Heading into the 2012-13 NBA season, Anthony Davis was the clear favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award. He was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, he was the AP’s college basketball Player of the Year and he was an athletic big man who could have a true impact on the defensive side of the floor.
So why isn’t he still the favorite for the NBA’s most prestigious rookie award?
Lillard saw his draft stock soar in June, and as a result, the Portland Trail Blazers grabbed him with the sixth overall pick. Rip City desperately needed a point guard, and it couldn’t have asked for a better start from its newest floor general.
In his first NBA game, Lillard scored 23 points and had 11 assists. He was the first player to put up those numbers since LeBron James, and he was just the third player in league history to post a 20-point, 10-assist performance in his debut.
Lillard recorded at least 20 points and seven assists in his first three games, becoming just the second player to ever do so, and he would go on to earn the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month honors for November 2012.
More than a quarter of the way through the season, the point guard has averaged 18.9 points per game, which is good enough for 15th in the entire NBA. He is shooting the ball well from all areas of the floor, and he is the kind of player who can kill defenses with both his athleticism and his jump shot.
We all knew that Lillard would come in and look for his shot, but what has been an added bonus for Portland is that he has done a superb job of getting his teammates involved. He is averaging 6.4 assists per game, and while he needs to get his turnovers down, he’s quickly becoming a player who can make those around him better.
The point guard position is one that comes with high expectations, which is why it can also be the most scrutinized spot on any roster. Portland fans didn’t like what they saw out of Raymond Felton throughout the 2011-12 season, and Lillard has been a breath of fresh air in the midst of the Blazers' rebuild.
The rookie has an uncanny ability to control the pace of the game. If he wants to push the tempo, he uses his speed, quickness and athleticism to take advantage of slower defenses. If he wants to slow it down, he has the basketball IQ to make plays in half-court sets.
Pace is something that a lot of players don’t learn in their first season, but Lillard seems to have it down in the early stages of his career.
Another area where Lillard shows his maturity is in crunch time. The Blazers have lacked a true go-to scorer late in games since the departure of Brandon Roy—although LaMacus Aldridge has improved in that category—and the 6'3" point guard has proven that he is not afraid of big moments.
Those who say Lillard isn’t worthy of the Rookie of the Year award because of his inflated stats and high minutes don’t understand that they’re actually making an argument for him, not against him.
It’s true that he’s playing more minutes than any other rookie in the league, and that his numbers reflect his minutes, but that just shows how ready for the NBA he actually was. The Blazers needed star power on a roster that had limited options to complement Aldridge, and Lillard has given them a taste of what a star point guard truly looks like.
For the New Orleans Hornets, Davis has missed a good number of games to injuries. He’s looked very good while he’s on the floor, but it’s Lillard who has continued to play and continued to improve throughout the year.
Four-year college players have a reputation for not being good enough to enter the Association early, and as a result, they oftentimes struggle. That hasn’t been the case for Lillard, as he’s taken to the NBA game as quickly as the Portland fanbase hoped he would.
Davis was a standout freshman at Kentucky, while Lillard was a relatively quiet senior at Weber State. You don’t see a lot of seniors make an impact right away in the NBA, but in case you’ve forgotten, the last time the Blazers had a Rookie of the Year was Roy following his senior season at the University of Washington.
Regardless of who wins the award, New Orleans and Portland both have franchise players who will help propel them toward success. The hardware doesn’t mean nearly as much as their championship aspirations, and both teams have a chance to improve as their prospects turn into great NBA players.
That being said, somebody has to take home the award, and as the season progresses, don’t be surprised if Lillard is the one who makes the stronger claim that he truly is the Rookie of the Year in 2013.