5 Rookies Who Hornets' Anthony Davis Must Fend off to Win Rookie of the Year

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIINovember 24, 2012

5 Rookies Who Hornets' Anthony Davis Must Fend off to Win Rookie of the Year

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    New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis entered this season as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. However, a few of his fellow NBA freshmen are looking to give the No. 1 overall pick a run for his money. The early part of this season has seen a number of rookies get off to excellent starts.

    Davis has lived up to the hype so far. He's averaging 16 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. He's also had a little trouble with injuries, missing a couple games with a concussion and now being sidelined by an ankle injury. As of November 24, the Hornets are 1-4 without "The Unibrow."

    Still, Davis doesn't seem to be limited by the type of learning curve that would hinder a typical 19-year-old rookie with just one year of college basketball under his belt. The summer spent on the Olympic team learning from the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant has seemed to pay off for the former Kentucky Wildcat.

    It is still unknown when Davis will return from this latest injury.

    "He's still in that boot and I was hoping that he would start feeling better and we'd have him back in maybe a week, but I'm not sure." Hornets coach Monty Williams told NOLA.com, prior to the team's November 23 showdown with the Suns.

    When the Hornets' star forward returns, he'll have some tough competition to fend off for top rookie honors. There are at least five rookies who can make a strong case for Rookie of the Year.

    The race for the award is shaping up to be one of the season's most interesting storylines.

    Here is a look at Anthony Davis' chief competition.

Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors

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    The Golden State Warriors received a gift when North Carolina small forward Harrison Barnes fell into their lap with the seventh overall pick. Barnes fits in perfectly on a Warriors offense that is brimming with young  talent such as point guard Steph Curry and emerging shooting guard Klay Thompson (14.3 ppg).

    Curry's presence opens things up for Barnes. The former Tar Heel isn't the greatest at creating his own shot, but the defense's focus on Curry has allowed Barnes to be an asset as a complementary option.

    For the season, Barnes is averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game (as of November 23). He also has two double-doubles. He's shooting nearly 47 percent from the field, including just under 37 percent from the three-point line.

    Going forward, Barnes will become even more of a factor as he gets more comfortable with the pro game. The eventual return of center Andrew Bogut from an ankle injury will make life easier for Barnes as well. While Bogut may limit Barnes' touches, his presence inside will open things up for Barnes to show off his solid jumper.

    The ability to put up solid numbers shooting and on the boards will certainly help Barnes stay in the running in a Rookie of the Year race filled with young guys who can fill up a stat sheet.

Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards

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    Beal's Rookie of the Year candidacy is hindered by a number of factors. For starters, Beal has been maddeningly inconsistent. After scoring in double digits in three straight games from November 7 to November 10, Beal has scored more than eight points just once.

    It also doesn't help that he plays for a Wizards team that is still winless. Washington was 0-10 going into its November 24 game against vastly improved Charlotte. It's hard to make the case for a player  to win Rookie of the Year when his team is every bit as awful with him as it would be without him.

    Another issue for Beal is that he's one-dimensional from a numbers standpoint. The former Florida Gator is a scorer, and even his offensive numbers aren't that impressive. His 11.1 points per game may be better than the likes of, say, Harrison Barnes, but Beal doesn't spread himself out across the stat sheet like Barnes does.

    Beal is averaging a little more than one assist per game, while also pulling down an average of three rebounds. Beal's also shooting an underwhelming 33 percent from the field and behind the arc.

    Still, there are reasons to not completely write off Beal. Unlike the others on this list, Beal doesn't have another proven commodity in the lineup to take pressure off him. That will change once former No. 1 overall pick John Wall returns from a knee injury.

    Wall is a breathtaking athlete who can score as well as he can set the table for others. Last season, he averaged 16.3 points and eight assists per game. His return gives the Wizards a formidable backcourt. Beal will benefit from Wall putting him in better positions to score.

    Beal might trail the other contenders to the Rookie of the Year throne now, but he's a nice dark horse to watch as the season progresses. The No. 3 overall pick showed early in the season that he has the skills to light it up. We'll see how he performs when he has more talent around him.

Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Dion Waiters has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises. He mainly came off the bench at Syracuse, but his stock rose leading up to the draft once he was able to show off his impressive athleticism.

    The Cavaliers were so impressed with what they saw in the undersized shooting guard that they reached for him with the No. 4 overall pick. A month into the season, that move looks wise. Waiters is averaging 14.8 points per game. He's also getting things done on the defensive end, averaging 1.1 steals per game.

    He's shooting a little worse than 42 percent from behind the arc and a little better than 38 percent from the field. With star point guard Kyrie Irving out for at least a month with a broken finger, the Cavaliers have increased Waiters' playing time, hoping he can fill the void left by the reigning Rookie of the Year. 

    Byron Scott - Dion Waiters will probably play about 6 to 8 minutes more than normal due to the injury to Kyrie, splitting time at SG & PG.— Kenny Roda (@roadmanwknr)https://twitter.com/roadmanwknr/status/271390461128740864" data-datetime="2012-11-21T23:11:42+00:00">November 21, 2012

     In his first game without Irving, Waiters scored 16 points and added six assists in a November 21 clash with the 76ers. Two nights later, he dropped 25 points on the Magic, while also dishing out five assists and nabbing two steals.

    Waiters' ability to still put up numbers despite Irving's absence will only make his case for Rookie of the Year stronger. The jump from college sixth man to NBA starter hasn't slowed him one bit.

    That could lead to Cleveland having its second Rookie of the Year winner in as many years.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats

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    The book on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist going into the draft was that he was a jack of all trades, but a master of none. So far, the No. 2 overall pick has lived up to that billing. MKG has been all over the stat sheet in the season's early going.

    He's averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He also contributes on defense, averaging a steal and a block per contest. But the most impressive stat regarding Kidd-Gilchrist and the Bobcats can be found in the standings. After winning all of seven games last season, Charlotte has six wins as of November 23.

    The Bobcats 6-5 record is seventh-best in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the team that finished last season with the worst winning percentage in league history is now in the running for a playoff spot.

    Granted, we're only a month into the season, but who would have guessed in the preseason that the Bobcats would be ahead of the Bulls and Pacers by Thanksgiving?

    The credit doesn't solely go to MKG. Kemba Walker (18.5 PPG, 5.8 APG, 2.4 SPG) is having a breakout season. The same can be said for center Byron Mullens, who is averaging nearly 13 points and nine rebounds per game. Offseason addition Ben Gordon is averaging 12 points per game.

    Still, Kidd-Gilchrist has made his impact. He's aggressive attacking the basket. He hustles on defense and  brings a winning attitude that meshes well with other NCAA champions like Gordon and Walker.

    He may not be the only reason behind Charlotte's turnaround, but as the team's most notable rookie, the credit he does deserve may work to his benefit when it comes time to vote for Rookie of the Year.

Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Ladies and gentlemen, meet your leader in the Rookie of the Year clubhouse.

    Damian Lillard leads all rookies with an astonishing 20.2 point per game. That scoring average is good for ninth in the NBA. Lillard is also averaging six assists and a little more than one steal per game. Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum have formed a formidable trio for a Blazers team that is staying in playoff contention.

    Lillard didn't have the same name recognition as the other rookies on this list after playing at Weber State. Still, he is making sure he has your attention now. Lillard represents Anthony Davis' biggest threat to the Rookie of the Year crown.

    It will be fun to watch these two battle. Offensively, Lillard is a more talented scorer than "The Unibrow," while Davis has the clear edge on defense. Lillard benefits from being the healthier of the two, but Davis is likely to garner more mainstream attention.

    With the Hornets steadily destroying their postseason hopes, Lillard can help make his case by pushing Portland into the playoffs in a deep Western Conference. As of November 23, the Blazers are a half-game behind Dallas for the eighth seed. New Orleans, meanwhile, is three games back after losing to Phoenix for its sixth straight loss.

    There's still plenty of basketball to be played and it will be interesting to see how Davis bounces back from his ankle injury. For now, he's going to have to play catch-up against Lillard, who is proving that you don't have to play at a big school to be able to hang in the pros.