videoWe've had a week to digest the official retirement of future Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash.

Which means we've also had a week to digest how small the pool of players who were drafted in the 1990s is getting.

We're down to 12 active NBA players, in fact, who were drafted in the previous millennium. According to the list compiled by ESPN.com's tireless Adam Reisinger:

1995: Kevin Garnett (No. 5 overall pick)
1996: Kobe Bryant (No. 13)
1997: Tim Duncan (No. 1)
1998: Vince Carter (No. 5), Dirk Nowitzki (9), Paul Pierce (10), Nazr Mohammed (29)
1999: Elton Brand (No. 1), Andre Miller (8), Shawn Marion (9), Jason Terry (10), Manu Ginobili, (57)

You'll note that the three most-tenured players on this list can be found today with their original teams, although KG's circumstances are obviously different from Kobe's and Timmy's. While Bryant and Duncan, like Nowitzki, have played for only one franchise throughout their entire careers, Garnett took a detour from Minnesota of nearly eight years before the Timberwolves reacquired him in February on trade deadline day.

There are five current players in the NBA, meanwhile, who were born after Garnett was drafted. They are: Dante Exum, James Young, Noah Vonleh, Aaron Gordon and Bruno Caboclo.

And there are two players in the top 20 of Chad Ford’s Big Board for 2015 -- Devin Booker and Malik Pope -- were born after Kobe and Nash were drafted in 1996.

Ridiculous Russ strikes again

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23
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videoThe NBA peak for triple-doubles after the All-Star break is held by Wilt Chamberlain ... with an unfathomable 24 in the 1967-68 season.

So we can’t describe what we’re seeing from Russell Westbrook as record-setting.

Yet I still think we can get away with astonishing after Ridiculous Russ, with his 10th triple-double of the season Sunday, moved up to eight of them since the All-Star break, which is just four shy of the most we’ve seen from anyone after All-Star Weekend over the past 40 years.

With 12 points, 10 rebounds and 17 assists in the Thunder’s 93-75 win over Miami, Westbrook has Michael Jordan in his sights, as the following chart from the Elias Sports Bureau attests:

Westbrook, furthermore, is just the sixth player in the past 30 seasons to make it into double figures for triple-doubles in a single season, joining Jason Kidd (2007-08), Grant Hill (1996-97), Magic Johnson (1990-91), Larry Bird (1989-90) and Fat Lever (1987-88).

LOS ANGELES -- Ask him where his MVP trophies are and Steve Nash isn't so sure.

Invite him to go back and figuratively rewrite the ending to the playoff heartbreak of his choice, just for the sport of it, and Nash says there's no need.

Remind him of that Sports Illustrated cover, on which he's bouncing giddily alongside Dwight Howard and a headline proclaiming how much fun was in store, and Nash can only acknowledge that "nothing worked out the way we intended it to work out."

"It wasn't as much fun as we thought," Nash said with a chuckle meant as much as anything to convey chagrin.

Yet it's not just imaginary do-overs that he shuns. He's not looking for sympathy or convenient alibis, either.

Or your validation.

[+] Enlargenash
Noah Graham /NBAE via Getty ImagesSteve Nash bid adieu to the NBA as the No. 3 all-time assist leader.

He insists he can live with every barb about these three lost seasons with the Lakers -- just as he's always said he can take those no rings cracks -- because he remains convinced coming to L.A. was the best way to properly cap nearly two decades of playing NBA basketball the way he imagined his net-circling hero Wayne Gretzky would have.

Nash firmly believes stepping into the cauldron of title-or-bust expectations in Hollywood, after the offensive revolution that sprouted in the desert and his time with the Phoenix Suns had come to an end, was the only way to play out his (mostly) storybook career.

"I had incredibly high hopes coming here," Nash said as part of a 45-minute conversation Friday in his living room, some of which you might have already seen on SportsCenter.

"I wanted to do great things in this city," he said. "And it didn't happen. But a big part of why I came here was because I wanted to be in the fire. I wanted to be judged. I wanted to be under pressure in my last chapter. I didn't want to fade off.

"And in some ways, I got bit by that. But that's what I wanted. That is the way to end your career ... [playing with] the most risk and the most reward. I accept it. It's been a great experience, regardless of the noise out there."

