With the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Damian Lillard, the point guard out of little Weber State in Ogden, Utah. However, once he stepped onto the NBA hardwood, he was more than ready for the spot light in the big leagues.
Right off the bat, he was comfortable at the next level as illustrated by his 23 point, 11 assist regular season debut. That sort of production continued throughout the year as he went on to average 19 points and 6.5 assists per game on his way to Rookie of the Year honours.
This past season (his sophomore campaign), his assists dropped to 5.6 per game but his scoring increased to nearly 21 per outing. He quickly developed a reputation as a gifted offensive machine at the point guard spot, whether via pick and rolls to create for others or simply creating his own shot.
Then when he finally made his first appearance in the NBA Playoffs, he quickly showed his ability to come up big in crunch-time situations as he sunk a buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of Game Six to send James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the Houston Rockets packing.
High praise from fellow star
That sort of play and poise under pressure has earned him some huge praise from one of the game’s biggest stars: Paul George.
“Damian is a big time player in this league,” said George, who could be teamed up with the Lillard on the U.S. World Cup squad.
“He’s one of those guys that wants the ball in his hands in the last seconds. He’s just poised way beyond his years.
“That’s what you want in your point guard. The biggest characteristic he can have is not getting too rattled — not getting too sped up. Point guards gotta learn how to play at their own pace and Damian is like the prime example of doing that.”
Lillard’s time with Team USA has also brought attention to a skill we weren’t aware he possessed: great defense.
On the second day of camp in Las Vegas, the Blazer’s point guard harassed Trey Burke with some high intensity, full-court D through-out the whole practise. Afterwards he revealed that his play was influenced by the L.A. Clippers’ veteran defensive stalwart, Matt Barnes:
“He just called and told me that everybody knows that I can shoot the ball and make plays, but he said he knows that I can defend too,” Lillard recalled with CSNNW.com of their conversation:
“He said just go out there and be a dog and pick up full-court.”
The 24-year-old knows he faces a lot of stiff competition to make it to on the 12-man roster of the World Cup in Spain, with the likes of Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and John Wall, all vying for essentially the same spot. However, he hopes his defensive displays will be enough to convince the selectors he is worth taking over the other highly talented guards.
"I think the way I’m going to show that I should be a part of this team is picking guys up defensively,” he said in the same CSNNW interview.
“That is what’s going to give me a chance. I’m trying to wear guys out.
“I doubt I would be on the floor for longer than five minutes at a time and I have to be able to go out there and D-up, make plays, make shots. This is what I have to do.”