Rookie Ranking Ranting

David Thorpe's disregard for Eric Gordon is beginning to border on the bizarre.  Thorpe provides updates to his Rookie Watch feature on ESPN.com weekly on Wednesdays.  So you might think that this week, a week that included Eric Gordon's 41 point performance (a Clipper rookie record, as well as the high game for any rookie this season), would create some significant movement.  The fact that Gordon's game came against a Thorpe favorite, Russell Westbrook, would also seem relevant, especially considering that Gordon thoroughly outplayed Westbrook, the Thunder rookie finishing with fewer points than shots  (11 versus 13) and fewer assists than turnovers (2 versus 3).  So there was bound to be movement in this week's list, right?  Indeed there was.  Westbrook moved up to the number 1 spot on Thorpe's Top 50. 

Like I said, bizarre.  In his write up on Westbrook, there is of course no mention of his poor performance against the Clippers, but there's also no mention of his 30 point performance against the Warriors the game before.  Instead, Thorpe spends his 160 words describing Westbrook's defense, which seems a strange choice given that he was one of the defenders that Gordon torched this week.  He concludes thusly:

Unless he's wrongly going over the top of the screen (meaning he's supposed to go under it on that play), it's not his fault if the shooter makes the shot. That shot is on the big who forgot to offer curl protection.

In other words, "I know that it LOOKED like Russell Westbrook just got burned by his man, but he didn't.  It's not his fault.  Trust me.  I know better.  I'm David Thorpe." 

(Sarcasm aside for a moment, he's of course correct - sometimes the defender whose man scores is not the one at fault in the overall defensive scheme.  But does it strike anyone else as strange to promote Westbrook to the top spot, and then use your analysis to explain the esoterica of how in your opinion Westbrook's teammates aren't making him look as good as he really, truly is?)

In his Rookie Watch introduction, he justifies his new top three (Westbrook, Kevin Love and Brook Lopez) based on how well their respective teams are playing.  The reasoning: Westbrook's Thunder are playing better lately than OJ Mayo's Grizz or Derrick Rose's Bulls, so Westbrook is number one.  Okie dokie, fine.  So the Rookie Watch is a snapshot of recent history.  Sure, the Bulls and the Grizz have more wins than the Thunder since the season began (OKC got their 11th win to tie the Grizz after Thorpe wrote this), but apparently Thorpe doesn't rank guys based on what they have done cumulatively.

Unless he's ranking Eric Gordon. 

No rookie is hotter on offense than EG, who has been torching teams, averaging more than 22 ppg in January. But this rookie report ranks guys based on what they have done cumulatively, and Gordon has not performed as well as many of the other rookies since the season began. But it's a long season, and Gordon looks as if he'll play a ton of minutes going forward, so seeing him ascend into our top 10 by season's end is certainly possible.

That's what Thorpe wrote about Gordon two weeks ago, on January 14th, before he scored 41 against the Thunder.  There was no written update on EJ this week.  It is true that Gordon did move from 14th to 11th in Thorpe's Top 50, but even that promotion strikes me as lazy and backhanded.  "Oh crap, I just got through talking about how Gordon might possibly make the top 10 by the season's end, and here we are two weeks later and he obviously deserves to be there already.  I'll make him 11 so my last comment doesn't look quite so stupid."

More to the point though, how can Thorpe possibly not talk about Gordon this week?  It's the Rookie Watch!  It's purpose in life is to watch for significant developments among NBA rookies.  Eric Gordon just scored 41 points in a game this week.  More points than any other rookie this season.  More points than Kevin Durant scored until the last game of his Rookie of the Year campaign.  That strikes me as significant, and maybe worth a shout out on the Rookie Watch!

Fortunately, the assistant coaches who vote for the participants in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge (who selected Gordon to the nine man roster) and Dave McMenamin of NBA.com's Rookie Report (who has Gordon ranked fourth and Westbrook third) at least seem to have noticed what's going on.

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