Nash insists, furthermore, that the static about how little his battered body allowed him to give the Lakers in exchange for a three-year contract worth nearly $28 million and the four draft picks they surrendered in a sign-and-trade with the Suns actually only exists on Twitter and sports talk radio.

"If you live online," Nash said, "you'd think I'm a pariah in the community."

The reality?

"Lakers fans have been unbelievable to me in person," he said. "I've never had a Lakers fan or a person in Los Angeles say a negative thing to me in two-and-a-half years. The opposite. People have been so supportive, so respectful."

Those people apparently know the truth: how Nash worked harder in his rehab efforts over an 18-month period, after suffering career-altering nerve damage in a collision with Portland's Damian Lillard in his second game as a Laker, than he did at any point in his gym rat life.

You should also know, if you haven't already read Nash's explanation on the matter, that he has essentially been retired since it was announced in October that he would be forced to sit out the entire 2014-15 campaign. The reason his retirement wasn't formally announced then? Lakers officials asked him to delay the news he broke Saturday so they could try to trade his expiring, $9.7 million contract for an asset with more staying power.

The silver lining there, of course, is Nash has had some time to get used to the idea of telling the world what only family, friends and confidantes have known all season.

"I actually feel like I'm doing great," Nash said. "The saving grace for me is that the mornings I wake up and say, 'I want to play today. Can I still do it?' ... it takes me about 30 seconds to realize, 'You can't do it.' So the answer was made for me. I just cannot do it anymore.

"I had to just be honest and accept the fact that I can rehab this way for the next 10 years, and I'm not going to be in a position to help the team. So that saves me. That makes it bearable. That's made me, in some ways, kind of move past it.

"There is going to be a transition here where I'm gonna have to become someone else, do something else, and that's going to be tricky. I don't want to underestimate that. But I feel pretty good about it."

How could he not, really?

As we covered in this cyberspace in October, when we published our first farewell to Captain Canada -- knowing then, as he did, the end had arrived -- Nash essentially suffered a broken back in a pickup game in Dallas before his first real game as a Maverick. He overcame that injury and myriad complications it spawned, after the very long odds he overcame in the first place just to make it all the way to the NBA from a remote outpost in a hockey country, to earn eight All-Star invites, uncork four of the 10 recorded 50/40/90 seasons in league history, finish third all-time in assists behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd and, yes, win the back-to-back MVP awards in Phoenix to a) become the only player ever shorter than 6-foot-6 to do so and b) earn the slick nickname of Two-Time.

When his body finally gave in, Nash happened to be the only 40-year-old you could find on the NBA map.

As a bonus, in case he needs the pick-me-up, Nash can console himself with the knowledge that at least one pretty good basketball team still covets his services. League sources told ESPN.com earlier this month that LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers -- who happen to have two of the biggest Nash admirers on Earth in their front office, in David Griffin and former teammate Raja Bell -- let it be known to longtime Nash agent Bill Duffy that they would love to give the old man a whirl as a short-minute backup to Kyrie Irving if Nash wanted to seek a buyout after the trade deadline from whoever had him at that point.

No chance, though.

He only wanted to come back -- and go out -- as a Laker. He says he's going to live where he is now "forever" and hoped he could give the locals something -- anything -- to repay the Lakers for bringing him to town and giving him the chance to stay near his three children, who all go to school mere steps from Nash's house.

“In preseason, I did everything right,” he said. “I had a good camp. I came in maybe in the best shape on the deal. I played one preseason game and felt decent. I thought maybe I could get better from here. The next morning, I woke up, and I was a mess. … I just had to come to the realization that if I’m lucky, I’d play in 10 games this year.

“I think I can [still] have a great game. But I can't do it more than once or twice a month.”

Instead, he’s forced to satisfy his competitive urges with the copious amounts of soccer he plays with former pros such as NBC Sports commentator Kyle Martino, his role as a rehabbing mentor to injury-tortured U.S. national teamer [and ESPN FC commentator] Stu Holden and the occasional morning invites to duck out and play beach volleyball.

