Bryant is a student of the game who understands its history and normally is not given to hyperbole. So when he offers an evaluation of an opponent – most of whom he holds in disdain – it should not be taken with a grain of salt.
And here’s what he had to say about Portland Trail Blazers rookie point guard Damian Lillard.
“He’s spectacular … really fantastic,” Bryant said. “A lot of players get hot, but he’s got the moves, patience, intelligence, the balance on his jumpers. He’s the real deal.”
Bryant said this after Wednesday’s win at Portland after he had dropped 47 on the Trail Blazers, most of them on Lillard. But the kid held his own, going for a career-high 38 himself and adding nine assists and three steals.
Lillard leads all rookies in minutes, points, assists, 3-pointers made and attempted, free throws made and attempted and free-throw percentage. He is third in steals, fourth in double-doubles and eighth in 3-point percentage.
Lillard has won every Western Conference Rookie of the Month award thus far. He has sneered at the so-called Rookie Wall, breaking through it with such force that he has a chance to join Wilt Chamberlain and Elvin Hayes as the only rookies to lead the NBA in minutes played.
And he has done it all against the odds of being a four-year college player from a small school immediately inserted as a starter at the game’s toughest position.
The only question left is whether some idiot homer in the media will vote for Anthony Davis and prevent Lillard from being a unanimous selection. While it may seem obvious that Lillard is the only choice, keep in mind that there have been just three unanimous Rookies of the Year – Ralph Sampson (1984), David Robinson (1990) and Blake Griffin (2011).
What is less obvious is who comprises the All-Rookie First and Second Teams. Unlike the All-NBA Teams, the All-Rookie Teams do not have a F-F-C-G-G format; players are chosen regardless of position.
The 10 spots in our final rankings are filled by the players we believe comprise the All-Rookie First and Second Teams. While I do not have a vote, Sheridan Hoops editor-in-chief Chris Sheridan does, and I will be imploring him to fill in the blanks with our choices here.
The toughest decisions were at the cutoffs for the top five and top 10. Despite having the best PER among rookies, Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond is not on my First Team because he missed a big chunk of the season due to an injury and didn’t play nearly as many minutes as those in front of him.
While some may see his production in limited minutes as a positive rather than a negative, it says something about Drummond that he averages just 20 minutes per game on a team that should have been totally committed to playing its kids. So if you’re looking for a scapegoat, try Joe Dumars or Lawrence Frank.
The other difficult choice was at the back end of the Second Team, where I went with Pistons forward Kyle Singler over Cleveland Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller. You may like Zeller’s rebounding over Singler’s shooting, and he certainly has better prospects for a longer career because he is a big man. But Singler won his minutes out of training camp, while Zeller somewhat benefited from Anderson Varejao’s injury.
For the rest of our last top 10, you have to go to the table.
On to the rankings.