As Anthony Edwards' game has flourished during the second half of the season, it might seem as if the Timberwolves guard has a tight grip on the NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
There's no doubt that Edwards is among the favorites for the award, and his 42-point explosion Wednesday against Memphis only strengthened his credentials. He became the third-youngest player ever to post a 40-point game, and the second player 19 or under — the other being LeBron James — to do it more than once in a season.
But is Edwards really the clear Rookie of the Year favorite?
Edwards passes a lot of tests. He can get to the rim and finish. He has the step back three-pointer. He's durable. He can take over games. It's rare to find all those traits in a 19-year old. He entered the weekend averaging 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game. He's the youngest player in league history to fire in 150 three pointers in a season.
Edwards also has endured injuries to teammates. He played without Karl Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell — experienced players who could assist in his development — each for stretches at a time. He endured a coaching change, as Ryan Saunders was let go in February and replaced with Chris Finch. Amid of all of that, Edwards' game has grown.
Yet the Rookie of the Year vote is going to be intriguing, because there's plenty of support for Charlotte creator LaMelo Ball.
Ball is not the scorer that Edwards is, but his vision and passing ability have led to jaw-dropping passes to teammates for buckets. He looks downfield and connects with passes like Russell Wilson to DK Metcalf.
Ball was averaging 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game entering the weekend. He was shooting better from the field than Edwards (44% vs. 41%) and from three-point range (37% vs 33%). If you want to get geeky, Ball's win share of 2.9 is markedly better than Edwards' 0.1. The Hornets are holding on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and Ball is credited for helping them get there.
Edwards, however, has played in 66 games while a wrist injury has limited Ball to 45. Consequently, Edwards has scored more than 500 points more than Ball.
So it depends on your taste. You want the award to go to the most productive rookie who's not afraid to dunk over anyone, or to the playmaker who's a magician with the ball and gives you four quarters worth of dimes every night?
Scoring the ball can never be underestimated. Opponents are going to be worried about the players who get a bucket with the clock running down than the guy who passed to him.
Who do you want, Ant-Man or the Wasp? I'm taking Ant-Man.
Big hitter, but big miss
Albert Pujols will end up in Cooperstown as the most feared hitter of his era. He also will be linked with one of the most expensive mistakes in baseball history.
The Angels last week decided to move on from the 41-year-old first baseman, who was batting .198 with five home runs and 12 RBI. He's in the final year of a 10-year, $253-million contract with Los Angeles after 11 tremendous seasons with St. Louis, where he won two World Series.
There were dreams of the Angels winning titles with Pujols, but he just wasn't the same player with the Angels, and they couldn't build a winner around him.
During 11 seasons with St Louis, Pujols hit 455 home runs and averaged a 1.037 on base-plus-slugging mark.
During 10 seasons with the Angels, Pujols hit 222 homers and averaged a .758 OPS is (.800 and above is good).
Pujols was an offensive juggernaut for 11 seasons in St. Louis. For the Angels, it was big swing and miss on a free agent.
Wake up, NHL
So the NHL last week fines the New York Rangers $250,000 for criticizing the league on social media for not suspending Washington's Tom Wilson for his violent actions on Monday.
And what does Wilson get? A $5,000 fine, no suspension. Motivation, in other words.
Wilson habitually crosses the line. On Monday, he punched an opponent in the head while he was down and then slammed another to the ice. Wilson, suspended five times in his career, is not learning his lesson.
Here's an idea, NHL: don't wait for a serious injury. Employ some common sense and zero tolerance.
Yanks make nice recovery ... for now
The Yankees have achieved what the Twins have failed to do: shake off a slow start by beating lesser teams. But New York has problems sustaining offense. Here's an October prediction in May: With three other good teams in the AL East, the Yankees will not make the playoffs.
Bears soon will have North's top QB
The quarterback landscape is changing in the NFC North. Jared Goff is with the woebegone Lions. Aaron Rodgers might not be long for the Packers. Kirk Cousins has two years left on his contract and Kellen Mond as the Vikings quarterback of the future. In just two seasons, the Bears will have the best quarterback situation in the division with dynamic first-round pick Justin Fields.
The 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions every Sunday.
LaVelle.Neal@startribune.com. • Twitter: @LaVelleNeal