By Ben Golliver
The formula for winning the NBA's Rookie of the Year award has never been all that complicated. Half the battle is complete once you get selected in the top six of your draft class; dating to LeBron James' 2004 Rookie of the Year campaign, four No. 1 picks (James, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving), two No. 2 picks (Emeka Okafor, Kevin Durant), two No. 4 picks (Chris Paul, Tyreke Evans) and one No. 6 pick (Brandon Roy) have taken home the hardware.
While this winners' group has wide role diversity (all five positions are included) and a variety of career paths (straight to the NBA from high school, one-and-done, four-year college player, etc.), its members all share an obvious prerequisite for success: They all played big minutes in their first season. The Rookie of the Year award often comes down to statistics, given that many of the candidates are playing for lottery teams, and there's no better way to put up numbers than by playing a lot, preferably in a permanent starting role. This group of Rookies of the Year averaged 36 minutes per game in their respective first seasons, and only Irving, who battled some injury issues and was a young one-and-done, played fewer than 34 minutes. In other words, predicting the 2013 winner can be as much about assessing opportunity as it is about projecting impact.
Here's a look at this season's candidates. Las Vegas odds for each player are included, for entertainment purposes only, courtesy of Bovada.LV. Statistics from the 2012 Las Vegas Summer League and the 2012-13 preseason, through Tuesday, are also listed.
The Odds-On Favorite
Anthony Davis -- New Orleans Hornets -- Las Vegas Odds: 7/4
6-foot-10, 220 pounds; age 19
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: N/A (played for USA in 2012 London Olympics)
Preseason Stats: 13.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.2 assists in 30.6 minutes per game in five games
We know this about the No. 1 pick: He's very experienced at winning awards. A teenager until March, Davis' laundry list of recognitions includes the 2012 NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player award; at least six major NCAA Player of the Year awards; consensus first-team All-America; and numerous high school Player of the Year and All-America designations. Davis is the bluest of blue chips. Hyped as one of the best prospects of the last decade, Davis is a sure-thing starter for the Hornets, and he's off to a promising start in the preseason, scoring 22 points against the Bobcats in his second game and pulling down 17 rebounds against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this week. It's not inconceivable that, thanks to his large role and his absurd length, Davis could make a run at averaging a double-double as a rookie. That standard helped both Okafor and Griffin take home the hardware.
For now, Davis relies more on being set up than on creating his own offense. New Orleans' weak point guard crew and the presence of two reliable scorers in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon could combine to limit Davis' scoring total a bit and make him vulnerable to higher-volume scorers in this Rookie of the Year race. Should one of his competitors make a push toward 20 points per game, it's possible he loses the numbers battle.
To combat that, though, Davis has what no one else in his class does: name recognition and true star power. The signature "Unibrow" is a gimmick, but it's proved helpful, and his ability to make "Did you see that?" alley-oop catches and block shots will get him plenty of exposure on the highlight shows. Put all of that together -- assured playing time, No. 1 pick status, two-way abilities, buzz -- and Davis enters this race with the knowledge that it's his award to lose.
The Consensus Challenger
Damian Lillard -- Portland Trail Blazers -- Las Vegas Odds: 5/1
6-foot-3, 195 pounds; age 22
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds in 32.8 minutes per game in four games
Preseason Stats: 17.0 points, 6.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 3.6 turnovers in 30.2 minutes per game in five games
This small-college star's rise from obscurity to the No. 6 pick was sudden, but his trajectory is only increasing. Lillard is well positioned to push Davis hard for this honor for three reasons. First, he's already been named Portland's starting point guard and will be asked to play a ton of minutes. Second, he can shoot the rock, knocking down 40 percent of his preseason threes while shooting 50 percent overall. Third, he'll be put in enough pick-and-roll situations with shooters surrounding him that he's virtually assured of posting a solid assist total.
Roy, another Blazers guard who spent four years in college, is his model for winning the Rookie of the Year award. Roy averaged 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a rookie; Lillard isn't likely to match that rebounding total but should easily surpass Roy's assist numbers and should be comparable, or close, in the scoring department.
Lillard will no doubt lose the highlight-play battle with Davis, and he will have to fight for his fair share of recognition, as he's playing in a small market on the West Coast. But his shooting ability, poise and calm, professional demeanor should win him plenty of advocates among media members and fans alike. That he's 22 and already possessing an NBA-ready body should help his early transition. In terms of return on potential investment based on the listed odds, Lillard is the best bet.
The Fringe Contenders
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- Charlotte Bobcats -- Las Vegas Odds: 9/1
6-foot-7, 232 pounds; age 19
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 18.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 4.0 steals in 22.0 minutes per game in 1 game
Preseason Stats: 6.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals in 22.0 minutes per game in five games
After the top two candidates, there's a fairly steep drop-off, and for good reason. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 pick and the player besides Davis most likely to have a long-term impact in the league, simply doesn't fit a known profile for winning Rookie of the Year. Kidd-Gilchrist's game is built on energy, ferocity and creating and then cashing in on turnovers. He's a "winner," as pundits like to say, stuck playing for the NBA's saddest-sack franchise. That, coupled with his shaky shooting percentages, is a perfect formula for being overlooked in this race.
Kidd-Gilchrist's career may not be defined by awards like Rookie of the Year, or even All-Star selections. In 2025, we'll likely look back and count first how many All-Defensive teams he made. That could be a big number.
