Before the NBA All-Star break we unveiled the new cover of Dime Magazine, featuring Portland Trail Blazers phenom Damian Lillard. As we near the final 20 games of the regular season, we wanted to publish our reflections from before the All-Star break we wrote about in the new issue…
What surprised you this season in the first 41 or so games of the NBA schedule? That’s what I wrestled with as February approached and the All-Star Break was within sight. As published in Dime issue No. 72, this was my chance of telling the partial story of the 2012-13 season without knowing its ending. It’s a survey of the surprises, both of the macro and micro variety, that keep us flipping back to the games every night.
10. A Tale of Two Rookies
Coming out of Weber State, Damian Lillard’s road to last June’s NBA Draft was marked not by concerns about his pure-as-snow jump shot or a demeanor more unshakable than bedrock, but about the strength of his shoulders. How much weight and expectations could a rookie point guard carry?
Lillard has looked more veteran than rookie so far in Portland, averaging more minutes and points than any other first-year player while flashing big-shot cojones and a coolness that belies his standing in the league. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis have also enjoyed remarkable rookie seasons after recovering from a lack of playing time and injuries, respectively, but that time away created a lane for Lillard to the Rookie of the Year early. As he so often has in his flawed but fantastic first half, he’s certainly taken advantage of the opening.
At the polar opposite end of the spectrum from Lillard is New Orleans’ Austin Rivers. Part of the hype machine since he was an underclassman in high school, Rivers didn’t make a field goal in five of his first 16 games and has a PER of 5 that is easily the worst in the NBA for a player with his 24 minutes of playing time per game. The rookie transition can look easy thanks to Lillard, but Rivers is struggling in no longer being the best athlete on the floor. But what is truly surprising is that a shooter like him can no longer shoot.