- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This is the effect of Greg Oden’s season-ending-before-it-started microfracture surgery? This is the best Kevin Durant can offer?

Last summer’s NBA Draft was one of the most anticipated since LeBron James came out of high school in 2003. The debate of Oden vs. Durant had NBA fans in a frenzy before the draft order was even announced.

The two freshmen were expected to conduct a season-long battle for rookie of the year honors, but Oden got hurt. And Durant, though healthy, hasn’t come close to resembling the electrifying, dominant force he was at Texas.

Instead of a campaign of excitement, this year’s rookie of the year race has plodded along with about as much exhilaration as a parade of elephants.

Durant leads the way, averaging 19.2 points and 4.1 rebounds. But he is shooting 40.0 percent, and his impact has been minimal for the SuperSonics (15-40).

Only two other rookies are scoring in double figures: the Clippers’ Al Thornton at 11.0 and the Grizzlies’ Juan Carlos Navarro at 10.7. And like Durant, their play has been erratic: intriguing and semi-impressive one game, then mediocre in the next two or three.

Durant scored 23 points in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star week, but he wasn’t dominant.

In fact, the steadiest rookie so far has been Atlanta’s Al Horford, who averages 9.1 points and 9.8 rebounds. He’s not dominant, just consistent. But is he really worthy of the ROY crown?

A dark-horse rookie of the year pick was Houston’s Luis Scola, a 6-foot-9, 230-pounder post player from Argentina. The thinking was the 27-year-old’s previous professional experience would allow him to make a seamless transition into the NBA. Ha.

His minutes and production both fluctuate just like his fellow classmates’, and he’s averaging 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds — decent but not great.

Durant probably will run away with rookie of the year honors. He is close to doubling the output of his closest competitor. But it’s still ho-hum.

Perhaps the standards are too high. It has been four years, but that 2003 draft class — which included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Josh Howard and David West — is pretty hard to top.

Even in 2004, Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon quickly made an impact, as did Chris Paul and Deron Williams in 2005.

Durant and a handful of his classmates probably will go on to have impressive careers. But not so far.

Had Oden been able to play this season, it would have been interesting to see whether the hype of the draft would have carried over.

Maybe he would have put up a steady 18 points and 10 rebounds. Those stats wouldn’t be close to Shaquille O’Neal’s 23.4 and 13.9 as a rookie and still shy of Tim Duncan’s rookie numbers of 21.1 and 11.9.

But such numbers from Oden at least would have given Durant some competition and sparked debate, breathing life into this year’s ROY race.

POWER RANKINGS

Mike Jones ranks the top 10 NBA teams (last week in parentheses):

1. Lakers (5)

Kobe and the Lakers, riding an eight-game win streak, hurdle the field to grab the West’s top spot.

2. Pistons (2)

Detroit dominated the league’s former highest-scoring team with a well-rounded attack and great depth.

3. Celtics (1)

KG isn’t totally back to 100 percent after that abdominal strain, and his team went 1-3 in the last week.

4. Spurs (6)

San Antonio, which has won five straight, gets a boost from the return of Tony Parker.

5. Suns (4)

So much for helping the defense. The Suns gave up 130 to the Lakers and 116 to the Pistons this week.

6. Hornets (3)

The All-Star break appears to have cooled New Orleans somewhat. But it did beat Dallas during a 1-2 week.

7. Mavericks (8)

Jason Kidd is averaging 12.3 assists in three games since being traded to Dallas.

8. Jazz (7)

Deron Williams put up 22.3 points and 9.3 assists last week for Utah, which has won 18 of its last 21.

9. Rockets ()

Strong play from Luis Scola (12.8 points, 7.8 rebounds) in his last four games highlights Houston’s 12-0 run.

10. Orlando (9)

SuperDwight and Co. won 40 games last season. Now they’re 36-22 with 24 games left.

MVP Race

1. LeBron James (Cleveland) King James (30.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.06 steals) is smiling now that management gave him some help.

2. Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers) What hand injury? Kobe (27.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists) has lifted the Lakers to the best record in the West.

3. Chris Paul (New Orleans) — CP3 (20.7 points, 10.8 assists, 2.67 steals) continues his impressive campaign for the Hornets.

THE BUZZ

ROCKETS — UP

Yao and Co. remain hot, extending their win streak to 12 games.

HEAT — DOWN

Not even the Matrix can help this bunch. Miami has lost 11 straight.

SHAQ SUNS — EVEN

Phoenix is 4-4 since shipping out Shawn Marion for Shaq and 1-2 with the Big Fella on the floor.

BY THE NUMBERS

2 Double-digit losing streaks this season for the Miami Heat. First came a 15-game slide. Now they’re staggering through an 11-game skid.

9 Victories this season for the lowly Heat, who are just two years removed from their first title.

QUOTABLE

“I’m very close to repeating what Rick Pitino said a few years ago, but I’m not going to repeat that. There is nobody coming to save us right now.”

— Wizards coach Eddie Jordan light-heartedly describing the short-handed state of his team

GAMES TO WATCH

Dallas AT San Antonio Thursday, 8 p.m. TNT

Jason Kidd and the Mavericks get a shot at Tim Duncan and the defending champion Spurs.

Utah AT New Orleans Friday, 8 p.m. ESPN

The league’s brightest young point guards — Deron Williams of the Jazz and Chris Paul of the Hornets — face off.


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