He also watches copious amounts of soccer -- "Every Spurs, Barcelona and [Vancouver] Whitecaps game" -- and actually has a variety of jobs, thanks to his philanthropic work with the Steve Nash Foundation and the $5 million it has raised to get critical needs sources to children, his many filmmaking endeavors alongside cousin Ezra Holland, and his role as general manager of Canada's national basketball team.

Which makes him Andrew Wiggins' boss of sorts.

"I don't know that Andrew needs much of a push," Nash said. "We're just lucky he's Canadian."

Besides tracking Wiggins and the influx of highly drafted Canadians in recent years -- naturally sparked in part by the NBA interest he generated back home -- Nash lists Irving and Steph Curry as his favorite point guards to watch in the modern game.

On this particular afternoon, though, Nash only has eyes for his kids. When the interview ends and the crew finishes packing up its cameras, there are five of them under one roof: Nash's 10-year-old twin daughters, Bella and Lola, 4-year-old son, Mateo, and two neighborhood friends.

The mood could not possibly stay heavy once Mateo strolled upstairs to inform Dad that this particular Friday at school was "Happiness Day."

In all the years I've covered Nash, from closer range than I ever had a right to expect or deserve, I only know of him crying twice.

I saw it with my own eyes at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, which Nash to this day refers to as the pinnacle of his career, when he bolted off the floor in tears after a quarterfinal loss to France left the Cinderellas from Canada one win shy of the medal round.

The only other instance, which occurred out of public view, is said to have happened after a heated scolding from Don Nelson during Nash’s nightmarish debut season with the Mavericks, when he went to his then-coach seeking help and wound up getting berated to a degree that left Nash shattered. Of course, if you read Nash's "I'm retiring" letter to his fans Saturday, you know how big an impact Nellie's tough-love approach had on Nash's subsequent success.

But that's it. That's my list. Beyond that, I can only repeat what I wrote six months ago: Nash is as glass-half-full as anyone I've ever met.

Inside or outside sports.

Somewhat fearful of the unknown in his next life? Of course.

Emotionally distraught by a run of health misfortune as a Laker, a run that has been thickly caked on top of the string of postseason daggers he ingested as a Sun?

Try philosophical.

"I don't hide from that: I didn't win a championship," Nash said. "If that forms people's opinions of my career or legacy or value, that's their opinion. That's not my responsibility.

"I don't get caught up in legacy or where I fit in [when it comes to the point guard pantheon]. ... If I leave anything behind, I hope it's that I was a great teammate and a great competitor. If a championship is a huge component in your [definition of] success, that's fine. But it doesn't affect how much I enjoyed my career. I'll always be disappointed I didn't win a championship, for sure, but there's a lot more to life as well.

"I lost the [last] battle, but I fought the battle. That's what matters most."

Hassan WhitesideIssac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Most Improved of the Second Trimester: Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat

Make no mistake: This is still Jimmy Butler's trophy to lose.

Especially since it appears that Butler is going to be back in the Bulls' lineup soon from the elbow woes that have been plaguing him since his breakthrough February to the All-Star Game.

However ...

For all the justified attention Butler and Golden State's Draymond Green have generated for their significant step-ups this season on teams with title aspirations, Whiteside has to be highlighted here.

Has to be.

Since Jan. 1, after all, there's only one player in the whole NBA who ranks in the top five in both blocked shots per game and rebounds per game.

Hassan Whiteside.

The same Hassan Whiteside who was cast aside by the Los Angeles Lakers last summer and then released twice by the Memphis Grizzlies before Thanksgiving before his sudden rise to prominence with Miami.

That's improvement!

Utah's Rudy Gobert, our Defensive Player of the Second Trimester, also doubles as a fast-rising MIP candidate, giving Butler and Green a push. But the emergence of Whiteside -- despite his recent, uh, on-court behavioral slippage -- continues to be one of the stories of the season.

Plenty of maturity/dependability questions still persist about Whiteside. As recently as March 11, ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh alarmingly tweeted that Whiteside has the highest rate of technical fouls and flagrant fouls, per minute, in the league.

But Whiteside isn't just some young player thriving now because he's getting his first big opportunity. It's often forgotten that he was drafted in 2010 by Sacramento, only to find himself in exile in Lebanon after playing his way out of the NBA thanks to such a troubled start with the Kings.

