Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard has taken the league by storm this year. He is averaging 18.2 points and 6.5 assists per game and has shot a respectable 35 percent from long range, playing a key role in his team winning five of its last six.
Accordingly, some of the league's best have started to take notice. The Miami Heat play in Portland on January 8, and both head coach Erik Spoelstra and star player LeBron James had nothing but good things to say about the dynamic floor general when speaking to Sean Meagher of Oregonlive.com. In fact, James went so far as to endorse the youngster as the the NBA's Rookie of the Year.
"He's exceeded all expectations and more," James said. "He will become great. He's one of the good point guards we have in our league today. They continue to come. Our league is full of really good point guards, and he's one of them."
James was also quick to note Lillard's natural poise and focus.
"I just think of how under control he is," noted the reigning MVP. "It's like he's been here before. He's never out of his comfort zone. He's never too fast. He's never too slow. He plays in his own lane. His ability to shoot the ball and his ability to drive the ball makes him a threat."
James may have his fair share of critics ever since his infamous "Decision," but he has hit the nail right on the head here. Lillard has been nothing but great ever since debuting this season and is the hands-down choice for Rookie of the Year.
Not only has Lillard proven to be an electrifying player on the NBA level, but he has shown that he has what it takes to be a viable scoring point guard among the pros. Keep in mind that in four years at Weber State, he only averaged 3.4 assists compared to 18.4 points per game, so his lack of a passing game was a definite concern when Portland drafted him with the sixth overall pick.
Lillard has put those worries to rest this year. He has maintained his career scoring mark from college, but his assists have nearly doubled. The man clearly knows that his job is not only to provide offense, but also to create it.
As a result, Portland ranks 12th in points scored, and players like Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are having career seasons now that a reliable point guard is getting them the ball. To say that anyone besides Lillard deserves the award is ridiculous, as no other rookie has had as positive an effect on their team.
Anthony Davis has performed well in New Orleans but has struggled to stay healthy, and the team is still suffering. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been a good athletic presence for the Charlotte Bobcats but has a long way to go before becoming a star.
Lillard has outperformed them all, and receiving the Rookie of the Year trophy at the end of the season will prove it for him.