Pulse of the NBA
By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Philadelphia point guard Michael Carter-Williams has been the front-runner for the rookie of the year award from the very start, when he put up 22 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a record nine steals for an NBA debut as the Sixers beat the defending champion Miami Heat.
Trey Burke, the Utah Jazz's first-year point guard, has provided some light competition for the award, but still has a lot of ground to make up. And both players have really struggled for quite some time.
Recently, Jazz coach Tryone Corbin said he thought Burke hit the "rookie wall."
"Trey being a young guy, he just has to figure it out," Corbin said.
"His body is probably hurting in places he didn't think he had before. You go through it, you learn," he added. "Your body, you see things, you feel things. ... It takes a couple years to fight through it and learn what you need to do to get yourself ready (for an 82-game season)."
Since the start of the new year, Burke's play has taken a big step backward. He's averaging just 11.1 points and is really struggling with his shot, knocking down only 32 percent from the floor and 31 percent from 3-point range.
Over his last 10 games, he's scoring only nine points per game and has gotten to the foul line just five times.
Meanwhile, Carter-Williams and the Sixers have both struggled the past month. The 11th overall pick from Georgetown is putting up 15.9 points per game during that stretch, but that's mostly from the fact he's been a high volume shooter, averaging just over 15 field goal attempts per game.
His shooting accuracy, which has been a problem all season, has gotten significantly worse over the last month. He's hitting only 35.9 percent of his shots from the field, compared to the 41.3 percent he was shooting prior to the downturn.
MCW also has seen his assist numbers go down and his turnovers up during this time. He's averaging 5.6 assists and 3.8 turnovers over the last month, after averaging 6.9 assists and 3.4 turnovers previously.
Most importantly, in the 16 games he's played over the last month, the Sixers are 3-13, which includes losses in their last two games by over 40 points.
Prior to this bad stretch, the Sixers were a much better team with their rookie point guard in the lineup, but that isn't the case recently.
So with Carter-Williams and Burke both playing so poorly lately, a dark horse in the rookie of the year race is emerging, the Orlando Magic's Victor Oladipo.
The second overall pick from Indiana has pretty much pulled even with Burke, but still has a way to go to surpass Carter-Williams and will need to build on his strong play over the past week to do that.
The Magic are in the midst of a three-game winning streak - only the second time they've accomplished that feat this season - and Oladipo happened to probably put together the best three-game stretch of his young career.
Last Wednesday, after being moved from a starter to a reserve, he hit 8-of-10 shots and scored 20 points off the bench in the Magic's win over the Detroit Pistons.
"I think the past couple games I was just thinking too much. Tonight I just played," Oladipo said. "As a starter, you can kind of ease into the game. As a reserve, you have to be ready to play immediately. I was ready. It doesn't matter to me how I'm used. I just like to play."
The following game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Oladipo was 5-of-7 from the floor and scored 14 points in just 21 minutes as the Magic pulled off a major upset with a 103-102 win. Oladipo also pulled down five rebounds, including one off a Kevin Durant miss with 2.9 seconds left in the game, and he then led the fast break which resulted in Tobias Harris' buzzer-beating dunk for the win.
After helping beat a Thunder team with the best record in the West, Oladipo played a key role in the Magic's win over the top team in the East in the Indiana Pacers. He scored the 13 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter as the Magic rallied from 10 down entering the fourth to beat the Pacers, 93-92.
Oladipo remains a long shot at this point to win the rookie of the year award, but if Carter-Williams and Burke continue to struggle and he has a lot more good games than bad games the rest of the way, and the Magic have a modicum of success, then it wouldn't be surprising if he wrestles away the trophy.
02/12 11:00:12 ET