Just as Cleveland Cavaliers point man Kyrie Irving did last season, Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard is taking the NBA by storm. The team may only be 6-6, but Lillard has electrified the offense with his great court vision and is making a strong case for NBA Rookie of the Year—just like Irving did in 2011-12.
Lillard is averaging 20.2 points, six assists and 1.3 steals per contest over his first 12 games. He has been accurate with his shots, shooting 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range. He was an effective scoring point guard at Weber State and has not changed his approach to the game on the professional level.
Lillard's game is actually very similar to that of the aforementioned Irving, who was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2011 despite playing just 11 games at Duke. In his rookie season, Irving averaged 18.5 points and 5.4 assists per contest. He shot 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range, just how Lillard has up to this point in his rookie campaign.
Irving's efforts won him the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and Lillard is the clear favorite right now. He has been efficient with his shots, both those in front of and behind the three-point arc, and has also improved his passing game. He only averaged 3.4 dimes per contest in college and is averaging nearly twice that in the NBA.
As great as Irving's rookie year was, however, Lillard's is looking even better. Irving's Cavaliers still finished 21-45 and in last place in the Central Division in 2012, but the groundwork was laid for a bright future.
Lillard's Trail Blazers are 6-6, but they stand just two-and-a-half games behind the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder in the Northwest Division. Granted, the team likely won't finish atop the division, but its dynamic rookie is providing the Blazers with the explosiveness and consistency that was missing at the point last season.
He is just like Kyrie Irving in that he knows what his job is. Like the former Blue Devil knew when he debuted for Cleveland, Lillard knows that Portland needs him to be a leader on offense, both in scoring and passing. He needs to create scoring opportunities for himself as well as his teammates, and he has done just that.
Assuming he can maintain this consistency and keep the Portland Trail Blazers in contention, the stage is set for Lillard to join Irving among those honored as Rookie of the Year. He has been an absolute godsend for his team and will continue to be so for years to come with his phenomenally efficient style of play.
Stats accurate as of Saturday, November 24, 6:11 p.m.