- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on things in "Slams and Dunks."
The sentiment here, all along, has given Yao Ming a slight edge over Amare Stoudemire in the Rookie of the Year race -- the premise being that the transition for a 22-year-old from China, who only just received his Texas driver's license, is even more daunting than what Stoudemire has faced, matriculating straight to the pros from attending six different high schools.
The race for the No. 8 spot in the West remains another variable to complicate the choice. Even though two of his teammates are All-Stars -- Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion, compared to only Steve Francis for Yao -- Stoudemire figures to benefit on some ballots if the Suns hold off the Rockets for the last playoff berth.
What we do know for sure is that we're looking at another ROY in the new millennium with modest scoring numbers. Yao is averaging 13.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. Stoudemire averages 13.4 points and 9.2 boards. Scoring-wise, that puts both only slightly ahead of Mike Miller, who won the ROY trophy in Orlando in 2001 despite averaging just 11.7 points.
Memphis' Pau Gasol nudged the bar back upward last season by averaging 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds, but all of these numbers serve as further evidence that the modern rookie arrives in the NBA farther away from impact-player status than they used to.
History reveals that the composite scoring average for the 51 players who either won or shared the award before Miller is 20.5 points per game.
We will not be endorsing the notion that the Spurs will be fine in the playoffs without David Robinson no matter how many games they win without the Admiral now -- and San Antonio is up to 11-2 at last count with Robinson sidelined.
Reason being: Shaquille O'Neal, in his season-long state of iffy mobility, appears to be bothered by oversized double-teams more than ever ... if last week's visit to Chicago was any indication. Seeing Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler harass Shaq will give the Spurs hope that Robinson and Tim Duncan can be an effective tag team one last time if the teams meet in the playoffs for the third successive spring.
On second thought ... did you catch Duncan's interview with our own David Aldridge? It aired over the weekend and TD probably hopes you missed his long pause before answering a question about the Lakers. Duncan didn't exactly jump at the idea of the Spurs wanting to avenge their past two series against L.A., in which San Antonio went 1-8.
It is getting tougher to distance Ron Artest from those loathsome Dennis Rodman comparisons, and it isn't merely because of his burgeoning collection of flagrant-foul points. The most Rodmanesque behavior yet from Indiana's Artest was the news that he left Wednesday's game at Philadelphia, scene of his latest flagrant, without showering, a trademark Dennis move.
The question they've been asking in Detroit all season -- who will take the crunch-time shots in the playoffs? -- apparently has two answers now. Rip Hamilton is obviously an option, but the streaky Chauncey Billups might actually be the first choice. In spite of his longstanding reputation for streakiness, Billups has produced the winning points for the can't-score Pistons in the final minute of regulation or overtime eight times.
11hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo
4dIan O'Connor, ESPN Senior Writer