Predicting who is going to win Rookie of the Year is a lot like trying to predict this winter’s snowfall totals in the first week of September — we have some broad trends to go on but the specifics are ahead of us still. It’s a guess.
My guess: Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers.
There are a few reasons for this. One is that he is better than people realized coming in the draft — he went all the way up to No. 6 but came from off the radar. One of the key reasons he wasn’t higher was he played at Weber State in Utah, a school people end up at as a safety school and one without great competition in basketball. Team GMs had to sell owners and fans Lillard was not a long shot pick.
When I saw him at Summer League in Las Vegas he clearly was not. He was an explosive athlete. He can and did score and there were moments you pictured a Russell Westbrook like attacker. But he also showed way more polish as a rookie than scoring guards like Westbrook and Derrick Rose showed.
What is more, he goes on to a team with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, as well as some other veterans. He’s got a guy on the wing and an All-Star in the post to play off. Guys he can feed for open looks, guys who create lanes for him because the defense can’t help. Yes, the talent he has to face (particularly at the point) is substantially better at the NBA level than Summer League, but he is in a position to succeed.
That is, if he is given the green light. If the goal of the Blazers coaching staff is to control him and not let a rookie make decisions, he will be limited.
What about Anthony Davis, you ask? He’s going to be very good, he is going to come in as a defensive force, and in a few years he is going to be the best player out of this class.
Davis is a long, shot-blocking, rim-protecting big man but to really be effective doing that at the NBA level — to be Tyson Chandler or Dwight Howard — he must get stronger. Guys will be able to physically overpower him right now. Plus, the pace of the game and what he will be asked to do defensively will be an adjustment.
And really, you don’t win the ROY award by playing defense. You’ve got to score. And while Davis can finish around the rim and while he has some midrange game, he is not going to be asked to score much. Offense they get from him will be a bonus. Eric Gordon will lead this team on the offensive end.
Davis is so very good and he could still win ROY. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stands a chance because he will get minutes on a bad Bobcats team, because he will hustle every play like few in the league, and because he showed in Las Vegas he has a better shot than he got credit for coming out of college. I like him
But Lillard is very good — athletically and making decisions — and he is in a position to succeed with players around him. He’s my pick because he will impress and put up numbers. It may take a while for the casual fans and national columnists to catch up, but he will be the guy to watch.
It’s going to be fun to watch it play out.