Three Stars of the Night: Two stars are born, and another just changes systems

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Long live oddly polarizing facial hair! You wear that neckbeard with pride tonight, loyal reader, and come check out the three best individual performances from Wednesday’s great slate of games.

Third Star: Anthony Davis – 21 points, 7 rebounds

It’s rare for a rookie to just look like he belongs. Usually they have flashes, but Davis sustained a high level of play throughout his 29 minutes, displaying some nice scoring instincts and a soft touch at the free throw line. We know Davis is a great fit with defensive guru Monty Williams, but with Eric Gordon out indefinitely, it will be interesting to see how Williams features Davis offensively. As soon as he gets a more explosive guard to run pick-and-rolls with, Davis could be putting up big points on the regular.

Second Star: Damian Lillard – 23 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds

Damian Lillard joins Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robertson as the only players to hit 20 points and 10 assists in their NBA debut. Not bad. Beating the Lakers after everyone expected them to bounce back from their opening night debacle? Even better. Lillard is an explosive, scoring point guard that’s a little reminiscent of Steve Francis – he can dive into the lane and finish in traffic, and he can step out and stroke it from distance. For a rookie to lead his team to a 116 point showing in his first game while the best defensive player on the planet is patrolling the paint is probably worthy of a first star…but there can only be one.

First Star: James Harden – 37 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals 14-25 FG

Let’s empathize with Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti for a minute here. Sam, this is like the ex-girlfriend who turns into a supermodel after you break it off. Sure, you got a few good years out of the relationship – but you’re not getting the prime years. That ship has sailed. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t kick yourself over it. All you had to do was get her a prescription for contacts…err…give him more shots!

Harden is and always was one of the game’s most efficient and most effective scorers. Prior to tonight, Harden had never attempted more than 17 field goals in a game. Oh, and in that 17 field goal attempt game? He dropped 40. That said, it’s not all that surprising that Harden was unstoppable in his debut as the number one option, as he navigated the pick-and-roll beautifully to an impressive 37-point, 12-assist performance. In 25 seasons, only Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Dwyane Wade have put up at least 37 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, four steals and one blocked shot in a game. Harden has always been this good – now we just get to see more of it.

Rockets’ Eric Gordon wins NBA Sixth Man of the Year

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Eric Gordon could never quite get fully healthy or find his place in New Orleans.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey saw the potential for how he would fit in as a shooter in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and he signed him to a multi-year deal.

It worked. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game coming off the bench, and shot 37.2 percent from three — full healthy he is part of what made the James-Harden-as-point-guard experiment work.

Monday night, Gordon was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

“We just had an unbelievable year here with the Rockets,” Gordon said in his acceptance speech at the NBA Awards Ceremony. “I want to thank (owner) Leslie Alexander of the Rockets for just believing in me. I’d also like to thank my teammates and coaches for making my job easy this year.”

Gordon beat out Rockets teammate Lou Williams (who spent much of the season racking up buckets with the Lakers in a bench role) and Andre Iguodala, who didn’t have the offensive numbers but certainly was at the heart of key Warriors lineups, plus he has a ring for his effort.

Just a reminder, Eric Gordon is locked in through 2019-20 with the Rockets on a very reasonable contract. He could pick up another one or two of these in the coming years.

Malcolm Brogdon wins 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year Award (VIDEO)

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Move over, Joel Embiid. Malcolm Brogdon is your 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Milwaukee Bucks rookie took home the award beating out other big-name contenders like Embiid and Dario Saric, both of the Philadelphia 76ers. Brogdon took home 64 first place votes, with Embiid grabbing 23 and Saric with 13. Brogdon totaled 414 points, beating Saric’s 266.

The win for Brogdon makes it a historic night for Bucks fans. Milwaukee didn’t take him until the 36th in the second round, making Brogdon the first player to win ROY after being drafted outside of the first round in 60 years.

Brogdon averaged 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds rebounds per game while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range.

Speaking to the crowd on stage after accepting his award, Brogdon said,”This is a testament to guys that are underestimated, guys that are second round picks, guys that are undrafted every year.”

Brogdon beat out both Sixers rookies, likely because of his impact over the course of the season for Milwaukee and because Embiid did not play the full season.

It is an impressive feat for any player, so a big congratulations to Brogdon to Bucks fans.

Draymond Green’s suit at the 2017 NBA Awards was really something (PHOTO)

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Is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green fashion-forward? I’m not so sure.

He was certainly be a lot cooler than his contemporaries, given that he went with an interesting choice for his suit at the 2017 NBA Awards on Monday.

Specifically, Green showed up wearing shorts.

Yup, the dream that you have all summer long at your office job — shorts instead of slacks when it’s 90 degrees out — is what Green decided to go with.

Via Twitter:

Although his suit jacket makes him look like the maître d’ at a Seattle Mariners-themed restaurant, I have no doubt that he was much more comfortable than his buddies.

Those shoes gotta go though.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.