This fall, two rookies have been thrust into starting roles, and the duo is making an impact on each of their respective teams. Landry Fields and Derek Stepan are thriving in their debut seasons. Neither of them may garner Rookie of the Year honors, but they're playing like veterans. Of course both are still learning, but they're adjusting on the fly, producing for their respective teams and are wise beyond their years.
The New York Knicks' Fields stands out among the rookie crop. The second-round pick has come out of nowhere (well, Stanford), and he's earned his place in the starting lineup, with hustle, smarts and productivity (11.1 points per game, 7.2 rebounds). He's like the Tasmanian Devil on a basketball court--shooting, rebounding and defending with a constant motor. Mike D'Antoni even had to tell him to stop running around so much as he was plugging up the middle and encroaching in Amar'e Stoudemire's turf. Nobody had him penciled in as the starting shooting guard when training camp opened--maybe four years of college threw everybody off his scent--but now he looks like the steal of the draft. He's not overwhelmed by the NBA, and has the right attitude: "College, pro, if you believe in what you're doing and prepare yourself, you'll be all right. I was always taught to believe that."
The 20-year-old Stepan's debut game was historic. He produced a hat trick in one of the feel-good stories of the year. It was nothing but sunshine, roses and free cases of Budweiser in the days ahead for him. His ceiling was limitless and his future success was assured. But then the next 15 games happened. He could only muster up two assists, was minus-4 and his playing time decreased as the games went on. But at some point a light bulb went off in his head, as he watched and learned. In the last 10 games, the Minnesota product has racked up nine points, with three goals and six assists. He's been moved up to the top line (well, when John Tortorella's not doing his mad scientist routine), playing with Marian Gaborik and the left wing du jour, and has thrived with the increase of responsibility and pressure. He plays on the power play and penalty kill, and is fourth on the team with 14 points.
There's a whole batch of other rookies contributing to their teams, though in somewhat of a lesser role than Fields and Stepan. New Jersey Devil Mattias Tedenby has only played nine games, but already has three goals and three assists, helping to pick up the slack for the injured Zach Parise and the struggling New Jersey offense. The 20-year-old Swede may be diminutive, but so was Yvan Cournoyer and Brian Gionta for that matter. "I'm not going to get any bigger, so I have to go out and play the way I am. I'm not going to get taller, so it doesn't matter how much I think about that. I'm just trying to find a way to be as good as possible in this game. I have to play smart. I am pretty quick," he said. Russian rookie Alexander Vasyunov is also making his impact felt for the Devils.
Jason Pierre-Paul is contributing to the New York Giants, on defense and special teams. He had two sacks in Sunday's win over the Jaguars (but, oh that off-sides penalty against the Eagles a few weeks ago!). Derrick Favors of the New Jersey Nets is being brought along slowly. But he's averaging 7.1 points per game and 5.8 rebounds coming off the bench. And Michael Sauer has been impressive for the New York Rangers, playing a physical, smart game, and he's plus-7 for the year.