The rookie race is almost over. Who's at the head of the 2013 class? Our panelists weigh in.
1. Who should be the Rookie of the Year?
Joe Gerrity, Hornets 247: Anthony Davis. As Ethan Sherwood Strauss pointed out, Davis has contributed more despite playing substantially fewer minutes. He leads Damian Lillard in value added, wins added and win shares, as well as destroying him in PER. I'd feel differently if the Blazers had made the playoffs.
Jeremy Gordon, Brooklyn's Finest: Damian Lillard. A sentimental pick, sort of; the statistical arguments for Anthony Davis are on point. Still, Lillard is second in the league in minutes played, and surely there's merit in having been here all season and competing for a brief, eventually abandoned playoff push. Davis should own the league for years to come, but Lillard's been the most present rookie this season.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: Damian Lillard, but just barely. We have all kinds of ways to measure efficiency, and Anthony Davis outclasses Lillard in virtually all of them. What's tougher to analyze is degree of difficulty. At 22, Lillard may have been better equipped to handle his heavy burden than any rookie in his class, but age isn't anything but a number in this award, and he deserves kudos for performing the role of franchise player admirably and with consistency from day one.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Soc.: Damian Lillard. I think the call between Lillard and Anthony Davis is closer than most believe; Davis has been excellent this year, hyper-efficient and playing more games than he gets credit for. Still, Lillard has been Portland's primary orchestrator in a surprisingly competitive campaign.
Jack Winter, Warriors World: Damian Lillard. His performance this season has been a bit overvalued because of low expectations, but no first-year player had more responsibility this season, and Lillard delivered by showing a floor game well beyond his years and rare endurance/durability. He might never be a superstar, but Lillard is at the very least a great building block; in this class -- let alone at the No. 6 pick -- that's a home run.
2. Who was the most pleasant surprise of the 2012 rookie class?
Gerrity: Andre Drummond. It's always nice when a big man widely expected to struggle right off the bat by most actually manages to play well.
Gordon: Andre Drummond. We usually talk about the draft and players to be drafted in the most rote, cliched way possible; players have "poor motors," are "high risk and high reward," "unpolished," and so forth. These are bad things, we're told, and Drummond was supposed to be all of them. So it was nice to see him transcend the warning signs and play an effective role as an unpolished, high-reward, high-motor interior weapon.
Mason: Andre Drummond. The Big Penguin's production was excellent, but what was really fun was how his exuberance and enthusiasm unlocked his freaky athleticism. Every tip jam and steal in the passing lane leading to a breakaway slam was a gift to those brave enough to willingly watch the Pistons.
Nowell: Andre Drummond. His talent was never a question, but doubts about his motor and attitude were quickly dispelled as he acclimated to a pro environment. Drummond is already an impactful defender, and may end up the most accomplished rookie in this class.
Winter: Andre Drummond. We knew Detroit's young behemoth had the physical tools to be a dominant interior presence; he was drafted on pretty much that assumption alone. But we had no idea his extraordinary potential would show so soon, so bright and so often. In three years, he might be the best player in this class. Not bad for the ninth pick in a weak draft.
3. Who was the biggest disappointment of the 2012 rookie class?
Gerrity: Royce White. Rarely does a man come into existence with both the skill set and size of Mr. White. It's really too bad that he and the Rockets weren't able to make it work this season, because I wanted to watch.
Gordon: Royce White. Not to pick on a guy who's clearly got a lot of stuff to sort out -- if we can trust the interviews he's done, he seems like a thoughtful person who knows exactly what he's giving up by being so insistent regarding his anxiety problems. But White flashed underrated potential as a hyper-athletic big with playmaking potential, only to basically get an "incomplete" mark on the season for his well-publicized back-and-forth with the Rockets.
Mason: Alexey Shved. Fun name, fun game. But Shved is a 24-year-old rookie who looked inexperienced and wild in his rookie season. Though there were some memorable flourishes, I personally hoped for more reliable contributions. Perhaps that was too much to ask, but his performance in the Olympics earned our attention.
Nowell: Austin Rivers. Rivers always had warts as a prospect, but I don't think many people foresaw his historically bad season. Without drastic improvements, the question isn't whether Rivers can live up to his stratospheric prep hype -- it's whether he's even worthy of a rotation spot.
Winter: Thomas Robinson. A hat tip to New Orleans' Austin Rivers and his 5.94 PER. But expectations of Rivers were low compared to those of Robinson, widely considered one of the draft's few impact players and a steal at fifth overall. After showing less in his first few games with Houston than he did in half a season with Sacramento, Robinson was recently replaced in Kevin McHale's rotation by fellow rookie and D-League call-up Terrence Jones.
4. Which rookie made the most progress this season?
Gerrity: Bradley Beal. He took a while to get going, but once he adjusted to the NBA game he started playing a lot better. Austin Rivers is a close second, going from worst in the NBA (ever?) early on in the season to merely bad by the end.
Gordon: Bradley Beal. He went from being an underachieving bust type to exactly the versatile shooting guard he was drafted to be in just half a season. If Beal had played the whole season at his post-break level, he might've been a Rookie of the Year candidate. What a world of difference playing with John Wall turns out to be, huh?
Mason: Bradley Beal. Even if it wasn't just John Wall's return that spurred his improvement, but when Wall returned from injury, it all clicked for Beal. After playing some out of position, he has shown a real craft for moving off the ball to find his shot and is a willing if inexperienced defender. Since the 30th game of the season, Beal is shooting 47.8 percent from 3, better than an any other player who attempts at least four 3s a game.
Nowell: Bradley Beal. Beal got off to a rocky start, but he's put that behind him when he's been healthy to play like the sharpshooter Wizards fans dreamed of when they drafted him. When Beal shares the court with John Wall, there's a lot to like in the Washington backcourt.
Winter: Bradley Beal. Stretched beyond his limits as a playmaker without Wall early this season, Beal was dreadful. The reputed knock-down shooter hit 36 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3 in November and December. Then the calendar turned, Wall got healthy and Beal salvaged his season. What seemed a surefire disappointing debut mere months ago is now certainly the opposite.
5. Down the road, who will be the best player of the 2012 rookie class?
Gerrity: Anthony Davis. He's younger than Lillard and already the superior player. He's far ahead of where anyone expected him to be at this point offensively, and he's on the path to becoming a defensive force.
Gordon: Anthony Davis. The crazy thing is that what we've seen -- an omnipresent rubber man who can get to the rim at a moment's notice -- is the floor of what we might expect from Davis. Next year will bring bigger minutes and a better understanding of the league, and Davis should have an even bigger impact with a slowly congealing Hornets (and now Pelicans) team.
Mason: Anthony Davis. There's so much to say about Davis' subtle and effective game, but this one stat really gets the point across: Davis is the first 19-year-old to, on a per-36-minute basis, average 16.9 points and 10 rebounds while playing 28.8 minutes a night. He's the best 19-year-old big man the league has ever seen, and everyone agrees he's just scratching the surface of his potential. Big things are coming.
Nowell: Andre Drummond. I think Anthony Davis has a higher chance of being better, but if Drummond can work out his free throw woes, his talent is generational. As gifted as Davis is athletically, Drummond is stronger and a shade more instinctual around the rim. It's a risky prediction, but I believe in the young Piston.
Winter: Anthony Davis. Drummond tempts here, as his sheer size and athleticism already make him a force. But his frightening free throw stroke might hold him back. As awesomely versatile as Davis will become on both ends of the floor, that looms large. They'll battle for paint supremacy for years to come, but right now Davis seems the safer bet for superstardom.