The buzzer-beating, game-winning 3 Damian Lillard made over Ryan Anderson and the New Orleans Hornets won’t change the current state of the Rookie of the Year race much, but only because the Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard already was lapping the field.
While No. 1 pick Anthony Davis was the overwhelming choice in a preseason survey of NBA general managers – who don’t always personally fill out the survey, I’m told – to win the award, a direct poll of a half-dozen assistant coaches and scouts – the ones who do the detailed advance reports on opponents, including player evaluations – has Lillard as a heavy favorite at the season’s quarter-pole.
Davis, of course, has made only 10 appearances and six starts this season due to a concussion and then a sprained left ankle, but Lillard, the sixth overall pick, has been so impressive that several pollsters believe Lillard may not relinquish his lead even once Davis is healthy and rolling.
“Poise and pace,” said one Eastern Conference assistant coach when asked what impressed him most about Lillard. “He does not get too rattled when things are going bad and when they are good he appears to keep the same focus. He shoots it well and makes good passes, but the poise and pace, while obscure, are more important to his success. He is not afraid of the big moment, either. Which is big.”
The talent evaluators were asked to give their top seven rookies and Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes made five of six lists but the highest ranking he received was fourth overall. The one scout who left him out of his top seven had Barnes as eighth. The consensus magnificent seven: Lillard; Davis; Terrence Ross (Toronto, SG, 8th pick); Kyle Singler (Detroit, SF, 2011 33rd pick); Dion Waiters (Cleveland, SG, 4th); Barnes (Golden State, SF, 7th) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Charlotte, SF, 2nd).
Also receiving votes were Pistons center Andre Drummond, the ninth pick; Mavericks small forward Jae Crowder; Timberwolves point guard Alexey Shved, who played six years with CSKA Moscow before signing as a free agent with Minnesota last summer; and Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, a Lithuanian power forward drafted fifth last season who stayed overseas because of a prohibitive buy-out clause in his existing contract.
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal, the third pick, and Kings power forward and fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson were the most glaring absentees from anyone’s top seven list, although there are extenuating circumstances for Beal: He’s played all season without a bona fide point guard, third-string AJ Price and free-agent pick-up Shaun Livingston filling in for injured John Wall. Robinson could argue that he hasn’t played with a legitimate point guard this season, either, but he also hasn’t been able to get past Jason Thompson, who the Kings signed to a five-year contract extension last summer, and veteran Chuck Hayes, in the rotation on most nights.
If there’s one other notable missing name, it’s Hornets guard Austin Rivers, who was third on the GM survey behind Davis (76.7 percent) and Lillard (20 percent) with 3.3 percent.
“Rivers has not really caught on to the NBA game yet,” said one Northwest Division assistant coach. “He’s still trying to find where he fits. He seems to be a very good right-handed driver but he’s not really spacing the floor with his shot yet.”