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Our look at the Portland Trail Blazers' 2012 NBA Draft prospects continues with a popular name around these parts, Damian Lillard. In case you missed the previous write-ups, you can find assessments of Thomas Robinson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes, plus Jeremy Lamb and Dion Waiters through these links.
Damian Lillard, the 6'3", 189 lb Junior point guard from Weber State, made his name scoring. Inside, outside, all over town, this guy can put it in the hoop. So far we've covered guys who score because of their physical prowess and others with length and sweet mechanics. Lillard doesn't fit in either category. He's just a point manufacturer. He hits the three and then some. He creates his own looks. He scores off the drive with dipsy-doodle layups. He takes contact and draws fouls to score at the line. He can shoot off of screens. He can catch-and-shoot. He's got dribbles left and right and can create his own shot. He's got a nice vertical leap and speed to score in transition. He does all of this with relatively normal height and slightly strange shooting mechanics. He just works at getting the ball through the net in any way necessary.
The most impressive thing about Lillard's scoring is his efficiency. Normally when you see a guy putting up tons of points at a small school you're thinking he's dominating the offense, taking all the shots. Last year Lillard scored 24.5 ppg while taking only 15.5 shots. He drew 8 free throw attempts per game, shot 89% from the foul line, hit 41% of his three-point attempts. Extra points dangle all over him like rhinestones on an Elvis suit.
DraftExpress has Lillard's college coach singing praises about his character and work ethic, saying he's a kid who "gets it". Just as impressive is his confidence. This guy looks, walks, and talks like he belongs...like he expects himself to be great. You can't teach that.
If Lillard's game was beyond question, though, he'd be a Top 5 pick instead of Top 15. The label in front of his name says "PG" but his stats are a little light on the "P". He doesn't generate many assists. In a couple places he's been slapped with the dreaded "combo guard" label. His size is plenty adequate for a point guard but he'll be woefully overmatched at the shooting guard position in the NBA. If he can't distribute and run an offense his value plunges.
Defense is another major question mark. He doesn't have the instinct and hasn't shown the same passion and commitment on that end of the floor as he has with scoring. He has the body to do it, but does he have the will and understanding?
Many will point out the Weber State uniform...a far cry from Kentucky or Kansas. NBA athletes will be a shock to him. His less-than-pure shooting form and release could magnify the issue. He's hit plenty of shots in college and scouting workouts that he's not going to be able to get off against professional defenders. How will he adjust?
If Lillard drops to #11, or even if he's hanging close at a pick the Blazers could potentially trade for, this will be an interesting call. The first instinct upon hearing about the Blazers contemplating yet another point guard in the draft is, "Oh no." But this kid looks set up for today's NBA. He does everything on offense the Blazers could ask, save the set-up. The team is also set up to compensate for his weaknesses. Portland's offense the last few years has not been complex. If they play in any kind of familiar style, he should be able to pick up the flow. They'd start good defenders around him. I'm also less inclined to dismiss Lillard because of small-conference status. Not everybody gets a blue chip invite, nor does every elite school draftee make it in the NBA. You want to know if the small-school kid has talent, has worked at his craft as opposed to coasting to greatness against substandard opponents, and has the capacity to learn. Lillard appears to fulfill all three criteria. That doesn't make his weaknesses disappear. It does give hope that they're not fatal. That extra bit of drive to become more than was expected of him is tantalizing as well. What were his expectations going into Weber State and what did he become? If he makes even half that leap above his NBA expectations of becoming a solid starter, the Blazers' point guard wishes would finally be answered. We're not talking a guy going #6 here. You're going to roll the dice no matter who you select at #11...or anywhere close. Could the Blazers be poised to take a chance on their PGOTF at that level?
Weigh in on the advisability of such a move below. How much do you like Lillard? How far would you go to get him?