HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We don’t normally delve into matters concerning rookies, not with our main and rookie guru Drew Packham already on the case.
But it’s been brought to our attention, courtesy of Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk, that the No. 1 overall pick in the June Draft will not go into this season as everyone’s early favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors.
The player muddying up that distinction is Summer League Co-MVP and Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, whose grind from unheralded recruit to the sixth pick in the 2012 Draft is success story that resonates from his roots in his hometown of Oakland and all around the basketball world.
We left Las Vegas with the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team in July, so the only thing we saw of the rookies is what we learned from DP’s extensive reporting and what we could gather from the games on NBA TV. The one guy we did see up close, the aforementioned No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, looked pretty dang good in London in helping the U.S. win Olympic gold. So while Lillard will be the trendy pick for many, we’re going to stick with Davis as HT’s pick.
That said, Helin makes an interesting case for Lillard:
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.
Like everything else involving the 2012-13 NBA season, this race will have to play itself out on the floor. And just like the MVP race and the battle to unseat Kevin Durant as the league’s scoring champ, there should be a bevy of contenders in the mix.
But none of them bring the intangibles Lillard does to the party. His humble beginnings, on and off the court, resonate with so many people that a hot start to his season under first-year Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts could generate the sort of buzz that pushes him to the front of the race right alongside our pick, Davis.