Damian Lillard came into the 2012 Draft Combine in Chicago as a guy with little to no stock value. He was coming out of a little known school in the Big Sky NCAA Conference by the name of Weber State, in Ogden, Utah. Not many scouts had looked at him as a guy with a good draft stock. This is why he felt it was important for him to play both days in Chicago, while some prospects had simply sat out to avoid the risk of injury (by the advice of their newly hired agents, of course). Lillard used those two days to his advantage and his draft stock sky-rocketed.
Lillard was taken with the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Blazers, and was instantly a fan-favorite. His “Letter Oh” jersey could be seen widely throughout Portland and the surrounding suburbs. Of course, the high hype was caused by huge expectations. The Blazers hadn’t had a solid point guard before Lillard since the days of Damon Stoudemire. Blazers GM Neil Olshey gave the “keys to the train” to Lillard as soon as he got to Portland. In other words, Lillard was basically the quarter-back or operator of this team.
Lillard played extremely well in the Las Vegas Summer League in four games, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists in 32.8 minutes per game. These high numbers gave him the co-MVP award of the Summer League, shared with second-year guard Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies.
On October 31, 2012, Lillard started in his NBA debut against the rival Los Angeles Lakers, recording 23 points and 11 assists. In the lone game of October and the entire month of November, Lillard averaged 18.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.38 steals, leading to the first of many Rookie of the Month awards.
In December, he continued his wrecking path, keeping consistent with his November averages, recording 18.4 points and 6.3 assists. He gathered the second of six possible Rookie of the Month awards. However, starting in January, teams started to game plan against him. As one opposing coach said that his game plan was to “kill the snake by cutting off the head.” He planned to beat the Blazers by attacking the core of their team. It worked for his team, as they won. However, Lillard was able to keep steady numbers, averaging 17.7 points and 6.8 assists per game in the month of January, leading to the third Rookie of the Month award.
Lillard had a sensational month of February. He averaged consistent numbers of 19.8 points and 6.2 assists and won the Rookie of the Month award (again), but at that point, the announcement for that award was routine. During the All Star Break, which took place in Houston, Texas, Lillard was invited for both the Rising Stars Game (Rookie-Sophomore game) and the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. He played well in the Rising Stars Game, but the real fame was in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, where guards are tested on fundamentals of the game, including dribbling, passing, and shooting. Lillard excelled, posting a time of 29.8 seconds, beating out Philadelphia 76ers guard Jrue Holiday, who finished with a time of 35.6 seconds in the final round.
At this point in the season, Lillard had made noise throughout the country. He was the clear front runner for the Rookie of the Year, unless any other rookie made a huge run in the final two months of the season. However, Lillard had no plans of giving his awards away, averaging 21.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the month of March, en route to yet another Rookie of the Month. He would continue his stellar play into the month of April, averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists. He won the Rookie of the Month award for the month of April, leading to a clean sweep of the Rookie of the Month award.
Damian Lillard also won the Kia Rookie of the Year award unanimously.
So why do I think Lillard will finish his career as a legend? He’s broken records this year, and even joined some elite “clubs” that I’ll mention below. This kind of play won’t cut, however, because as he gets more experience, he’ll have higher expectations put on his shoulders. Now, a list of the records and clubs he’s joined:
- Lillard broke the record for the most three-point shots by a rookie in their first season in the league. Lillard netted 185 long-bombs, beating the previous record of 166, held by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
- Lillard broke the Portland Trail Blazers franchise record for most three-point shots made in a single season. Lillard’s 185 long-bombs, beating the old franchise record of 181, held by Damon Stoudamire.
- In his NBA debut against the Los Angeles Lakers on Halloween 2012, Lillard excelled, recording 23 points and 11 assists. He joined Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only two players to record 20 or more points and 10 or more assists in their NBA debut.
- Lillard became one of three rookies in NBA history to record at least 1,500 points and 500 assists in their rookie season. In his rookie season, Lillard scored 1,562 points and dished 531 assists. The other two rookies to do this are Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson.
- Lillard is the fourth rookie in NBA history to win the Rookie of the Year Award, joining Ralph Sampson (1983-84), David Robinson (1989-90), and Blake Griffin (2010-11).
- Lillard is the fourth rookie in Blazers franchise history, joining Geoff Petri (1970-71), Sidney Wicks (1971-72), and Brandon Roy (2006-07).
With all that being said, and seeing the players Lillard has been simply associated with, I feel as if Lillard will become a legend and have his jersey in the rafters of the Rose Garden. However, my feeling is reliant on one potential problem. The Blazers have had numerous injury problems in their franchise history, and its almost as if the Blazers players have a curse on them. If Lillard does hurt himself majorly before he can create a big enough of a resume, he doesn’t become a legend. If he gets injured later in his career, I say he does, just because at that point, he has a large body of work people can judge his play by.
I’m sorry if my thoughts are scattered, which they probably are. Credit goes out to the following people:
- Candace Buckner (@blazerbanter on Twitter) – The Columbian
- Ben Golliver (@blazersedge on Twitter) – Blazers Edge
- Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes on Twitter) – Comcast Sports Net North West
- Joe Freeman (@BlazerFreeman on Twitter) – The Oregonian
- Mike Tokito (@mtokito on Twitter) – The Oregonian
- Casey Holdahl (@CHold on Twitter) – Portland Trail Blazers Official Digital Reporter
Until next time,