They presented the league's Rookie of the Year award a month ago -- or so it seemed. It was Detroit Pistons forward Grant Hill in a runaway, and the kid from Duke with the bright smile and the pleasant demeanor was already touted as the next Michael Jordan.
With all the hype, there was hardly a whimper out of Milwaukee from the man they call the "Big Dog." But it wasn't as if Glenn Robinson, the top pick overall in the 1994 draft by the Bucks, hadn't noticed.
"I knew the season was still early," Robinson said. "You can't judge the season over one month because things happen, things get better and things turn around."
And, suddenly, the Rookie of the Year has developed into a two-man race. After a game-high 24 points in last night's 97-93 win in Chicago, Robinson is averaging 19.4 points -- tops among NBA rookies. Since Nov. 23, when Hill reduced Robinson to a puppy by holding him to nine points, the Big Dog has scored in double figures in every game and has topped the Bucks in scoring a team-leading 15 times.
Tonight the Washington Bullets get their first look at Robinson, whose 21.9 points per game in December earned him Rookie of the Month honors and a growing confidence in his potential to be a star in the league.
FTC "I think I'm right where I need to be," Robinson said. "I still believe I'm going to improve, the more games I play. I'm still not in the shape I want to be."
If Milwaukee coach Mike Dunleavy has his way, Robinson will be there sometime this season. Most of Milwaukee's offense is running through the rookie. While playing nearly seven fewer minutes than center Vin Baker, Robinson has taken 68 more shots. And the 6-foot-8, 225-pound rookie who can score inside or out has delivered on offense.
Despite the fact that the Bucks are just a game ahead of Detroit for last place in the Central Division, Dunleavy is pleased with Robinson's progress.
"He's actually a little ahead of where I thought he might be at this point after missing training camp," Dunleavy said. "And people around the league are telling me he's as far as he could possibly be under the circumstances."
Those circumstances: a lengthy, somewhat bitter holdout that forced Robinson to miss all of training camp. Fans of the Bucks, who haven't had a winning team since the 1990-91 season, lined up for tickets after Robinson was made the first pick. The 1993-94 College Basketball Player of the Year and the nation's leading scorer at Purdue (30.3 points his junior season) was seen as an immediate savior.
But then there were reports that Robinson was seeking professional sports' first $100 million contract. Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl scoffed at the request, and that led to four months of negotiations. Robinson finally signed a 10-year, $68 million contract the night before the season opener, but by then he had taken a lot of shots from some veteran players who were suddenly calling for a rookie salary cap.
"It's not even in their place to say that," Robinson said. "I would never say I would like a rookie salary cap. I would always want the person under me to accomplish more than what I did."
After missing opening night, Robinson scored eight points in 13 minutes in his debut. In his first start, Nov. 18 against the Atlanta Hawks, Robinson had 26 points in a Milwaukee win. He has scored reasonably well since becoming a starter, but Hill was getting all the attention the first month of the season.
"It didn't bother me," Robinson said. "When I first came in and I wasn't in shape and a lot of people said I wasn't the player that I was in college -- that bothered me.
"But I don't worry about that," Robinson added. "They expect me to accomplish so many things because of the salary I make. I'm just trying to do the best I can."
Robinson is the top scorer among rookies, but he's shooting just over 40 percent. And his 137 turnovers are the most in the league.
"The minute I stepped on the floor, I've been double-teamed and I've been able to adjust to that," said Robinson, who probably has yet to realize that most NBA players who go to the post get double-teamed. "I think I have the ball most, so naturally the person with the ball will have more turnovers."
And the turnovers haven't shaken Robinson's confidence.
"It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or you've been here 10 years -- if you can play, you can play," Robinson said. "I think I'm doing a pretty good job. I've played [the equivalent of] a full college season, and I'm not tired at all. I always felt I belonged."
Comparing the top five picks of the 1994 draft (statistics through Tuesday):
Player, Team .. .. .. .. .. .. Min. .. Pts. .. Reb. .. FG% .. Ast. .. TO
Glenn Robinson, Bucks .. .. .. 34.9 .. 19.3 .. 5.8 .. 42.3 .. 2.1 .. 133*
Grant Hill, Pistons . .. .. .. 37.0 .. 18.4 .. 5.0 .. 45.9 .. 4.2 ... 64
Jason Kidd, Mavericks .. .. .. 36.5 ... 9.8 .. 6.1 .. 35.5 .. 8.0 .. 102
Donyell Marshall, Timberwolves 26.5 .. 11.6 .. 5.0 .. 38.7 .. 1.5 ... 41
Juwan Howard, Bullets .. .. .. 31.4 .. 13.4 .. 8.7 .. 45.1 .. 1.4 ... 62
Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee
TV/Radio: Channel 20/WTEM (570 AM), WWLG (1360 AM)
Outlook: C/F Vin Baker has been Milwaukee's most consistent player, averaging 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds. Last night's 97-93 win over Chicago moved Milwaukee a game out of last place in the Central Division. Washington is coming off its win over Chicago on Monday, which broke a 10-game losing streak. The Bullets haven't won on the road since Dec. 8 at Dallas. C Kevin Duckworth, who received an injection in his sore Achilles' tendon last week and hasn't played since Jan. 4, practiced yesterday and could see action.