Beal bearing down on Lillard in Rookie of the Year race

Beal bearing down on Lillard in Rookie of the Year race
January 21, 2013, 11:45 am
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There is little doubt that in the NBA's Rookie of Year race, Portland's dynamic point guard Damian Lillard has scored and passed his way to the front of the newbie pack.

Let's just not crown him the winner just yet. Bradley Beal's recent high-scoring and 3-point tear has put the Wizards' rookie into the award-winning mix.

At least it certainly should have, assuming those future voters are still paying attention. They can make a side-by side comparison Monday night when Washington visits Portland on Monday night. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.

Overall, Lillard's stats are hard to deny. The 6-foot-3 Weber State product leads all rookies in scoring (18.3), assists (6.6), minutes (38.5) and made 3-pointers (92). Drafted sixth overall in the 2012 Draft - three slots after Beal -, Lillard is also shooting 82.6 percent from the free throw line and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

Over his 36 games, Beal is averaging 13. 9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists. His 3-point accuracy (37.2 percent) tops Lilliard's and the 6-foot-4 guard's nearly matches his rookie counterpart at the free throw line, though Beal is shooting less than 40 percent from the field.

Beal and Lillard were respectively named Eastern and Western Conference Rookie of the Month in December. If the recognition was only league-wide, it would have been Lillard receiving the nod.

Then we look at January.

Scoring: Beal, 18.6. Lillard 18.1. The two guards lead all rookies in this category. Beal has scored at least 20 points in half of Washington's 10 games, including a career-high 26 against Sacramento.

3-point shooting: Beal, 60.4 percent. Lillard, 33.3. In fairness to the Portland rookie, essentially nobody in the entire league is torching the nets from distance lately like Beal - and it's not like he has attempted only a handful of 3's. Beal drained 6 of 7 against Sacramento, 5 of 7 against Oklahoma City and is a staggering 29 of 48 from beyond the arc this month. As a reminder, Beal finished 2012 by missing his last 17 3-point attempts.

Field goal shooting: Beal, 47.6. Lillard 43.0.

Steals: Beal, 1.25. Lillard, 1.20. Rank second and third among all rookies.

By nature of his point guard responsibilities, Lillard continues dominating in assists.

Of course, stats are not the entire story.

Washington ended its season-opening 12-game losing streak with an 84-82 win over Portland on Nov. 28. The victory did not jump start the Wizards, who would end 2012 with a 4-24 record. With Beal's improvement and the return of John Wall and others from injury, Washington has won four of its last six games. The first triumph in that stretch, 101-99 over Oklahoma City, ended with Beal's running floater finding nothing but the bottom of the net with 0.3 seconds remaining.

Since losing at Washington, the Trailblazers (20-20) have posted a 14-11 record and moved into true playoff contention. Reaching the postseason would surely boost Lillard's candidacy.

Cleveland's Dion Waiters and Golden State's Harrison Barnes have turned in solid rookie seasons to date, but they will need Beal-like improvements going forward to join the race which remains Lillard's to lose. Still, if the Wiz kid can keep up the heroics and the scoring, and Washington wins enough to remove its punchline tag, this is far from over.