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NBA PM: The 2013 Rookie of the Year Race
Posted By Alex Kennedy On August 1, 2012 @ 7:34 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The NBA Summer League is the perfect environment to evaluate the league’s best up-and-coming players. LeBron James made his much-anticipated professional debut in front of a sold-out crowd in the Orlando Summer League and didn’t disappoint. Chris Paul first wowed executives in the Las Vegas Summer League, scoring at will and dishing out assists in the Cox Pavilion. When lottery picks perform well in Las Vegas or Orlando, it usually translates into regular season success.
Two weeks ago, we got our first glimpse at the 2013 rookie class and several players made an excellent first impression. Damian Lillard dominated his peers and took home Summer League MVP honors. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was fantastic in the one game he appeared in. Harrison Barnes wasn’t the focal point of his team, but still managed to show flashes of brilliance.
After seeing the majority of this draft class in the five-game NBA simulation, several rookies stood out from the pack. Taking into account each rookie’s summer league performance as well as their projected minutes and role on their new team, we can get an idea of this season’s Rookie of the Year candidates. Here are several players who will likely be in the running for ROY honors:
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets – Davis didn’t participate in the Las Vegas Summer League because he replaced Blake Griffin on Team USA. While Davis missed the chance to suit up alongside fellow Hornets rookie Austin Rivers in Las Vegas, but he’s currently in London receiving the best NBA prep course imaginable. He’s learning from the league’s elite players and the Olympic experience will certainly give him an edge over his peers. Even though Davis is one of the youngest players in this draft class, he’s NBA-ready and will have every opportunity succeed from day one in New Orleans. He’ll enter the season as a starter and will be a focal point of the Hornets’ attack. Davis didn’t have any trouble during his first year in college, and he’ll receive the minutes and touches to have similar success during his rookie season in the NBA. At this point, he’s the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – Lillard exploded onto the scene in Las Vegas, averaging a league-high 26.5 points along with 5.3 assists and four rebounds. He was by far the most impressive rookie and showed how he was able to climb draft boards and make executives fall in love with his game over the last year. Lillard was able to score at will in college and summer league despite the fact that defenses were sending double teams at him and gameplanning to slow him down. In Portland, he’ll be playing alongside veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, which should shift attention away from him and allow him to be more of a facilitator. The Blazers have made it clear that Lillard will start for them and they see him as their point guard of the future. Sometimes this award goes to the player who gets the most minutes and has the ball in his hands the most. This year, that player is Lillard and if his performance in Las Vegas was any indication, he’ll make the Rookie of the Year race interesting.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats – When the Bobcats selected Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick, many people were surprised. Throughout the pre-draft process, Kidd-Gilchrist was labeled as a great second option, but talent evaluators weren’t sure if he would ever be a franchise player. In Las Vegas, Kidd-Gilchrist turned heads and silenced many of his critics. While he was only able to play in one game before a knee injury sidelined him, he was outstanding in his debut, finishing with 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. He and Kemba Walker formed an excellent one-two punch and he was able to get out in transition, where he thrives. Similar to Davis and Lillard, Kidd-Gilchrist will play big minutes from day one. One of the benefits of playing for a rebuilding team like the Bobcats is that he’ll get plenty of touches and have the opportunity to play a big role right away. If Charlotte is able to make a significant improvement and Kidd-Gilchrist fills the stat sheet, he’ll be a legitimate candidate.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors – Valanciunas was the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, but he’ll make his NBA debut this season with the Raptors. Had he entered this year’s draft, the general consensus among talent evaluators is that he would’ve been the second prospect off the board after Davis. The Raptors are expecting big things from Valanciunas, who has been playing professionally in Lithuania since 2008. He’s one of the best overseas players to join the NBA in recent years and he likely would’ve been drafted even higher last year if his contract buyout would’ve allowed him to play in the NBA right away rather than staying abroad for one season. Valanciunas may end up starting right away in Toronto. If that’s the case, he may be able to earn consideration if he helps the Raptors get into the playoff hunt.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards – In Las Vegas, Beal was the focal point of the Wizards’ summer league team. He had the ball in his hands more than any other player and was given the green light to shoot. In five games, Beal averaged 17.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. With the Wizards, Beal’s role will be a little bit different since John Wall and Nene will be the top options on offense. However, Beal will get the chance to play in Washington and could emerge as a candidate if he’s able to make an instant impact and help the Wizards as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors – Similar to Beal, Barnes will have to adapt to a lesser role on a veteran-laden team that’s determined to end their playoff drought. Barnes will likely start for the Warriors, but Steph Curry, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson and David Lee will likely get more touches than the rookie. However, Barnes thrived in that role in Las Vegas, averaging 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals while deferring to veterans such as Thompson and Charles Jenkins. If he’s able to emerge as a significant contributor and Golden State makes the playoffs, he’ll be in the mix for the award.
Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers – Waiters is one of the most interesting players in this class. He left the NBA Draft Combine and canceled individual workouts after receiving a promise from the Phoenix Suns. Rather than scaring teams off, this intrigued executives around the league. They wondered what they had missed, re-watched his game film and looked into his background to see what all of the buzz was about. Waiters’ draft stock improved and he climbed draft boards. Now, the Cavaliers are hoping that he can live up to the hype. He’ll likely start at shooting guard for Cleveland, which means he’ll get plenty of minutes and touches. While he struggled in Las Vegas, averaging just 12.3 points in three games, Waiters is entering a promising situation and could be in the running for the awards if he makes the most of his opportunity.
Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings – During the pre-draft process, Robinson made it clear that he wants to take home Rookie of the Year honors. He’ll have every opportunity to succeed in Sacramento, where he’ll compete with Jason Thompson for the starting power forward job. At 21 years old, Robinson is one of the most NBA-ready players in this class and he should be able to make an impact right away. He struggled in Las Vegas, averaging just 13 points, 9.8 rebounds and three assists, but that’s because he was mainly used on the perimeter. If he’s able to crack the rotation as expected in Sacramento, he may be able to duplicate the success he had at Kansas and emerge as a candidate.
Several dark horses include Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors, Austin Rivers of the New Orleans Hornets and Jeremy Lamb of the Houston Rockets, but a lot of things would have to fall into place for any of those players to take home the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy. Last year, Kyrie Irving had the Rookie of the Year award wrapped up pretty early, but this year’s race could be more competitive.
Butler Ready for Bigger Role: The Chicago Bulls will look very different next season. Role players such as Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik have been replaced by Marco Belinelli, Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed and Vladimir Radmanovic. The Bulls’ bench will feature many new faces, but one player who is returning from last year’s second unit is ready to take on a bigger role.
Jimmy Butler, the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, didn’t play much during his rookie season, but now the 22-year-old is expected to back up Luol Deng and play significant minutes off of the bench. The Bulls have made it clear that they want Butler to be a key reserve for them this season, and they used the Las Vegas Summer League to prepare him.
Butler was the focal point of Chicago’s summer league team. He touched the ball on most possessions and was given a lot of freedom. In four games, Butler averaged 20.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, showing that he could be a significant contributor if given the opportunity. HOOPSWORLD caught up with Butler in Las Vegas to discuss his summer league experience and expectations for next season:
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