Harrison Barnes Making Legitimate Case for 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent INovember 20, 2012

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 15:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors awaits action against the Denver Nuggets during preseason action at the Pepsi Center on October 15, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Warriors 104-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Though Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard are easily the two top rookies in the NBA right now, former UNC Tar Heel and current Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes is starting to turn some heads. He has only averaged 11.5 points per game this year, but his marked improvement over the past week shows how much potential he has to not just play a role in the Warriors getting back to the playoffs, but to be a face of the franchise.

Over his past four games, Barnes is averaging 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest while also shooting 50 percent from the field.

Now, let's have a look at how Rivers and Lillard have done thus far this season. No. 1 pick Davis is averaging 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game playing power forward for the New Orleans Hornets, and Lillard is averaging 19 points and 6.1 assists as the new star point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Not to put a damper on either man's work, but neither has done anything particularly outstanding. Lillard has been the energetic scoring point guard Portland was missing last year, and his passing numbers have leveled out following his 11-assist performance in his team's season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Davis has lived up to the hype and done just what he has to do: provide the New Orleans Hornets with a new face of the franchise. If anyone can give the team a smooth transition out of the Chris Paul era, it's him.

Don't get me wrong, Davis and Lillard are two fine players, and their NBA futures are nothing but bright, as they have shown great adjustment to the professional level while also showcasing great maturity.

Barnes, however, is a different story. Unlike the Hornets and Trail Blazers, his team is actually making a case as a potential playoff squad early in the season. Whereas New Orleans and Portland are struggling to stay afloat in their division, Barnes' Warriors are second in the Pacific and just two-and-a-half games behind the Los Angeles Clippers.

More importantly, Golden State has won three of four, and Barnes has been a key contributor in each of those games.

Look at it this way. On the season, Barnes is averaging just over nine field-goal attempts per game. Over this four game stretch, however, he is taking just over 13 shots per contest.

It's clear that Barnes is starting to realize his full potential and just why the Warriors drafted him. Rather than just fill a role like Davis and Lillard are doing, he's starting to step up as a leader.

Barnes is demanding the ball more and willing to take risks with his shot. After being a lamb on offense to start the season, he's starting to come out like a lion.

Also, consider the fact that Barnes shares the court with two fine scorers in teammates Stephen Curry and David Lee. With Klay Thompson struggling from the field, someone needs to step up as the third musketeer. Barnes has finally realized that, and his efforts should warrant him some consideration for the award.

It should also be noted that while Davis and Lillard have performed extremely well thus far, they know that their teams aren't going to strongly contend for a playoff spot this season. They know that they're the seeds and that a winning team will grow around them.

Barnes, on the other hand, seems to realize that the Warriors' seeds in Curry and Thompson have already been planted, and he is the missing piece to the puzzle. Golden State has struggled to find a solid small forward in recent years, one who will be a consistent scorer and good defender. The rest of the team smells the playoffs, and he's playing as though he's determined to carry them there.

That all being said, though, Davis and Lillard deserve nothing short of their due credit; they are basically playing as expected. Barnes, however, was picked to be a draft bust by some and is starting to prove the critics wrong. Instead of being a simply good player, he is turning into one of the biggest surprises of the draft and looking great.

He's scoring. He's playing defense. He's trying to take control and not just be a rookie learning as he goes along.

Thus, if the Warriors can keep up this pace and make the playoffs, the voters will have their answer right in front of them. Barnes doesn't HAVE to be the Rookie of the Year, but he's certainly going to deserve at least some of their consideration.