Butler's jump from a 13.1 points-per-game man last season to an All-Star averaging 20.2 points per game this season remains the ultimate headline-grabber in this category. Whiteside isn't far off, though.

Coach of the Second Trimester

March, 21, 2015
Mar 21
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David BlattDennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

Coach of the Second Trimester: David Blatt, Cleveland Cavaliers

Nothing has changed in the grand scheme of the Coach of the Year race.

It's pretty much a two-man race that finds Golden State's Steve Kerr and Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer far removed from the rest of the profession and no easier to separate than they were when we covered this ground right around Christmas.

However ...

When focused strictly on the season's middle third, no coach enjoyed a more pleasurable or productive spell than Blatt.

The Cavs were 19-20 on Jan. 15. The subject of Blatt's connectivity with his players, and thus his job security, was a fixture of the daily NBA discourse. The position in which he finds himself now, in charge of the team most Las Vegas oddsmakers suddenly favor to win this season's championship, seemed unimaginable at the time.

But Blatt survived the storms. Not unlike his final season at perennial European power Maccabi Tel Aviv. He was nearly fired after an unfathomable 4-3 start in Israeli League play and then rallied all the way to last May's Euroleague crown.

He has gotten a lot of help from Cavs general manager David Griffin, who showed Blatt an enormous amount of support by first emphatically announcing that the rookie coach's job was not under threat and then making trades to acquire big man Timofey Mozgov and the guard duo of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. The Cavs have been a different team ever since.

It also hasn't hurt that LeBron James -- whose apparent lack of interest in the new-to-the-NBA coach's message wasn't hard to spot in the days and weeks before the hiatus LeBron took right around his 30th birthday -- has been noticeably more engaged since his return.

Tougher tests for Blatt, of course, are bound to come in the playoffs, when these Cavs get their first taste of adversity -- maybe a bad loss or a series deficit or perhaps just a debatable crunch-time decision -- and he experiences a new level of NBA scrutiny. Yet you have to say that it's been somewhat unfair to Blatt that so little has been said over these past few months about how well he rebounded from his early-season duress.

East MVP of the Second Trimester

March, 21, 2015
Mar 21
12:02
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LeBron JamesD. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

East MVP of the Second Trimester: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

The player widely regarded as the greatest on the planet, as the regular season winds down, might very well be headed for a fourth-place finish in the NBA's MVP race.

Or, at best, maybe a third-place finish.

That's the sort of strange 2014-15 campaign it's been: LeBron James is in the chasing pack behind Steph Curry and James Harden.

And quite possibly behind Russell Westbrook, too.

Yet it's likewise true that the second trimester of said campaign is when LeBron started looking like LeBron again. The Cavs are 24-6 since he took a two-week hiatus to recharge himself, both mentally and physically. With a PER of 26.08, he has led Cleveland to the league's best record in that span.

And thanks to the ensemble cast that has positioned the Atlanta Hawks with an unblowable lead atop of the East, James is the only name from his conference that you're going to see in the top five once the league office conducts formal MVP voting in April.

This space belonged to Kyle Lowry when First Trimester honors were handed out after Christmas, but LeBron is running unopposed in his conference now.

Trouble is, LeBron is merely fourth in terms of favorites heading down the stretch, according to the latest MVP odds from our pals at Bovada (as shown in the accompanying chart). You'll recall that, coming into the season, 26 of 28 ESPN panelists picked James as their preseason MVP.

Stein's NBA grapevine

March, 20, 2015
Mar 20
10:00
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Sergio LlullAlius Koroliovas/EB/Getty ImagesWill Spain's Sergio Llull make his way to the NBA next season?

On a brief trip to Spain for yours truly earlier this month, I had the opportunity to catch an in-person glimpse of gritty Spanish guard Sergio Llull for the first time since the 2012 Olympics in London.

Nearly three years later, as you'd imagine, Llull is a much better player than the 23-year-old who served as a seventh or eighth man for the Spaniards in the 2012 gold-medal game against Team USA.

