Portland Trail Blazers At 2012 Las Vegas Summer League: Round-Up

July 19, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Frank Hassell (22) fouls Portland Trail Blazers small forward Luke Babbitt (8) in the second half of the game at the Cox Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

After some light posting earlier this week to re-charge the batteries, I've found myself locked in a jury duty room for the day.

Here's a belated round-up of 2012 Las Vegas Summer League coverage, with a focus on the play of Portland Trail Blazers rookie guard Damian Lillard, who was named Co-MVP.

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Blazersedge Summer League Links:

On Lillard's Week | Chad Buchanan on Prospects | Mike Born on Euros | Dave on Lillard

Media Row Reports: Hornets | Rockets | Hawks | Nuggets | Heat

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Mike Prada of SBNation.com ranked Lillard as the No. 1 rookie at Summer League. Blazers rookie center Meyers Leonard was ranked No. 17.

He's a score-first player, but he never forces drives. He got trapped often in Vegas, in particular against the Denver Nuggets, but instead of dribbling too quickly to one spot on the court or getting rattled, he held off the trap with his quickness and patiently waited for just the right opening when his teammate would be open and in rhythm to fire. Some players take a decade to master that art. Lillard, despite being more of a scoring point guard, already has it down.

It's also amazing to see just how well he finishes against the trees. There are two reasons for this, and both of them are incredible given his age and experience against high-level competition in college. For one, not only is he capable jumping off one foot and off two feet, but he knows when to do each. He understands when he needs to use the one-foot jump to take advantage of a quick opening that will soon close, and he also understands when he needs the momentum of both feet to power through defenders and avoid the shot block. For another, his upper body strength is well-developed, allowing him to keep his attention on the rim even as his shoulders are being battered. His body control in the air reminds me of a young Gilbert Arenas.

17. Meyers Leonard, Blazers

He reminds me of Joel Przybilla, and I promise that's a compliment. He's big, and he already knows how to use his size well, whether it's setting a screen, defending the paint or controlling the defensive boards. His overly mechanical movements probably will ensure that he'll never be a major offensive threat, but if he can stick to his strengths, he should have a long career. I was especially impressed with the chemistry he developed with Lillard while running pick and roll.

David Thorpe of ESPN.com on Damian Lillard...

In my eyes, Lillard was the best rookie in Vegas. His talent as a floor general, as well as his ability to shoot and score, proved that you don't have to play in the ACC or Big East to become an elite player. And that's what Lillard projects to be right now. He's a slightly downgraded version of Derrick Rose, with some Chauncey Billups mixed in, who likely will start from day one and will be the favorite to win ROY because he'll have the ball in his hands a ton.

Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com on Damian Lillard...

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers. Lillard was the star of the show in Las Vegas, leading the tournament with 26.5 points per game, shooting 37.9 percent on 3-pointers and consistently getting to the free-throw line. He scored 23 or more points in all four games he played, and averaged 5.3 assists with 4.0 rebounds. "He has star potential, there is no doubt about that," one personnel executive said. "He has a great first step, he is quick and he makes good decisions. I would be shocked if he wasn't the starter on Day One. He has a chance to be very good playing with LaMarcus Aldridge there."

Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com writes...

Damian Lillard? Off the charts. He came out of the summer league ranked as the summer's No. 1 rookie by NBA.com and deserved it with the way he played here. I believe when the award is announced, he'll be the league's MVP. He showed that the team's confidence in drafting him and immediately proclaiming him a "franchise point guard" has some merit.

It will be interesting in the fall to see him working that pick-and-roll with LaMarcus Aldridge.

Meyers Leonard showed a world of promise with his athleticism and good hands and he's good enough to draw regular rotation minutes. I believe there's a chance he could even start at the center position.

Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com writes...

Trail Blazers general manger Neil Olshey, wasn't surprised Lillard had so much success out there.

"This was what we knew he could do. The skill set that he brings to the table is transferable to this level," Olshey said. "He had a good week and now it's about getting better and improving on what he's learned."

Scott Schroeder of SBNation.com writes (here and here)...

Point Guard: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers -- Man oh man was Mr. Lillard outstanding. The first of two Blazers lottery picks acclimated himself well in Vegas after playing his college ball at Weber State. In addition to some highlight-reel plays and co-MVP honors (along with Josh Selby), the steady-handed guard averaged 26.5 points and 5.3 assists while under the tutelage of interim head coach Kaleb Canales.

