Sports

Trail Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard becomes the early favorite for Rookie of the Year

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after hitting the game-winning shot during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. The Trail Blazers defeated the Hornets 95-94. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Bruce Ely)

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) reacts after hitting the game-winning shot during an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Hornets in Portland, Ore., Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. The Trail Blazers defeated the Hornets 95-94. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Bruce Ely)  (The Associated Press)

Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard usually keeps to the rookie script, rarely showing too much excitement on the court or off it.

But when he launched the game-winning 3-pointer against New Orleans late last week, he celebrated by high-fiving a random fan seated near the bench.

The 22-year-old has emerged as the NBA's early Rookie of the Year favorite, handling his debut season with a veteran's poise but a freshman's humility.

Lillard is averaging 18.8 points, best by far among the NBA's first-year players, along with 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a labor-intensive 38 minutes per game. He is the only Blazer to start in all 23 games.