Llull is a combo guard who loves to score first but can do much more when he's on the ball these days for Real Madrid than he did back then for the national team, which for the past several years could always turn to the likes of Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Ricky Rubio for quarterbacking. Llull's role is much bigger with the Spanish club giants in Madrid, who have him under contract through 2018 and to whom Llull (pronounced YOU'LL) has always proclaimed the deepest of affections.

His NBA rights, however, belong to the Houston Rockets, who have been trying for years to convince Llull to make the jump. And there is some fresh talk that next season -- finally -- Llull will give strong consideration to joining the Gasol brothers and the rest of the Spanish armada playing Stateside.

One well-placed source told me in Spain: There's a "pretty decent" chance Llull agrees to sample the NBA next season.

The scouting report on Llull from one Spanish League expert: "He's a really good pick-and-roll player. He takes and makes big shots. He's great in the open floor and very tough. He's a better athlete than you think, too. But he needs to be on an up-tempo team in the NBA -- Houston, Phoenix, Golden State and so forth -- so he can play in the open floor and run pick-and-roll."


The climax of the college season typically gives a hearty nudge to the NBA's offseason coaching carousel. And it's already happening even though the NCAA tournament isn't out of the first round yet.

A few quick dribbles of pertinent coaching gossip:

** There is a growing sense in NBA coaching circles that Florida's Billy Donovan will give renewed consideration to making a move to the pros after a rough (by his standards) season in Gainesville. Although there is no firm indication yet that the Orlando Magic will pursue Donovan again when they ramp up their coaching search in late April, it's a scenario that's bound to be talked about.

** There's been no shortage of buzz among NBA types this week about former DePaul star Ty Corbin, freshly ousted as interim coach of the Sacramento Kings, moving to the college game to fill the fresh opening at his alma mater.

** It is widely -- and I mean widely -- believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season's end.


A handful of disabled player exceptions quietly expired this month, with the teams that applied to the league to receive them opting to let the money go unspent ... presumably because there were no free agents to chase in-season who could command more than minimum money.

The Pacers received a $5.3 million injury exception in the wake of Paul George's gruesome compound leg fracture last summer. The Lakers were granted two fairly substantial trade exceptions by the league in the wake of season-ending injuries suffered by Steve Nash ($4.85 million) and Julius Randle ($1.5 million). The Heat had one worth $2.7 million, too, after losing Josh McRoberts to a meniscus tear in his right knee.

Yet they all expired March 10 without fanfare.


Last month's trade deadline was a particularly big one for the D-League.

Of the 39 players involved in deals on a frantic deadline day, 16 of them had D-League experience, which equates to a healthy 41 percent. That, of course, includes Detroit's newly acquired Reggie Jackson, who spent some time with the old Tulsa 66ers in his early days in Oklahoma City.

We've also seen a new record this season with more than a third of the NBA possessing D-League experience on their resumes. That figure includes 26 players who were drafted last June, as NBA teams increasingly turn to their D-League affiliates to season young players.


The trade that sent Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young shaved Brooklyn's luxury-tax bill from slightly more than $26 million to $19,687,385. The Nets, you'll recall, paid a whopping $90.57 million in luxury tax after last season's $190 million chase of a championship. ...

We lost out on some good trivia when Ray Allen decided to take this season off. Had Allen signed with a team other than the Boston Celtics, it would have meant that all five starters from the Celts' championship team in 2007-08 would have been active with five new and different teams. Which, according to ESPN's peerless source of NBA goodness Adam Reisinger, hasn't happened since the NBA/ABA merger of 1976-77.

Hawks SignScott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesDespite a less-than-favorable schedule, the Hawks are still the Eastern Conference's top seed.

Western Conference teams have been privately (and not so privately) complaining for years about the gulf in top-to-bottom class between the West and East.

They've been grumbling about how much better East teams have it because they each get 52 regular-season games against weaker overall competition ... while West teams with win totals in the mid-to-high 40s routinely miss the playoffs.

They've pined for something resembling a balanced scheduled. Or tweaks to the playoff format, at the very least, that ensured trips to the postseason for the 16 teams with the best records.

Less discussed -- until now -- is the very wide (and mysterious) disparity league-wide when it comes to some of the most coveted games on any team's schedule: Playing after a night off against a team on the second half of a back-to-back.

