The NBA announced Friday that it has named Jonas Valanciunas as the Eastern Conference Player of the Month, honoring the Toronto Raptors center's impressive performance in March. The Lithuanian big man edged Orlando Magic forward Maurice Harkless for the honor. For the fifth straight month, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers captured the honor for the Western Conference, defeating New Orleans Hornets big man Anthony Davis.
In March, Harkless led all Eastern rookies in per-game scoring (13.1) and in steals (2.2) while ranking fourth in rebounding (5.6) and third in shot-blocking (0.9). He scored 18-plus points four times in 16 March games after reaching that mark just thrice in his first 52 games.
But Valanciunas was impressive in his own right; the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft led all East rookies in per-game rebounding (7.3), in shot-blocking (1.1), and in field-goal shooting (62 percent) while ranking fourth in scoring (11.4).
Harkless' strong play continued into April: on Monday, he scored a game- and career-best 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting in Orlando's loss to the Houston Rockets. He led the Magic again in scoring Wednesday, with 18 points in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Philadelphia 76ers made Harkless, a St. John's product, the 15th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Orlando acquired his rights from Philly in August as part of the Dwight Howard trade.
Orlando hasn't had a Rookie of the Month winner since Mike Miller shared the honor with Kenyon Martin for his play in March 2001. When Miller received that honor, Harkless was a few weeks away from his eighth birthday.