1 Reason Why Every 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Contender Can Win Award

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

1 Reason Why Every 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Contender Can Win Award

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    Moments after the conclusion of the 2012 NBA Draft, the race for the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year award began.

    The first overall pick, Anthony Davis, is already the front-runner.

    But that's not to say he should start clearing some mantle space for the hardware.

    There are other players with enough talent playing in systems that will complement their playing style and have a clear path to significant minutes who will push Davis throughout the season.

The Dark Horses

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    The following players will need everything to fall into place and then some to make their way into award contention, but it wouldn't be impossible.

    Jeffery Taylor (Charlotte Bobcats): If there's a second-round pick with a puncher's chance, it has to be Taylor. His game will translate well to the NBA hardwood, and he won't face major impediments to seeing major minutes.

    Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors): The fifth pick in 2011 struggled on the Olympic stage over the summer, but he'll share the court with a good passer (Kyle Lowry) and a stretch forward (Andrea Bargnani) who should free up space for him to operate.

    Donatas Motiejunas (Houston Rockets): The 20th pick in 2011 showcased his ability to score inside and out at the Las Vegas Summer League. Luis Scola's absence has created a void in Houston's interior, but he'll battle a bevy of Rocket newcomers for minutes.

    Terrence Ross (Toronto Raptors): An athletic slasher who can shoot the three and play defense, Ross has an outside shot at bringing the award north of the border for the first time since Vince Carter won in 1998-99.

    Jared Sullinger (Boston Celtics): Take away the questions about his physique, and Sullinger becomes one of the most polished (and accomplished) players in this draft class. He may not have the minutes to become a serious contender, but if Boston's veterans get stuck in the trainer's room, he has the skills to make a run.

    Andrew Nicholson (Orlando Magic): Nicholson enters the league as perhaps the most talented post scorer in the draft class, and the Magic will be looking for a new go-to scorer.

    Thomas Robinson (Sacramento Kings): Robinson had a very productive junior season at Kansas, but a lackluster summer league performance and a crowded Kings frontcourt could keep him farther from the chase than his draft position (fifth) would suggest.

    John Henson (Milwaukee Bucks): Henson needs to bulk up in a bad way, but with his athleticism and shot-blocking, it's harder to think of a better situation in terms of potential minutes and production.

    Kendall Marshall (Phoenix Suns): Goran Dragic is the odds-on favorite to be Steve Nash's short-term replacement, but should he (or the Suns as a team) struggle out of the gate, Marshall has the playmaking skills to approach gaudy numbers.

    Austin Rivers (New Orleans Hornets): If Rivers can improve his shot selection and raise his basketball IQ, his potential is as great as any 2012 draft pick.

10. Maurice Harkless (Orlando Magic)

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    Harkless will face more of an uphill battle for the award than even a typical 15th pick, as the 19-year-old reportedly will miss training camp after aggravating a sports hernia playing in the Orlando Summer League.

    But his versatility (he played every position but point guard during his lone season at St. John's) and relatively clear path to minutes leave him in consideration.

    He was drafted for his raw ability and could have used the development time in training camp more than most of his draft peers. His perimeter shot is a work in progress, and he struggles to create off the dribble.

    But the guy is a gym rat who brings NBA size and athleticism to boot.

9. Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)

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    Far from a boom or bust season, the 19-year-old Drummond enters the 2012-13 season with little-to-no expectations to produce.

    Even if the collective eye of the basketball world will be watching his every move.

    The most intriguing player in the 2012 draft class, Drummond is as physically impressive (7'0", 280 pounds, 33.5-inch max vertical) as he was frustratingly inconsistent during his lone season at Connecticut (10.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks on the year).

    Pistons coach Lawrence Frank won't ask much from Drummond offensively, as Detroit has the pieces in place (namely Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey) to make do without him.

    But defensively, Frank needs the big man to clog up the interior to allow Monroe to play his natural power forward position.

    He's a long shot at best, but Drummond may also enjoy the highest upside of any rookie in the 2012-13 season.

8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte Bobcats)

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    Kidd-Gilchrist has the versatility that NBA executives love...and award voters often overlook.

    By season's end, he'll have filled plenty of box scores, but may fail to have that one- or two-page-jumping statistic for voters to hang their hats on.

    Kidd-Gilchrist's noted work ethic has made him a coach's dream, but it also will be tested on the offensive end, where his game needs work.

    On the high school and college levels, he used his quickness and athleticism to compensate for the lack of a consistent jump shot and developing handles. But now that he's on basketball's biggest stage, Kidd-Gilchrist will be surrounded by world-class athletes on a nightly basis.

    It's hard to envision him not putting in the effort to improve these areas, and his aforementioned athleticism could keep him in the highlight rotation.

    Whether that transformation happens in the 2012-13 season for the 19-year-old, however, remains to be seen.

7. Royce White (Houston Rockets)

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    In terms of raw basketball talent, White may be unmatched by his draft peers.

    A 6'8", 260-pound forward who's as comfortable operating the point guard as he is the post, White has a chance to dominate the NBA in the same way he dominated at Iowa State.

    He's a rare, true point-forward who lost countless assists by playing alongside teammates who couldn't see the passing lanes he could.