...
Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers first round pick, showed that his standout career at Weber State might translate better than most thought it might to the next level. The quick-footed guard showed quite a bit of athleticism as he averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds through four games before sitting out the final game.

Scott Schroeder of Pro Basketball Talk writes...

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers - Not a lot of basketball fans knew what the Portland was picking when the Trail Blazers went with the Weber State point guard early in the first round of this year's NBA Draft. Well, if Summer League wasn't an aberration, the Blazers selected themselves a solid-to-spectacular player. Lillard was named a Summer League Co-MVP (along with Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies) on his way to averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds and at least two awe-inspiring plays in each of the four games he played. The most memorable is going to be his dunk on Keith Benson, but the pinpoint passing - exhibited here on a connection with fellow rookie Will Barton - wasn't bad either.

Zach Harper of ESPN.com gave Lillard his MVP award.

With a dearth of star rookie performances thanks to injuries (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, maybe Austin Rivers) and patriotic responsibilities (Anthony Davis), Lillard took summer league by storm with averages of 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game. For the same reason Kyrie Irving was such a hit as a rookie, Lillard showed a similar game in his Las Vegas action. He got to the basket with great balance and turned heads with his ability to make plays.

Carl Berman of the Huffington Post on Lillard...

(Co-MVP) Damian Lillard (Portland) (4 games: 26.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.3 apg). Lillard showed why Portland had the confidence to draft him at #6. He'll be a starter and 20 ppg scorer from day one. Lillard can play point as well as move over to the two at times. He has a scorer's mentality, can get by his defender at will and has NBA range. He was the leading scorer of the Summer League.

Joan Niesen of FoxSportsNorth.com loved the Blazers, ranking Damian Lillard as the No. 1 most impressive from Summer League and ranking the Blazers as the No. 2 most impressive...

But for what it's worth, Lillard lived up to the hype at summer league. He averaged 26.5 points per game, best among summer league players, and his 31-point performance against Atlanta on Thursday was probably the best game of any player in Las Vegas, for his scoring as well as his memorable dunk.
...
Obviously, Lillard stood out more than any other player, but after Las Vegas, Portland presented a pretty good case that it should be known this offseason for something other than its Nicolas Batum tug-of-war with Minnesota.

Along with Lillard, rookies Meyers Leonard and Will Barton both stood out. Leonard, selected just five picks after Lillard in June, averaged 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, making him the 10th-best rebounder in Las Vegas. Leonard has also forged a close connection with Lillard already, and it shows on the court. The two work well together, better than two rookies with just weeks of experience playing with each other should.

Joe Freeman of The Oregonian on Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard...

It sometimes takes teammates months, if not years, to become close. No two Blazers -- at least ones this important to the franchise's future -- have become this close, this fast, in recent summer league memory.

"I feel like I've known him a lot longer than I have," Lillard said. "You know when you first become friends with somebody, you're comfortable but there are certain things you won't say to them. But with Meyers, we'll joke around with each other and we'll say almost anything to each other. I won't take it personally; he won't take it personally. So I think we're to that point where we're comfortable with each other and I'm comfortable being around him and he can say anything and I'm not offended."

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune with quotes from coaches on Damian Lillard...

"I love Lillard and Leonard," says Boston coach Doc Rivers. "The Blazers had a great draft, which is the key for them. They're doing some really good stuff."

"First time I've seen either one of them, and I'm impressed," says Erik Spoelstra, the Portland native who coached the Miami Heat to the NBA title last month. The Blazers "have done a lot of things that are good for their future," he adds.

Lillard stole the show with his sterling play, averaging 26.5 points and sharing league MVP honors with Memphis guard Josh Selby. Lillard is expected to start next season.

"Lillard is going to be terrific," says Cleveland coach Byron Scott.

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune with more Lillard quotes here...

The best player I've seen at summer league," said one NBA executive, who asked not to be identified.

"He's not going to be a great player - he already is one," said a scout from another team.

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"He has the poise, the gears to go by people," said the anonymous NBA executive. "Willingness and ability to pass has been the knock on him, but he saw (Meyers) Leonard a few times today."

Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune on Meyers Leonard...

[Kaleb] Canales noticed what I have noticed about Leonard, though, when the ball gets in his hands. Sometimes he has dipsy-dooed when I felt he should have just powered the ball up. And sometimes he has made what would have appeared to be an easy shot difficult.

"There were a couple of plays where he went to his counter-move when he should have gone ahead and used his original move," Canales said. "In the second half, he picked it up and made his presence felt at both ends."

