Happy Birthday, Damian Lillard! Here Are 5 Bad-Ass Moments From His Rookie Season

The 2012-13 Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard had a number of incredible moments during the opening season of what should be a long and illustrious career. Today, Dam turns 23, so we’re bringing you his top five moments from that surprise rookie season.

With the Blazers significantly improving their bench this offseason after the additions of Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson, Robin Lopez, rookie C.J. McCollum and more, they figure to be at least fringe contenders for a playoff spot out West. But Lillard should take this birthday to reflect on an incredible 2012-13 Rookie of the Year campaign. Here are his top five moments from this past season.

*** *** ***

5. His 24 Points and putback dunk against the Timberwolves in March

Lillard led the Blazers to a 109-96 win in this March 2 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Damian poured in 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field and 2-for-5 from behind the arc. But perhaps his most impressive bucket of the night came with a little over three minutes remaining in the second quarter. Will Barton tried to get a bucket in transition, only to come up short. But Lillard was following on the opposite wing, and slammed it home. Impressive stuff for a rookie at a time of the year when they’re usually exhausted with fatigue because they’ve never played so many high-level games in so short a period of time. Lillard isn’t like other rookies, though. As you’ll see, Lillard had a pretty fantastic March on his way to a unanimous Rookie of the Year nod.

4. Dunk over Nene against the Wizards

In late January, Lillard again struck at the rim, this time with his Blazers trailing by three with under three minutes remaining. On the play in question, he scoots by John Wall going right and extends for the dunk before a rotating Nene can get over in time. Just a fantastic move and finish from the rookie.

The dunk brought the Blazers to within a point of the Wiz, but it wasn’t enough at the end. They lost 98-95 in Portland. But Lillard’s clutch dunk sent the Rose Garden crowd into hysterics, and he also managed to pour in 18 points and dish five dimes in the tough loss.

3. 35 points, including 25 in the second half, in a win over the Spurs

Again, this performance happened in the second half of the season when most rookies go through the inevitable slump that signifies their inexperience with the NBA grind. But not Lillard. On March 8, the Trail Blazers traveled to San Antonio to battle the mighty Spurs at the AT&T Center. The teams were tied at half with Lillard scoring 10 points and dishing four assists. But after a good first half, he exploded in the second, dropping 25 second half points as the Blazers pulled away for the blowout.

The fourth period especially belonged to the rookie out of Weber State as he scored 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting from the floor, including 2-for-2 from behind the three-point line and 4-for-4 on free throws. All told in the second half, he was 8-for-13 from the field, 4-for-6 from behind the arc and 6-for-6 from the charity stripe. Just an amazing performance for a rookie against a San Antonio team that would come within a few missed free throws and offensive rebounds of a title.

2. His Game-Winner Against the Hornets

On December 16, 2012, Lillard hit a game-winner against the New Orleans Hornets that served as a notice the rookie was not afraid of the moment, and after just 23 games he should not be trifled with despite his inexperience.

With 4.2 seconds left and the score tied at 92, Lillard inbounded the ball to Luke Babbitt. Babbitt immediately threw it back to the dynamic point, and set a screen on Grievis Vasquez to free Lillard. Despite the outstretched arms of Ryan Anderson‘s help defense, Lillard drained a three to give the Blazers the win. It was Damian Lillard’s first real announcement of his clutch nature. As you can already tell, the game-winner in December set the stage for an incredible rookie season.

1. His Dime Magazine Cover

In February, our own Andrew Greif wrote a cover feature on Lillard detailing his unheralded ascent to the top of the 2012-13 rookie class, despite a career spent mainly in the shadows. People have been underestimating Damian Lillard for most of his 23 years on this planet, but his play speaks for itself. I wouldn’t bet against him in his sophomore NBA season, either. That would merely add more of an incentive for Lillard to keep working his butt off and get even better. But hey, he was already the Rookie of the Year, so if he keeps getting better than the rest of the league better watch out.

What’s your favorite moment of Damian Lillard’s extraordinary rookie season?

Follow Spencer on Twitter at @countcenci.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.