6-foot-9, 240 pounds; age 21
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 13.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals in 29.6 minutes per game in five games
Preseason Stats: 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals in 20.5 minutes per game in six game
Robinson, seen as a possible No. 2 pick before he went No. 5 to Sacramento, has a number of things going in his favor. Like Lillard, he's significantly older than the other top picks in this class and possesses an NBA-ready frame. Like Griffin before him, he plays with a good motor and has a proven ability to score, vital skills in this race. The big question here is the No. 1 factor mentioned above: opportunity. Robinson started in two of Sacramento's six preseason games and finds himself in a front line with a big-minutes starting center, DeMarcus Cousins, surrounded by a pair of veterans, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson. James Johnson is trying to push for minutes, too. Developing Robinson as the full-time complement to Cousins would seem to be a logical goal for coach Keith Smart. How that process plays out, and when, will ultimately determine his chances at working his way into the Rookie of the Year discussion.
6-foot-3, 207 pounds; age 19
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 17.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals in 30.6 minutes per game in five games
Preseason Stats: 13.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals in 27.2 minutes per game in six games
Through no fault of his own, Beal's rookie year is already off to a tough start. Wizards starting point guard John Wall will miss the opening portion of the season with a knee injury, leaving Beal without his dynamic, playmaking backcourt partner. The No. 3 pick is a smooth, in-control scorer who can put the ball on the deck to create offense and he possesses a pretty stroke, too. (Whether his shooting percentages ever catch up to that stroke is another question.) The Wizards took Beal with an eye toward getting a player who could be a key building block for a decade, not one who could light up the league overnight. Asking a two-guard who doesn't possess overwhelming size to become a go-to scorer in his rookie year is a tall task; asking him to do so without his expected set-up man is even taller.
The Dark Horses
6-foot-8, 210 pounds; age 20
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 steals in 33.6 minutes per game in five games
Preseason Stats: 9.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists in 25.1 minutes per game in seven games
Barnes, the No. 7 pick, has prototypical size for a scoring wing, an environment where scoring and getting up and down is encouraged and a maturity that makes him well suited to handling an 82-game season. Coach Mark Jackson has installed him as a starter during the preseason and he's acquitted himself well, even if his best scoring game (20 points) came against Maccabi Haifa. Barnes clearly figures into Golden State's immediate plans but his personal luster is reduced a bit by the surrounding pieces. The Warriors have a No. 1 scorer in David Lee, two point guards who aren't afraid to shoot, Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack, a shooting guard who looks like a potential breakout star in Klay Thompson and a solid veteran wing in Brandon Rush, who will command playing time. The table just doesn't look like it's set for Barnes to put up the type of scoring numbers needed.
Jonas Valanciunas -- Toronto Raptors -- Las Vegas Odds: 12/1
6-foot-11, 231 pounds; age 20
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: N/A (played for Lithuania in 2012 London Olympics)
Preseason Stats: 7.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 0.6 steals in 23.8 minutes per game in five games
A holdover from the 2011 draft making his NBA debut this season, Valanciunas' future ceiling is incredibly high. What to expect in 2012-13 remains an open question. Since Chris Bosh left, the Raptors have been defined by a lacking front line, and the Lithuanian big man looks like a potential cure for that ill and figures to be a full-time starter. With that opportunity question answered, his case turns to productivity, and Valanciunas hasn't dominated in the preseason. In his defense, he did come close to posting a double-double on two occasions (11 points and eight rebounds against Detroit; 10 points and eight rebounds against Milwaukee). Perhaps the biggest impediment to his candidacy is the fact that, as a big man, he will be judged apples to apples with Davis, who is likely to post better numbers, perhaps to a significant degree.
6-foot-4, 215 pounds; age 20
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 12.3 points, 3.0 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals in 30.0 minutes per game in three games
Preseason Stats: 8.0 points, 2.2 assists, 1.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game in six games
Waiters surprisingly moved from being a projected late lottery pick late in the process to going fourth in the June draft. Since then, Waiters has only offered more questions, underperforming at summer league and later admitting to conditioning issues. A pure scorer known for his ability to attack off the dribble and draw contact, Waiters has started at times during the preseason but hasn't shot the ball well (34.4 percent) and hasn't scored in volume yet (his high game was 18 points against Chicago; it's the only time he's topped 12 points). A turnaround over the course of the season isn't impossible, but the early indicators aren't strong.
The Overlooked Long Shot
6-foot-10, 270 pounds; age 19
Las Vegas Summer League Stats: 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.2 steals in 24.2 minutes per game in five games
Preseason Stats: 9.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in 17.5 minutes per game in six games
Drummond produced plenty of reasons for doubt after his one season at UConn -- his free-throw shooting, foul trouble and questions about his love of the game generally occupying the top spots on that list -- but there's no good reason for Las Vegas to have treated him so harshly in its early odds. Drummond is unrefined, to be sure, but blessed physically, too. So blessed that his resume already boasts a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against Milwaukee and excellent per-minute production for a big man, considering that he's only been used off the bench and hasn't yet played more than 25 minutes in a game. Foul trouble, playing time and the likelihood that Davis will put up better apples-to-apples numbers combine to put Drummond on the outside of this race looking in. But the early returns suggest that he's the most undervalued player in this class.