The Dallas Mavericks, for example, had played a whopping 18 such games through Wednesday's play.

The Washington Wizards had played an East-leading 17.

The Atlanta Hawks, by contrast, are running away with the East's No. 1 seed despite playing only three such games to date.

LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, had only played four games with a one-night rest edge heading into Thursday night's schedule.

Imagine how the teams feel at the tail end of the wild West playoff chase. Oklahoma City and New Orleans have played just seven and six games this season, respectively, against a team on the second night of a back-to-back while coming off a night of rest.

Several fewer, in other words, than the Mavericks.

It would be even worse for the Thunder and Pelicans, though, if the Mavs weren't so wasteful with those scheduling gifts. Dallas has won just 10 of those 18 games against tired teams. The league average for playoff teams in those situations is .702 ball; Washington, for example, has won 13 of its 17 games with an extra night of rest.

Below is a complete list of how many games each team has played so far this season with a night of rest against a team completing a back-to-back set.

We've also included last season's breakdown, too, which reveals that the Los Angeles Clippers played nearly a third of their 2013-14 games with a decided rest advantage ... while Michael Jordan's then-Charlotte Bobcats played only five out of 82 games under those favorable conditions.

West MVP of the Second Trimester

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
4:28
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Russell WestbrookLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

West MVP of the Second Trimester: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

I don't know if Russell Westbrook can win the actual MVP race even if he continues to flirt with per-game averages that look like they're lifted straight out of the Oscar Robertson playbook.

History, remember, tells us that we haven't seen an MVP in the NBA from a team with fewer than 50 wins since Moses Malone of the 46-win Houston Rockets in 1981-82.

History also tells us, furthermore, that you have to go all the way back to the late '50s for the last time one team served up back-to-back MVPs: Bob Cousy and Bill Russell from the Boston Celtics in 1957 and 1958.

There's also still the small matter of the Thunder making the playoffs, which remarkably remains far from clinched at this late date. There's no denying that it's been Westbrook and his defiant stat-stuffing spree without the ailing Kevin Durant that truly livened up this season's MVP discourse and made it a full-fledged race as opposed to a two-man duel.

James Harden and Steph Curry, for the record, remain at the top of my as-we-speak MVP ballot, with basically one month left to separate them. Harden has the slightest of edges at the top for his continued all-around offensive dominance in propping up the Houston Rockets in the absence of the injured Dwight Howard. And Curry is right there as the clear-cut catalyst and tone-setter for the team sporting the league's best record, having made a decent run at a 50/40/90 shooting season while stepping up his D to show so well in categories such as steals (third) and real plus/minus (first).

The matter at hand, however, is specifically what happened in the season's middle third.

Which, as well you know, is when Angry Russ happened.

Here are Westbrook's averages sans Durant since Feb. 1: 32.3 points, 10.2 assists and 9.3 rebounds per game. I repeat: I don't know if he can ultimately hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, even with such gaudy numbers, when his team is still scrapping so hard just to snag the West's No. 8 seed and just lost Serge Ibaka. Yet he certainly deserves this mythical trophy while we all await the answer ... and wait to see what he has in store without Durant or Ibaka flanking him.

Rookie of the Second Trimester

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
3:37
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Andrew WigginsGary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images

Rookie of the Second Trimester: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Can't sugarcoat this.

Assessing NBA rookies, as a collective, gets bleaker with every passing season.

The season-ending injuries suffered by Julius Randle and Jabari Parker as well as the absence of Joel Embiid slimmed down a rookie class that didn't need an ounce of slimming. It would be more accurate, as a result, to refer to the modest clutch of players we can actually evaluate as a small study group as opposed to an actual class.

Nerlens Noel. Nikola Mirotic. Elfrid Payton.

And the overwhelming Rookie of the Year favorite: Andrew Wiggins.

Who else could we even consider here?

Mirotic happens to be the only rook in the league this season besides Wiggins who can claim more than two 20-point games. Noel has averaged 12.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots since the All-Star break -- and Mirotic has rallied back to a solid level of productivity in the wake of Chicago's injuries suffered by Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler -- but Wiggins has the field lapped.

