For the Clippers, the month of March is mercifully over. Although they managed to squeak out 3 wins in the 14 games this month, making it somewhat less dismal than their 2 and 14 January. But given that this was supposed to be the big coming out party for the team, with Chris Kaman re-joining the lineup and the other stars relatively healthy as well, three wins is a complete disaster. Consider this - they won two games in January, a month in which Zach Randolph (0 games), Chris Kaman (0 games), Baron Davis (3 games) and Marcus Camby (11 games) missed 50 out of 64 player games. So 3 and 11 in a month in which those four missed only 10 games combined sends a very strong "It's not just the injuries, we really do suck" message.
But, we can still obsess about other things around here. So today's question is, who will be the March Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference? More to the point, does Eric Gordon have a chance to repeat his January feat?
March was not a particularly easy month for EJ. He started the month hurt, and also suffered through a mini-slump at one point. One of the most remarkable things about Gordon's rookie season has been his incredible consistency, which is really the last thing you expect from a rookie. From Dec. 22 through his late February injury, for two full months, he scored in double figures in 30 consecutive NBA games. He always gave the team something, and would toss in the occasional 30+ explosion (and one 41 point game, still a rookie high this season). But his March was much more rookie-like. He got his 35 against Indy, his 26 against the Wizards - but he also had three of his worst games since becoming a starter. Nonetheless, he still led all NBA rookies in scoring in March, at almost 18 points per game.
How does he stack up against the other west rooks? His competition overall this season has tended to be O.J. Mayo of the Grizzlies and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. And if Gordon had a rough March, well those two had it even worse. Mayo averaged 14.7 points per game during the month, which is the lowest monthly average in his NBA career. And after improving his scoring each prior month, Westbrook dropped back to 15.3 points per game in March, his lowest monthly average since becoming the starter in Oklahoma.
Mayo, Gordon and Westbrook have each won an ROM award this season. But a couple of new contenders have emerged in March - a couple of bigs.
Kevin Love was considered something of a snub when he was left off the Rookie Challenge roster. With the injury to Al Jefferson in Minnesota, Love has had to step up even more. He has responded with 15.3 points (second among west rookies behind Gordon) and 9.4 rebounds (first) in fewer than 29 minutes per game. In fact, his points per minute average is better than Gordon's for the month.
The other challenger is Marc Gasol, Mayo's Memphis teammate. His averages of 14.4 points and 7.6 rebounds are impressive as well, though on the surface not as impressive as Love's numbers.
Of course, I'm the guy that's been harping on offensive efficiency all season, given that it is what sets Gordon apart from the other perimeter rookies. When you look at the shooting percentages, Gasol's month really starts to shine. Love has gotten many, many more shots in March in AJ absence - but he's only making 46% of them. That's not a good number for a power forward, who hasn't made a single three pointer to increase his eFG. Gasol is shooting a full 10 percentage points better. Gasol has also gotten to the line more in March, and suddenly gone from being a mediocre foul shooter (73% on the season) to a great one (83% in March). He actually averaged more made free throws in March than Gordon. The combination of his already great shooting percentage and so many free throws pushes his True Shooting percentage up above 65%. Toss in 1.3 blocks per game and 2.5 assists (a terrific number for a center) and it's a very impressive month.
Given the natural tendency to spread the wealth and honor a different rookie and the deserving March resume of Pau's younger brother, it looks like a no brainer to me.
As for the ROY race, I'd say that the struggles of Mayo and Westbrook may help Gordon surpass those two on some voters ballots. But it's looking like Vinny Del Negro was right all along (that's sarcasm, by the way): Derrick Rose is going to be the rookie of the year. He's the only true point guard among the candidates, and he's the only top contender who's going to make the playoffs. Given the fact that Chicago is 7 and 2 in their last 9 games and might even pass Detroit and/or Philadelphia in the East playoff race, the voters will definitely single him out both for his individual statistics (which are plenty impressive) and for his team success.