NBA Rookie of the Year Race Is Damian Lillard's To Lose

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 27, 2012

Coming into the season, it seemed as if Anthony Davis would be the sure-fire front-runner for the Rookie of the Year award, with a few guys giving him troubles along the way. At this point it seems as if Damian Lillard has taken the torch and is the runaway leader.

Davis has run into several nicks and bruises in the first couple of weeks, and the New Orleans Hornets are being extremely cautious as a result. 

Davis suffered a concussion after he and Austin Rivers collided in just their second game of the season, keeping Davis out of action for two-and-a-half games. Davis came back and was off-and-on for the most part over the next four games.

He was then diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left ankle after spraining it three times in the span of a week. The Hornets have decided to keep him out for the next week or two in order to avoid a Grant Hill-like situation.

It seems likely that Davis won't return to action until mid-to-early December, missing up to eight more games in the process, which would bring his total number of missed games up to 10 before the calendar even switches over to 2013.

In the past decade, the only Rookie of the Year winners to miss extended time were Kyrie Irving, who missed 15 games in last season's lockout-shortened year, and Brandon Roy, who missed 25 games. Nobody else missed more than 10 games.

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Damian Lillard has played in all 14 of the Blazers' games so far, only legitimately falling flat in four of them. 

Lillard's 19.1 points per game leads all rookies, with Anthony Davis bringing up second place with 16.0 and Dion Waiters coming in third at 14.9. Meanwhile, Lillard shoots nearly 41 percent from long range, which is seventh for rookies, although he shoots six threes a game compared to the rest of the competition, which tops out at around one or two.

The fact is, there are no other rookies in the league that have made the impact on their team that Lillard has, and nobody else really comes close.

Looking at the top three candidates beyond Lillard and Davis, we've got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Waiters and perhaps Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond.

Right off the bat, we've seen the incredibly volatile nature of Kidd-Gilchrist's offensive game. He's a very good defender, but when his shots aren't falling it becomes increasingly difficult for him to regain his offensive rhythm. Although recently, we've seen a lot more good games than bad.

Then there's Barnes, a player who has notched some legitimately great games but has yet to show much in the form of consistency with an outside shot or on the defensive end. He's coming along nicely, but not fast enough to catch up with Lillard.

Waiters falls in the same volatile pool as Kidd-Gilchrist, only he doesn't have the great defense to fall back on. He's had perhaps the best game by a rookie this season, making seven of his 11 three-pointers against the Los Angeles Clippers, but he's also had games where he'll take 16 shots and only make three or four.

Valanciunas has shown us that he can explode for a big game, like his 22-point, seven-rebound, three-block effort against the San Antonio Spurs, but he's had multiple games in which he's flat-out uninvolved in the Raptors offense.

Drummond has shown flashes of brilliance, but the Detroit Pistons seem adamant about keeping him from getting playing time. As long as he's getting clean-up duty, he's not going to sniff any award votes.

As far as Davis goes, there's always a chance that he comes back and stays healthy for the entire season, but we're also going to see the Hornets monitor his every move. If he so much as hobbles, he's going to be back on the bench.

Plus, he's still working his way into the team. There's a lot of work to be done by rookies adjusting to the NBA game, and Davis hasn't been able to do that without difficulty in his first six games.

With Lillard playing so well this early in the season, it seems as if he can continue to not only lead his team to wins, but pave his own way to the Rookie of the Year award should he stay healthy and productive.

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