Dismiss his numbers as empty production on a bad team if you wish, but Wiggins is the only 2014 draftee thus far to flash undeniable star potential. Which suggests we could well have a unanimous Rookie of the Year winner looming.

Rudy Gobert Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Player of the Second Trimester: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

One handy tweet from the Utah Jazz earlier this week makes the case quite neatly.

Click to that tweet and you'll see that since the All-Star break, when the rise to prominence of Jazz big man Rudy Gobert really began to go viral, Utah ranks:

  • First in defensive efficiency.

  • First in net rating (which is net points scored and allowed per 100 possessions).

  • First in rebound percentage.

  • First in opponents' field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage.

  • And, as listed there at the bottom after a few more superlatives, first in overall winning percentage in the league with a record of 11-3 since the break. The anchor for all of that resistance, of course, is Gobert, who might well rank as the league's Defensive Player of the Year favorite entering the stretch run if he hadn't come off the bench so often in the first half of the season.

    It'll be interesting, then, to see how voters ultimately grade the Frenchman widely known as The Stifle Tower -- as he was dubbed by Jody Genessy of the Deseret News -- compared to some of the more celebrated names in the field.

    Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and Tim Duncan -- who, amazingly, has never won the DPOY trophy despite being selected by the coaches to the NBA's All-Defensive Team in 14 of his 17 seasons -- are also all prime contenders for this award when ballots are cast in a month's time. Andrew Bogut, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka would all be right there, too, if not for their respective bouts with injury.

    Yet it's Gobert who has undeniably emerged as the NBA's most feared rim protector, limiting opponents to 38.9 percent shooting at the basket, which is the lowest figure for any player who defends at least five shots per game.

    So let's just say that another first-time winner of this award, following in the footsteps of recent DPOY honorees Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler, seems likely.

    Interesting indeed.

  • Sixth Man of the Second Trimester

    March, 19, 2015
    Mar 19
    12:57
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    Rodney Stuckey Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Sixth Man of the Second Trimester: Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers

    The Pacers are playing out their 2013-14 season in reverse with this unforeseen 9-4 surge since All-Star Weekend -- even before welcoming Paul George back -- after they had sunk to 15-30 without George at their low point.

    And one of the biggest reasons they have been turning that script around -- with memories of last season's alarming fade into the playoffs still fresh -- is the increasing number of quality performances from Rodney Stuckey as a non-starter.

    At season's end, Stuckey won't have enough appearances as a reserve to actually qualify for Sixth Man award consideration. But when we're strictly looking at the middle third of the season, he has been the prototypical game-changer off the bench, entering Wednesday's play at 19.2 points per game on 51.7 percent shooting in a run of 13 straight appearances as a sixth man. He also shot 47.8 percent from 3-point range, emerging as the Pacers' leading scorer in that stretch.

    Houston's Corey Brewer is having a similar impact with his new team, getting precious little publicity for his valuable efforts in assisting James Harden with the heavy lifting required to keep the Rockets in the West's top four despite the ongoing absence of Dwight Howard. Since Brewer's arrival from Minnesota in December, Houston allows 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Brewer is on the floor (98.9) compared to when he's not (103.7).

    He also has averaged a helpful 12.6 points in under 25 minutes per game as a Rocket, briefly flashing his own ability to let loose Harden-style by scoring 17 fourth-quarter points in a recent memorable duel with Portland.

    Common sense says that the eventual Sixth Man award winner is likely to come from perennial favorites such as two-time winner Jamal Crawford and the timeless Manu Ginobili as well as Isaiah Thomas, Marreese Speights and Louis Williams. But this was our opportunity to spotlight Stuckey and Brewer.

    So we took it.

    Stein's Power Rankings: Week 19

    March, 9, 2015
    Mar 9
    2:40
    PM ET
    Mo Williams, Russell Westbrook & Tony ParkerESPN Illustration
    Dribbling through the latest developments of note in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:

    The defending champs from San Antonio are back up to No. 4 after last week's temporary slide to No. 8. The committee (of one) has been asked all season: Why are you so high on the Spurs when they have spent most of the season parked at No. 7 in the West? Answer: Because I'm sure you remember, deep down, that these rankings openly factor in the big picture along with what's happening in the present. And the big picture reminds us that these Spurs, more than anyone else in the Western Conference, know how to get all the way to the championship finish line. That is always going to count for something extra with the committee.

