The Arizona Republic
Apr. 11, 2003 12:00 AM
Unlike most media that cover the NBA, Chris Sheridan, who covers the beat for the Associated Press, is not allowed by his employer to fill out a ballot for annual awards such as Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
He's not complaining this year.
"I'm kind of glad I don't have a vote for Rookie of the Year," Sheridan said. "Would I pick Yao or Amare? I don't know. That's a tough one."
Houston's Yao Ming or the Suns' Amare Stoudemire
There are 126 writers and broadcasters who cover the league that receive a ballot. And indications are the Rookie of the Year voting between Yao and Stoudemire is going to go just about the way the Suns-Rockets playoff race has progressed - down to the wire.
To help get their guy across the line, the Suns have whipped up a video presentation and information packet that has been mailed to voters. It includes a slick music video/highlight package set to a Sheryl Crow tune, You're an Original.
They have launched a Web site: ThatsAmare.net.
, Suns president and general manager, has called voters. The Suns never have produced such a media campaign for any player.
Houston sent out a model cut-out of Yao, along with a similar information packet.
Of course, Yao doesn't need much packaging at this point.
The 7-foot-6 center was the No. 1 pick in last summer's draft. He arrived with considerable fanfare after lengthy negotiations with his native China, its basketball federation and his pro team there, the Shanghai Sharks.
Stoudemire was considered a far greater risk, even though the Suns didn't take him until the ninth pick of the first round. He came directly out of Cypress Creek High in Orlando and had played in six different high schools as a prep star.
Yao's immediate impact was expected by many.
Stoudemire's stunning athletic ability was evident, too. But the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Stoudemire turned out to be a quick study who plays with maturity and toughness beyond his years.
His 13.3 points and 8.9 rebounds a game are the best numbers ever by a player going directly from high school into the NBA. Only Moses Malone, who went from preps to the ABA, has had more of an impact.
So who is the Rookie of the Year?
"It's a really hard one for me," said Danny Ainge, a broadcast analyst for TNT. "You watch one play one night and you love him. Then you watch the other one and you love him. They're both similar in that they've had ups and downs. They both still get beat a lot (defensively). I'm for naming them co-Rookies of the Year the way they did with Jason Kidd and Grant Hill (in 1995)."
A tie also occurred in 2000 when Elton Brand, then of the Bulls, and Rockets guard Steve Francis shared the award.
Polls indicate that the voting will be close, but Yao may have an edge. However, many voters are waiting to see whether the Suns or Rockets reach the playoffs, then will make their decision based on which player gets his team there. Votes are due Thursday, the day after the season ends, with the winner being announced during the postseason.
"That seems fair to me," Stoudemire said. "We've both had pretty good years. I actually think it's going to be 'co' (rookies). We're both making a pretty good impact on our team, and both our teams are pretty much on the same level. It will be disappointing for whichever one doesn't make it (to the playoffs), but it's been a good run."
The Suns have the inside track at this point with four games to play.
"You know what? It's ironic that you've got the two guys who are the leading candidates who are neck and neck, and they're both trying to get their team in the playoffs," said Mike Monroe, NBA writer for FoxSports.com. "To me, that's kind of the final factor.
"It's the same thing with the MVP. If San Antonio gets the best record in the league, I'll probably vote for Tim Duncan. If they don't, and Minnesota ends up getting home court (as the fourth seed), I'll probably vote for Kevin Garnett."
Monroe said he believes Stoudemire has had a better year than Yao, who "when he has a bad game, he is really bad."
"But I don't think Amare is going to win it," he said. "He hasn't gotten nearly the hype that Yao has gotten."
Some see that hype as a negative more than a positive to Yao.
"Obviously the numbers are pretty even," Sports Illustrated's Marty Burns said. "I just thought Yao had more of a presence on the defensive end, and that he had to put up with a lot more off-the-court distractions. Obviously he's benefited from the exposure, being the No. 1 pick, being on TV and the dubious All-Star Game starting berth. But he had to deal with a lot more distractions, and he was more often the target of other teams."
The two players have similar statistics. In an "efficiency rating" the league devised, which combines several statistical categories, Yao has a 17.65 to 15.26 edge.
Monroe prefers a formula devised by Larry Bird that adds positives like points, rebounds, steals, etc., and subtracts negatives such as missed shots, turnovers, etc. By that calculation, Stoudemire has a slight edge - 12.19 to Yao's 12.01.
In the end, if Stoudemire gets a team that was 10 games below .500 last season into the playoffs, that might be enough to close the gap for some voters.
Sean Deveney, NBA writer for The Sporting News, said he ignores peripheral issues such as where the team finishes.
"I'm going to vote for Amare," Deveney said. "A lot of the guys I've talked to, it's basically an Amare-Yao Ming divide. I think Yao has the publicity angle, but I think among people who have really been paying attention, there is a strong sense that Amare is the guy.
"Maybe Yao will turn out to be the better player long term, but as far as this year, I think it's Amare. For Rookie of the Year, I don't personally look too much at the team. I just look at who is the best player.
"Yao has had some great games, but he's had some dog games, too."
Ainge said Yao has been more of a go-to player for Houston than Stoudemire has been for the Suns, but that they have still had similar impact.
"You hate to vote for Yao based on what a guy has done for the league and all the hype," he said. "And you hate to vote for Amare just because he's a highlight reel.
"I try to base it on substance. I don't really see a clear edge, that's why I'm for the co-rookies."
Of course, there's a wild card out there - Miami Heat forward Caron Butler, who has won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award four times.
"It's the toughest Rookie of the Year decision I've had to make in a long time," said USA Today's NBA writer, David Dupree. "Taking everything into consideration, I have to go with Caron Butler.
"Yao has had a great effect on his team, and Amare may end up being the best of them all, plus the Suns are probably going to be in the playoffs.
"But Butler is the best player on his team as a rookie. Defenses are geared for him, and he's playing for a coach in Pat Riley who wouldn't even play a rookie unless his life depended on it.
"And Caron hasn't buckled. The only problem I have not voting for Amare is that Houston and Miami aren't in the playoffs. This sport is about winning, so that makes it tough not to vote for Amare."