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Rookie Report: Damian Lillard
I have to admit, when I saw Portland use their #6 draft pick to get a guy from Weber State, to say I was perplexed would be an understatement. Now, admittedly, I am biased in my thinking having come from a power conference. So, it’s natural for me to think that high drafts picks come from power conferences or are international players. And not to mention, the last time I heard something about Weber State was while I was in high school, taking a break from class *cough cough* to catch a glimpse of the NCAA tournament on the television in the student center. Well, to make a long story short, I was absolutely amazed that this one guy (Harold Arcineaux) from this school I had vaguely heard of (Weber State) was giving a perennial powerhouse (UNC) all that they could handle and more. I can’t remember all of the specificities of the game. But I do know that he had 36 points, Weber State won, and I thought he was the greatest collegiate player, I had ever seen…well, he and A.I., of course…ahhh, the ignorance of youth! How wonderfully blissful! Nonetheless, that was my impromptu introduction to Weber State. Unfortunately, I never heard anything else about Arcineaux or the school…until now. So, given my limited exposure and biased opinion, was I really supposed to believe that this kid Damian Lillard was legit? Well, seeing is believing.
Although, I didn’t have an opportunity watch him in summer league, I did catch some of the preseason games. Now, I’m not a person that puts a tremendous value on the amount of points scored or flashy moves during the preseason. I’m always looking to see how well a player fits in with or facilitates an offense, his level of activity, his defensive awareness, and his overall basketball IQ. After only a few minutes, I was sold. Damian’s basketball acumen far exceeded my expectations. The first attribute that was impressive was comfortability running the point. And before anyone responds with an asinine comment, Lillard was a scoring guard in college. That means that the majority of plays were designed for him to score and he inevitably had free range to do what he pleased. Often times, players have a difficult time making the transition from scorer to playmaker. Two examples that immediately come to mind are Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook. Being a true pg in the league is far more than just dribbling the ball down the court and calling out an offense. It includes being able to read and react to defenses, knowing which plays to run with certain personnel, knowing your teammates strengths and weaknesses, knowing when to push tempo and when to settle, and knowing when and how to deliver passes to your teammates so that they’re in the best position to be successful…just to name a few. The second attribute was great court vision. His ability to see plays before they happen and deliver the ball to cutters when he is seemingly facing the opposite direction will make LaMarcus, Nicolas, Wesley, and JJ very happy campers. And lastly, maybe most importantly, was his air of confidence. I absolutely refuse to use the word “swag” because it is THEE most elementary, overused, inauthentic, unimaginative term ever created in the history of linguistics…but I digress…His aura of aplomb permeates the entire court as evidenced by his ability to successfully run the pick and roll and make the correct reads. Or better yet, the calmness with which he penetrates the defense without over penetrating and manages to make the correct play is commendable. Even still, the maturity that he exudes by not wasting dribbles, the impressive use of the hesitation dribble, and his lack of anxiety when he gets into traffic is noteworthy. Not to mention, he can score.
Now that I have had the opportunity to watch him play, I fully comprehend the investment. Job well done Weber State! Oh, and you too Damian!