    We finally broke down and bumped Oklahoma City back into the top 10 even though it remains unclear how much longer Kevin Durant will be sidelined thanks to that problematic foot. Russell Westbrook basically left us no choice with the tear he's on.

    Sad to see what's happening to Toronto (down to No. 14) and Washington (No. 18) in the East after both teams looked so promising in November and December. The Pacers have undeniably caught a handful of schedule breaks during their 11-2 surge, with several opposing stars missing games against them, but I don't think anyone can argue that No. 12 Indiana deserves to be ranked ahead of both teams at the moment.

    You have to give it up, on the flip side, for two Western Conference teams that are both expected to miss the playoffs but don't want to believe it. New Orleans and Utah have climbed to season highs of No. 11 and No. 15, respectively, although it's actually a season-high-tying No. 11 in the Pelicans' case. Two inspiring tales either way.

    The Knicks are rightfully back in the No. 30 basement. The Lakers have resunk to No. 29. That sets things up perfectly for Thursday night at Staples Center, when Kobe Bryant-less L.A. hosts Carmelo Anthony-less N.Y. in the Fallen Giants Bowl. It should come as no surprise that the Lakers' and Knicks' current winning percentages (.258 and .197) are on course to be the worst in their respective franchise histories.

    Power Rankings: Week 18

    March, 2, 2015
    Mar 2
    3:04
    PM ET
    Dribbling through some of the most pertinent new developments in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:

    Easy calls for the committee (of one) to move Houston and Portland into the top seven. The tougher decision was weighing how far to drop slumping Toronto. The Raptors ultimately retained their top-10 slot as much because of Oklahoma City's inability to keep its stars out of harm's way as the Raptors' own prowess.

    There are only three teams in the East in the top 10. And it might well be down to two once Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant return for the Thunder. Atlanta and Cleveland appear to have separated themselves from the rest of the East, while Toronto, Washington and banged-up Chicago are all trending in the wrong direction.

    Since the East is clearly in need of a pick-me-up, here's one: Indiana! The Pacers, at No. 13, are higher than we ever thought we'd put them without Paul George. But when you look at the teams in the 10-to-15 range, only the Pacers and the New Orleans Pelicans have what you'd call momentum. The Pels have been helped somewhat by a friendly schedule at just the right time, given all of their injuries, but a 5-0 stretch is highly impressive no matter whom you're playing when Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson are all out injured.

    Utah and Boston are two more teams, like Indiana, that are exceeding expectations and flirting with a spot in the top half of the poll. The Jazz probably would have cracked the top 15 if not for last Wednesday's bad home loss to the Lakers.

    As we discussed at length on ESPN Radio's latest NBA Insiders show Sunday, Denver is putting itself in line for a demotion to the basement with the way this group appears to have surrendered. But No. 29 was as low as the committee was prepared to go for now. Check back next Monday to see if the Nuggets arrest their slide ... or take another step toward Cancun. 
    Dribbling through more of the movers and shakers in the latest edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:

    • The Cavs, at No. 4, are in the top five of our rankings for the second time in three weeks but just the third time in this roller-coaster regular season for LeBron James & Co. Can't imagine anyone disputing that this is where Cleveland belongs right now, though.

    • Despite how well Oklahoma City is playing right now -- specifically Russell Westbrook -- I couldn't bring myself to bump the Thunder into the top 10. Not with Kevin Durant injured anew.

    • The middle third of the rankings, which always tends to pose the biggest conundrums from the committee (of one), features two teams moving higher than we anticipated (Indiana up to No. 14, Detroit to No. 15) thanks in part to all the various injuries, controversies and slumps that have enveloped New Orleans, Phoenix and Washington. The Wizards have slumped to a season-low No. 18, after rising as high as No. 8 on Nov. 24, to thrust some unexpected pressure on coach Randy Wittman.

    • The Knicks, in the wake of Phil Jackson's Twitter musings, are your new No. 30. With Philadelphia moving in the wrong direction, one win is enough to move the Lakers up to No. 28. For the moment ...

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