Leonard has taken an average of only six shots a game. Part of that is that point guard Damian Lillard has dominated the ball, firing up 20 shots per contest. But Leonard needs to be on the receiving end of more set-up passes from his fellow rookie once the regular season begins.

Danny Chau of Hardwood Paroxysm with some thoughts on Las Vegas, his first time covering the NBA as a media member...

So out of everything: Damian Lillard's NBA-ready body and conditioning along with his advanced understanding of speed and how to use it; John Shurna's absolutely hilarious way of running up and down the court and his equally hilarious shooting form; the fact that people are ultimately kind and want you to succeed, I think the most important thing I took from summer league is that we're all so very similar. We watch, dissect, and discuss these players like they are more than what they are. Indeed, they have been blessed with an incredible ability, and an ability that is extremely marketable and profitable, but they aren't machines (even if it does seem as though they come out of conveyer belts sometimes). There were a few stars at summer league, but mainly there were men who have lives that are every bit as uncertain as ours; players who have put everything into the opportunity to make an NBA training camp with no sure guarantee. When you think about it, it's almost amazing how many are able to speak well to the media at all. Behind those words, they could be thinking about a week from now, a month from now, a year from now. Where they'll be if their dreams have to wait. Some people are better at hiding their anxiety than others. It helps when the game you play is a language more expressive than your native tongue.

Derek Page of HoopsWorld.com with some quotes from Lillard...

"It's fun," Lillard told HoopsWorld.com. "I wouldn't say I'm tearing it up ... but it's good to be out here in a game environment. I get to play against NBA-level talent and get up and down and develop that chemistry with my teammates."

"I've always had the confidence, but between ninth and tenth grade is when I hit that point when I started learning how to work hard," Lillard said. "That's when I figured out what it would take to give me a chance. In my head, I thought I was going to make it all along, but once I figured out what I had to do to give myself a better chance - working hard, taking care of my body and just being a high-character person - I think that's what got me to this point."

Joel Brigham of HoopsWorld.com on Lillard...

G - Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Vegas) - Lillard, the other Co-MVP in Vegas, is exactly the kind of point guard that the current NBA rules favor, and the sixth overall pick in this past June's draft showed that he's going to fit in just fine in this league. He averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists, and 4 rebounds in Vegas, but more importantly he made the game look easy, which is exactly what a high lottery pick is supposed to do.

Andrew Unterberger of The Basketball Jones writes that Lillard has the 13th best new jersey of the offseason.

13. Damian Lillard, #0, Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers' lottery pick point guard certainly improved his jersey stock with his play in the Las Vegas Summer League, and you can never go wrong with either the number zero or the Blazers' classic black-and-red look. Plus, repping for Lillard is kinda like repping for late-'90s teen comedic actor Matthew Lillard, which is always a plus.

Sean Highkin for Hardwood Paroxysm on Damian Lillard...

For what it's worth, though, Lillard passed the eye test. After a few initial first-half jitters, he exuded calm and confidence bringing the ball up the floor. Even when his scoring was inefficient, his shot selection was hard to fault. After his third game, which featured that dunk and an overall virtuosic scoring performance, he told reporters he could have done a better job making plays for others, and in the following game, he visibly looked to pass more. He ran the pick-and-roll well with Meyers Leonard and showed all the signs of a floor general who will mesh well with LaMarcus Aldridge. In my several postgame-media-availability interactions with him, he came across as thoughtful and quick to identify weaknesses in his own game. Until further notice, there is every reason to believe Lillard is the real deal. Unless he isn't, in which case it will be only the latest reminder that Summer League performances are to be taken with several entire salt shakers.

Sean Highkin of Portland Roundball Society with questions and answers from second-round pick Will Barton...

Earlier in the week, I'd often see you running over to the bench to talk to Wesley Matthews during free throws and other dead balls. What kind of pointers was giving you?

He was giving me a lot of pointers, just telling me to keep my head up when things aren't going good. Be aggressive and try to play my game, and not think too much out there, and just try to perform good for the team and just go out there and do my best. It's just going to come to me and I've got to get my feel for the game, my first NBA games. He was telling me that he knew I had the talent and I'm going to be fine, just let it come to you.

What sort of feedback have you received from Kaleb Canales this week?

That I'm really talented, stay aggressive, and I'm going to be real good if I just keep working hard and getting better every day.

PS Thanks to those of you who contributed to the FanShots over the last few days.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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