Can Anyone Challenge Damian Lillard for NBA Rookie of the Year?

Joel C. Cordes@@bballJoelNBA Associate EditorMarch 20, 2013

There are a handful of guys who could have challenged Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard for NBA Rookie of the Year.

However, not only is Lillard good, he's also been pretty lucky this season.

Consider this: Lillard was drafted by a Blazers team with a clear need at point guard and no definable backup. He's been the man from the get-go and hasn't had to share minutes or shots.

He could have been in Moe Harkless' (Orlando Magic) or Harrison Barnes' (Golden State Warriors) shoes, splitting time with veterans and only now getting increased burn as the season winds down.

Damian has also been healthy for the entire season and has started every game for Portland.

A series of injuries, like the ones suffered by the New Orleans Hornets' Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards, could have derailed his numbers, progress and ROY candidacy.

Not only that, Lillard's key teammates have also stayed healthy all year long. How much more difficult would it have been if fellow star LaMarcus Aldridge had missed major time? What about supporting cogs like Nic Batum, J.J. Hickson or Wes Matthews? 

Just ask Beal how much he missed John Wall earlier this year or how much Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers) has pined for Kyrie Irving when the star point guard has been sidelined this season.

Conversely, the Blazers' starting lineup has stayed mercifully intact. That's good for a rookie like Lillard and a godsend for a bench-deficient team like Portland.

This is not to take anything away from Lillard whatsoever. His rookie numbers, maturity and confidence have put this season in rarified air and portends legitimate stardom. 

However, any of the aforementioned variables could have changed his chances in a big way.

Whether it's opportunity, good health or solid starting teammates, Lillard has both made his own destiny and had good fortune.

Lillard has gotten better nearly in every month he's played, though Anthony Davis' recent splits indicate the race could have been much closer had he been fully healthy.

The good news is both players are going to be shining NBA stars for a long time to come.

Damian Lillard won this battle fair and square by being in the right place at the right time.