Breaking Down the NBA Rookie of the Year Race at the Halfway Point

Morgan ChalfantContributor IIIJanuary 21, 2013

Breaking Down the NBA Rookie of the Year Race at the Halfway Point

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    At the halfway point of the 2012-2013 NBA season, several rookies have emerged as possible contenders for the coveted Rookie of the Year prize with their considerable contributions to their respective teams.

    While some players entered the season looking like pros, others have risen to notability through progress and hard work.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    As expected, power forward Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets has had an impressive season thus far, with an average field-goal percentage of 51.4 percent for 29.6 minutes per game.

    He also averages 8.0 rebounds and 13.2 points for each game in his NBA career. Davis was an obvious pick for the prize, as he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. 

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    However, the top draft pick has everything to lose, with several rookies emerging as tough competitors.

    Recently, point guard Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers received NBA star Gary Payton’s endorsement for the Rookie of the Year award. An impressive guard out of Weber State, Lillard averages 38.5 minutes, 3.5 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 18.3 points per game.

    According to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports, Payton said of Lillard, “I like Damian Lillard because he’s from Oakland, California, and he’s a phenomenal basketball player.” He continued, “He should be the rookie of the year, he’s playing very well right now for Portland and I love his game.”

Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics

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    No one can ignore the surprising talent and progress of power forward Jared Sullinger, who the Boston Celtics acquired from Ohio State with the 21st overall draft pick.

    As NBA.com asserts, Sullinger has proven himself the “steal of the NBA Draft” with his success as a “rebounding machine.”

    Sullinger averages 6.1 points and a field-goal percentage of 50.3 percent per game, but his most crucial contributions come in the form of his rebounds.

    He averaged 6.0 rebounds for his first NBA season, and he averaged 10.0 rebounds per game during Boston’s recent winning streak. According to the NBA.com, Sullinger holds the 19th spot in the entire NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes of game play. 

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Bradley Beal has also developed as a crucial shooting guard for the Washington Wizards. As reported in The Washington Post, Beal was honored as Eastern Conference rookie of the month for December.

    According to the Post, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman noted Beal’s constructive progress:

    "I’m proud of him, to get that honor in the East, here." He continued, "Shows that he’s coming along. Now he’s got to continue to do that. He should strive to have that every month, play up to that caliber of trying to do those things."

    The Wizards acquired the shooting guard from Florida in the 2012 Draft. For the first half of his NBA season, Beal averaged 31.8 minutes, 3.5 rebounds and 13.9 points per game, with a field-goal percentage of 39.2 percent. 

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Another shooting guard who shows promise is Dion Waiters of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who came from Syracuse University.

    Average game statistics for Waiters’ 2012-2013 NBA season thus far include 30.2 minutes, 2.5 rebounds and 14.8 points, with a field-goal percentage of 38.1 percent.

    However, Waiters does have his weaknesses in shot selection, free-throw shooting and defense, which may prove impossible to overcome in order to nab the top Rookie prize. 

ESPN Insider Has Confidence in Drummond, Nicholson

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    According to the ESPN Insider rankings, Lillard, Davis, and Sullinger make the list of Top Five rookies, grabbing first, second and fifth place, respectively.

    To that list, ESPN adds center Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons to the No. 3 spot. Drummond, who hails from the University of Connecticut, averages 7.3 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 7.2 points in 19.8 minutes per game.

    ESPN also assigns power forward Andrew Nicholson of the Orlando Magic to the No. 4 spot on its list of successful rookies.

    Acquired in the draft from St. Bonaventure, Nicholson tallies an average of 3.3 rebounds and 7.7 points for 15 minutes of game play. He also has decently impressive field-goal and free-throw percentages of 53.1 percent and 80.4 percent, respectively. 

Jones III, Lamb of Oklahoma City Thunder Not Living Up to Expectations

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    Unlike these front runners in the Rookie of the Year race, some NBA newcomers are not living up to the high expectations set for them coming out of the 2012 Draft. Power forward Perry Jones III of the Oklahoma City Thunder was selected by the team as the 28th overall draft pick, but he is currently playing in the NBA D-League with the Tulsa 66ers.

    First-round pick of the Thunder, Jeremy Lamb, has been equally disappointing, appearing in only 10 games and spending the bulk of his minutes in the D-League like Perry Jones III. 

Who Will Come out as Top Rookie?

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    As the season progresses, the question of the rookie race will rise to further importance and position the competitors against one another.

    Anthony Davis may have won the title of No.1 Draft pick, but both Lillard and Sullinger are rivaling him in talent as they improve as crucial game players.

    Beal, Waiters, Drummond, and Nicholson should not be counted out either, as there remains plenty of time for them to improve their game statistics.