Battle of the top rookies

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

New Orleans guard Chris Paul is expected to be selected rookie of the year, likely followed by Raptors forward Charlie Villanueva.

The 21-year-old product of Wake Forest, who was selected fourth overall last year, is averaging 16.2 points per game, 36 minutes, 5 rebounds, 7.8 assists and 2.24 steals. He leads the league with 150 steals and is seventh overall in assists with 523. By comparison, Villanueva, who was taken eighth overall, is averaging about 12.7 points per game, 28 minutes and 6.2 rebounds among his relevant stats.

When it was posed to Villanueva yesterday about the rookie of the year race, the Raptors freshman shrugged it off.

"I'm not even worried about that," he said. "I'm trying just to compete every game, play as hard as I can."

GETTING YOUR GUARD UP

Raptors point guard Mike James likely will match up against Paul, but said his focus is not on that.

"My focus is trying to go out and just play the game the way I know how to play, trying to help my team to the victory," he said.

He added with the Raptors out of the playoff race, playing for the future and playing for pride are paramount.

"We just want to give our heart 100%," he said. "Why not at the end of the season let us be the spoiler?"

DIFFERENT STROKES

It should be interesting to see how head coach Sam Mitchell utilizes his personnel. Against Phoenix Friday, he inserted many of his small players to try and keep up with the Suns' high-tempo flow. Against Miami the game before that, he inserted more big bodies to try and develop an inside presence with the Heat missing two big centres.

Centre Rafael Araujo played 14 minutes against Miami and had five points, four rebounds and one assist and one blocked shot in one of his better games. He was anchored to the bench against Phoenix. Suns castoff and recent Raptor addition, Andre Barrett, had his most productive game as a pro, playing 28 minutes and chipping in with 15 points.

The little guard came off the bench to nail seven of 15 field-goal attempts.


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