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Dark Horse NBA Rookie of the Year Contenders Who Can Knock off Damian Lillard

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IJune 25, 2015

Dark Horse NBA Rookie of the Year Contenders Who Can Knock off Damian Lillard

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    At this point, it's clear that Damian Lillard is the NBA Rookie of the Year. However, if certain chips fall into place, other players could give him a run for his money.

    For all we know, Anthony Davis (pictured) could get back into early season form and defend his way to the trophy. In doing so, he would send shockwaves throughout the NBA world.

    The fact is that being named Rookie of the Year is more than just a mere honor. It recognizes one first-year player as the man who played amazingly in his first professional season and carries a subtle message of, "Your career is going to be long and prosperous."

    Seeing as how greats like David Robinson, Shaquille O'Neal and His Airness himself have taken home the trophy, it's safe to say that the battle for the award could heat up after the All-Star Break.

    If a few players get hot at the right time, Lillard may find himself looking over his shoulder as the season winds down.

Honorable Mentions

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    The following players are, at this point, completely out of the ROY race. However, under some insane circumstances, they could definitely find themselves in contention for the trophy.

    Jared Sullinger (pictured), Boston Celtics: At some point in the future, Sullinger WILL be one of the league's elite big men. However, he has a long way to go before that happens. As of now, he's stuck on Boston's bench behind both Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, averaging just 6.1 points and six rebounds over 20.2 minutes per game.

    Basically, there are two circumstances that could lead to Sullinger finding himself in line for winning Rookie of the Year. Either Bass has to get traded, or Bass or Garnett has to suffer a season-ending injury. Fortunately, the latter is unlikely to happen. 

    If one of those events were to occur, however, then Sullinger would get a chance to regularly post mind-blowing numbers over the rest of the season, which would allow him to compete for Rookie of the Year honors.

    Realistically though, Sullinger's time is indeed coming. It just isn't this year.

     

    John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks: If John Henson got regular playing time, he'd definitely be in the running for ROY. Per 36 minutes, he is averaging 16.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Unfortunately, the situation is that he is averaging 6.2 points and 4.3 rebounds over 13.2 minutes.

    Granted, Henson COULD still be named the league's best rookie. Bucks interim coach Jim Boylan would just have to make him the team's starter at the 4, effective immediately, and Henson would have to average an epic double-double over the rest of the season. That has yet to happen—even though Henson has put up great numbers when given enough minutes—so we can only assume that the situation will remain the same.

     

    Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers: Zeller is now the Cavs' starting center since Anderson Varejao is out for the season, and Zeller has posted nine points and nine rebounds over his last five games. However, on the season, he has averaged just 8.3 points and 6.2 boards per game.

    Long story short, there is only one way that Zeller can find himself in contention for this award. He needs to put up Varejao-like numbers every game for the rest of the season. Given that he is not physically in NBA shape yet, it's just not going to happen.

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 14.5 PPG, .382 FG%, .325 3P%

    Dion Waiters has just what it takes to be a great NBA player. It's just a matter of him learning how to pick his shots wisely.

    Fortunately for him, there is plenty of season left for him to find his shot and make enough of a statement to garner some consideration for Rookie of the Year. It all depends on him learning how to get over being undersized at 6'4", 215 pounds and becoming more of a shooter than a slasher.

    Yes, it is important that he drive the lane as often as possible, but he is not a combo guard anymore. He's going to spend most if not all of his career at the 2, and he must start using his jumper more often.

    If he can find his stroke, put up a respectable shooting percentage for the rest of the season and work in tandem with Kyrie Irving to form a deadly backcourt duo, then Waiters can be considered as a candidate for Rookie of the Year. Until then, however, he's just another rookie trying to find his niche in the league.

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    2012-13 Stats: 13.2 PPG, .389 FG%, .357 3P%

    Like Waiters, Beal is still trying to overcome being undersized. At 6'3", 207 pounds, he is dealing with being a smaller 2-guard and thus is hesitant to use his jumper like most of the players at his position.

    As a result, Beal gets taken to school in the paint, with experienced bigs making short work of his inexperience.

    However, there is hope for the former Florida Gator yet. As Waiters must do with Kyrie Irving, Beal must do with John Wall. Beal needs to find a way to get himself open 10 to 15 feet from the basket and display more confidence in his jumper. This young man has so much potential not only as a scorer but also as an athlete. He is going to be something special once he can balance all of his skills into one cohesive game.

    If he can start improving immediately and maintain consistency over the rest of the season—maybe get his points per game up to around 16.5 or 17 and his field-goal percentage up to 44 percent—then he will have a decent shot at pulling off an upset over Lillard.

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    2012-13 Stats: 12.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG, .525 FG%

    When Davis debuted for the Hornets this season, it seemed inevitable that he was the man who would lead the franchise out of the Chris Paul era and into the next chapter of its history. Then, he missed nearly three weeks with an ankle injury.

    Not too long afterward, teammate and star scorer Eric Gordon returned to the lineup. Davis' amount of field-goal attempts have dropped since then, from 11.5 in December to just over eight in January.

    Don't get me wrong. Davis is still doing a great job in New Orleans' frontcourt. He just isn't demanding to be involved as much he should.

    If the reigning No. 1 pick wants to get ahead of Lillard in the race once again, that has to change. He must demand the ball and be more than just a force inside. He must use his jumper while also maintaining a strong presence in the paint.

    That would make him look like a more versatile player, which never hurts when making a case for Rookie of the Year. If he can start that now and keep it up until the end of the season without looking like a ball hog, then voters will need to take a second look at Davis.

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    2012-13 Stats: 7.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG, .606 FG%

    Andre Drummond has been a defensive godsend for the Detroit Pistons. The numbers may not reflect it, but he has adapted extremely well to the NBA level and, in due time, will form a deadly frontcourt tandem with teammate Greg Monroe.

    That is, once Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank stops having him come off the bench.

    For some reason or another, Frank has insisted on starting Jason Maxiell at the 4 over Drummond, leaving the Pistons without sufficient size in the starting lineup. As a result, Drummond's numbers are lower than they should be, as he would probably be averaging a double-double with more minutes.

    Look at it this way. Every 36 minutes, Drummond posts 13.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. He can still win Rookie of the Year, but only if Frank comes to his senses and inserts him into the starting lineup. If that happens, Drummond will basically need to post a double-double over the rest of the season.

    Unfortunately, Frank isn't likely to change the starting lineup at this point. All that Drummond can do now to garner consideration for the award is to make the most of his time off the bench. He must be out for a double-double in every game, forcing Frank to consider him as a starter.

    At that point, voters will have no choice but to take a look at the former UConn big man.

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