In one breath, Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard tells you he's not worried about being in the running for Rookie of the Year, and in another breath, he tells you the award wouldn't be that bad to have.
"I'd feel great getting it, but I'd also feel great not getting it," Hill said, later adding, "I do check out the box scores; I check out everybody. And if I see [another rookie] do well, it motivates me."
Howard doesn't need to check out the box scores this week to find out how the competition is doing, because the competition has come to him. On Wednesday, Howard squared off against Hill; tonight he faces Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson in the Bullets' last game of the season at the Baltimore Arena.
When Hill took the league by storm in November, the Rookie of the Year award was all but handed to him. His squeaky-clean image helped him become the top vote-getter for this year's All-Star Game.
But the race has tightened. Robinson (December's Rookie of the Month), Sacramento Kings forward Brian Grant (January's Rookie of the Month), Howard (February's Rookie of the Month) and Dallas Mavericks guard Jason Kidd all have made an impact.
"I think we can divide it up among five of us and just give it to everyone," Hill said. "It's hard to determine the best rookie. I think we've all come in and represented our class well."
Robinson has represented his class best as a scorer, averaging 20.8 points a game (18th in the league), and certainly doesn't lack confidence.
"People talk about me being among the top rookies in the league, but I think I'm one of the top players in the league," Robinson told the Boston Herald. "People shouldn't be comparing me to rookies."
Howard is the best rebounder among the rookies (8.5 per game -- 18th in the league). After a holdout and a slow start, he has improved his scoring in every month, and has been in double figures his past 40 games. He has scored 20 or more points in five straight and 11 of his past 15; he also has recorded 13 double doubles. On Wednesday against the Pistons, Howard was one assist shy of his first triple double with a line of 21 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists.
"It's not fair for me to say who's the top rookie because the coach always has a bias about his own player," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "But for what Juwan has done for us, he's as deserving a candidate as any rookie. The fact that he has steadily improved speaks on his behalf. I don't know if there's a better rookie in the NBA who does what he does on a nightly basis."
That might be true, but the fact the Bullets aren't winning could hurt Howard's chances. The last Rookie of the Year who failed to help his team improve its record from the previous season's was Patrick Ewing. The New York Knicks were 23-59 his rookie season, one game worse than the previous season.
One of Hill's teammates, guard Joe Dumars, said that even though the Pistons are better than they were last season, he likes the Kings' Grant.
"As much as I like [Hill], I'd have to say [Grant's] close to becoming the front-runner among the rookies," Dumars said. "That guy has turned [Sacramento] around. He works hard; he's a throwback."
Which leaves the race between three players: Howard, Hill and Robinson. On Wednesday, Howard barely got the edge statistically against Hill, who also flirted with a triple-double (25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists).
"He really understands the game and is real smart," Hill said of Howard. "I'm lucky I don't vote for Rookie of the Year."
The past eight NBA Rookies of the Year have improved their teams' win totals over the previous season. A look at how they helped and how top five rookies are faring this season:
Season Player .. ... ... .. .Added wins
'93-94Chris Webber, G.S. .. .16
'92-93Shaquille O'Neal, Orl. 20
'91-92 Larry Johnson, Char. ..5
'90-91 Derrick Coleman, N.J. .9
'89-90 David Robinson, S.A. .25
'88-89 Mitch Richmond, G.S. .23
'87-88 Mark Jackson, N.Y. .. 14
'86-87 Chuck Person, Ind. .. 15
) THIS SEASON'S TOP ROOKIES
Player .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... .. .. .. Win diff.*
Jason Kidd, Dallas .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. +14
Glenn Robinson, Milwaukee .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. +5
Grant Hill, Detroit .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. +9
Brian Grant, Sacramento .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... +10
Juwan Howard, Washington .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... -2