis, SuperSonics; 5. Larry Hughes, Wizards; 6. Lamar Odom, Lakers; 7. Corey Maggette, Clippers. Suspended: Ron Artest, Pacers. Often injured or out of shape: Baron Davis, Warriors.

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