Damian Lillard is one of the most important pieces of the Blazers long term future. Paired with Meyers Leonard after the 2011 draft, the Blazers look to build for the future and show that Portland is a place for rookies and free agents to want to go. After winning Rookie of the Year last year, a lot of people wonder what does Lillard has to offer? It’s quite obvious really, everything.
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No one in the NBA expected anything out of Lillard when he got drafted, why? Lillard was the victim because he went to a small school, playing against “lesser” competition. Lillard improved a little bit each year, except his Junior year at Weber State where it seems like he regressed a small bit. However, he exploded his senior year. He played really well scoring 24.5 points, rebounding five times and assisting four times a game. He also shot 40.9% from three that year, his best in college.
The second the Blazers drafted Lillard I went and watched YouTube videos of Lillard playing in college. He was electric, manipulative, a leader, a scorer, a slasher, etc. As Summer League came around a friend asked me what I thought about Lillard. Before the first game, I said “Watch out. This kid can play and he is going somewhere in this league.” Although he struggled in the first half of Summer League, he never looked back after that.
Although I predicted Lillard would play well and be a great player, there is no way I could have predicted what happened throughout the year. He averaged 19 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, all while leading the NBA in minutes played. Lillard had five games of 30 points or more. His best scoring night was also almost a double-double, 38 points and 9 assists in a loss against the Lakers. One of his best shooting nights was another loss to Golden State when he shot 15-25 from the field where 7-12 were from three point land.
Lillard averaged 38.6 minutes a game, but he played over 40 on several occasions. The team needs to do a better job with Lillard on the bench, hence why the team went out and got Mo Williams and Earl Watson. First, both players can spell Lillard from playing too much. Second, both veterans can teach Lillard how to maintain his body and his work ethic to last as long as they have in their careers.
One thing I heard from Lillard, after watching the Blazer videos on the official page of the Blazers, which I really liked was he doesn’t want to be called the Rookie of the Year. He said something like, “That’s last year. I don’t want to be called that because it’s a new year and I’m working towards something bigger.” That is the perfect mentality to have for a young player. Lillard is poised and ready to work for an All-Star game selection, an MVP, a playoff berth, a playoff series win and eventually a championship.
As difficult as it is to become all those things, Lillard will not accept anything less than the best that the Blazers have to offer. Lillard has said he doesn’t want to go anywhere else and that he wants to stay in Portland for good. Now, it’s a little early for that kind of talk, but it never hurts to hear that out of one of your star players. All in all, the future looks bright with a young core as Lillard is only 23 and the oldest starter is L.A. at 28.
Earlier I said that Aldridge is the most important player for the Blazers in the short term. That is true, however the team goes as Lillard goes. Lillard is the point guard and he needs to be unselfish (like he is already), he needs to score (like he does already), and he needs to defend. Lillard is learning to be a great defender and he will only get better with time. As Lillard improves, so do the Blazers. Eventually this team will be Lillard’s team, and he needs to be ready to take over for good when that time comes.