Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats
3. Tie: Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets/Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
This should be a closer race, though I understand the dynamic behind why Lillard would win in a landslide right now. Lillard has taken an immediate leadership role on a so-so team and embraced the heavy burden that comes with it, while Kidd-Gilchrist plays about 10 fewer minutes per game as a secondary do-everything guy on a terrible team with no expectations. Lillard has scored more often, hit a couple of high-profile clutch shots (including a dagger in New York on Tuesday), used a significantly larger portion of his team’s possessions than MKG has in Charlotte, and generally looked the part of an above-average NBA starting point guard. (Note: As Ben Golliver of BlazersEdge and SI.com noted after Lillard’s buzzer-beater against the Hornets last month, Lillard has actually shot a low percentage in a tiny sample of clutch situations; he’s now 2-of-8 in the last 30 seconds of games in which the scoring margin is three or fewer points, per NBA.com.)
Kidd-Gilchrist, on the other hand, already rates as an above-average defender capable of guarding at least four positions on most nights. He’s shooting a hair better than 50 percent, getting to the line and dishing assists at a decent rate for a wing player, and posting a Player Efficiency Rating almost identical to Lillard’s. The Bobcats have been better on both ends with MKG on the floor, and he has flashed a surprisingly effective herky-jerky isolation game on offense; he can go around power forwards off the bounce and through/over smaller players after using an unpredictable move to turn a defender’s body just a bit out of position. He can’t shoot, which mucks up Charlotte’s spacing, but he has made up for it in other ways — including by posting one of the best offensive rebounding rates in the league for a perimeter player. And power forwards haven’t really hurt him in the post, either; opponents are just 10-of-28 against Kidd-Gilchrist on post-up plays, per Synergy. He fights hard for position against bigger guys, doesn’t bite on pump fakes, challenges shots, and has good timing swiping at the ball when he’s at a size disadvantage.
Lillard has earned front-runner status, but Kidd-Gilchrist deserves real consideration. Given their three-year age gap, it’s not surprising there are some folks around the league who would prefer to build around MKG for the long haul.