So far, our Award Watch for the Rookie of the Year race has been a top-five list with a bit extra thrown in, but as the calendar turns to the new year (and because we took a break for the holidays), we’re doing something a little special this time around: ranking every pick from this year’s lottery in terms of where they stand in the ROY race. But before we do that, let’s pick our favorite rookie from the late first round.
Larry Nance, Jr.: It’s time to give some respect to the man who’s started the last 13 games for the Los Angeles Lakers over more heralded youngster Julius Randle. He was considered a mid-second rounder heading into the draft, but he’s really come on of late, including a 17-point, 12-rebound performance against the tough front line of the Memphis Grizzlies on Dec. 27:
At some point this season (or by next season), Randle will probably take back the starting spot, but Nance has shown encouraging signs of being a possible rotation piece — and a candidate for the Dunk Contest (do you know who his father is?). Now, for the lottery picks:
14. PG Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder:
Payne hasn’t had much run for a Thunder team gunning for the NBA title, nor should he. The Thunder’s backup point guard is the solid veteran D.J. Augustin, and Payne is spending a lot of time in the D-League. In his limited NBA run, he showed a decent shooting touch and some good passing, but he’s rail-thin and a liability on defense. None of that is deterministic for his future success.