    White won't have the same problem in the NBA, and he could form a nice chemistry with new teammates (and knockdown shooters) Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb.

    The logjam of Houston's interior and his public struggle with anxiety will be serious challenges to his award bid, but White has the ability to overcome both.

6. Jeremy Lamb (Houston Rockets)

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    Lamb is smooth with the basketball. 

    Smooth to a fault even.

    The 6'5", 180-pound wing struggled to cash in on a hyped sophomore season, thanks largely due to guards who seemingly tried to outshine one another, forcing drives and bad shots along the way.

    Lamb shoulders at least part of the blame for a disappointing Connecticut season, as his laid-back approach failed to improve the team's rocky chemistry.

    But as a member of the Rockets, Lamb will be able to focus on his own offense and not be looked at in the short term as a team leader.

    And that's a scary prospect for opposing defenders. 

    Lamb sleepwalked his way to 17.7 points in 2011-12 and could realistically approach that mark, particularly if Houston deals Kevin Martin and his expiring $12.9 million contract.

5. Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors)

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    Barnes may not have the been the Warriors' first choice with the seventh pick (reportedly Syracuse guard Dion Waiters), but for a team in need of an impact small forward, Barnes' name surely wasn't too far down the list.

    Thanks to a disappointing NCAA tournament run (during which the sophomore shot just 33 percent from the field), the long-time consensus Top-Five pick slipped to Golden State, and new Warriors GM Bob Myers quickly snatched him up.

    Offensively, Barnes needs to improve his ability to create with his dribble, but he's explosive enough to develop a consistent mid-range jumper.

    And playing alongside great passers such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (and perhaps the NBA's best passing frontcourt in David Lee and Andrew Bogut), that concern is lessened—for the short term, at least.

    Barnes will have every opportunity to win the starting small forward job, and the Warriors' playoff hopes hold more water than in recent seasons.

4. Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers)

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    If fellow rookie Austin Rivers is the most confident player in this draft class, Waiters doesn't trail the new Hornet by much.

    With his sights reportedly set on making the Cavaliers the first repeat Rookie of the Year winners since Buffalo's Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio accomplished the feat between 1972 and 1974, Waiters certainly knows how to make an impression.

    His biggest obstacle isn't a lack of talent (his ability to drive and finish plays at the basket has drawn favorable comparisons to Dwyane Wade and Monta Ellis), but may come from a questionable fit and a potential minutes crunch.

    Like new teammate and reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving, Waiters is at his best with the ball in his hands.

    And while he would't appear to be facing any major competition at the shooting guard position on a talent level, coach Byron Scott may choose to stagger his playmakers' minutes given the team's lack of a third creator.

3. Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)

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    For any incoming rookie who's earned a spot in the NBA thanks to his outside shooting, there's hardly a more favorable comparison than to the league's all-time leader in three-pointers made, Ray Allen.

    And that's the most frequently mentioned name in scouting reports on the former Florida Gator, Bradley Beal.

    Now, Beal's shooting numbers at Florida (33.9 percent) may be far from Allen's when he was at Connecticut (44.8 percent for his three-year career), but it's his fluid, consistent shooting stroke that's kept those comparisons somewhat realistic.

    In terms of his transition to the pro game, Beal couldn't have asked for a better fit.

    In joining a quickly improving Wizards roster, he should be the perfect outside shooting complement to the slashing of John Wall (and, to a lesser extent, Trevor Ariza and Jordan Crawford) and the interior scoring of Nene.

2. Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)

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    The first point guard selected in the 2012 NBA Draft, Lillard's gaudy scoring numbers at Weber State (24.5 points, four assists per game as a senior) speak more to the relative talent level of his teammates than to an inability to pass the basketball.

    Still, Lillard is obviously a gifted scorer, and that trait should lend itself well to a league that featured three point guards (Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Chris Paul) among the top 13 scorers.

    Portland has talented wings (Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews), but has struggled to find a consistent backcourt complement for All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge since Brandon Roy's premature (and short-lived) retirement.

    Lillard's ability to create out of both NBA offensive staples (isolation and pick-and-roll) and his propensity to get himself to the free-throw line suggest he's a serious threat to not only win the Rookie of the Year award but to also lead his Trail Blazers to the playoffs.

1. Anthony Davis (New Orleans Hornets)

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    Being the NBA's top draft pick doesn't guarantee a Rookie of the Year award, but it's a nice place to start; three of the past four winners—Kyrie Irving, Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose—were the top selection in their respective drafts.

    And an impressive (albeit understated) showing on the Olympic stage may have given Davis a perceived edge among his rookie peers.

    But there's more to this top ranking than draft position and Olympic gold.

    On the court, Davis has all the necessary elements to bring the trophy back to the Hornets for the first time since Chris Paul won the award in the 2005-06 season. Davis can create plays away from the basket, and he uses his lanky, 6'10", 220-pound frame to finish plays above the rim.

    But it's his shot-blocking prowess (an NCAA-leading 4.65 blocks per game as a freshman) that both impressed NBA scouts and excited college basketball fans.

    If Davis keeps his points and rebounds at a respectable number, expect him to swat away his competition.