Dime NBA Draft Profile: Damian Lillard

They used to call it one of the best draft classes of the last 25 years. Now, it’s looking more and more like Anthony Davis… and then everybody else. Still, on June 28, the 2012 NBA Draft will bring hope, and hopefully new talent to some teams that desperately need it.

As we do every year, Dime will be holding you down with Mock Drafts, player interviews and diaries (you should check out Dion Waiters‘ draft diary), and we will also be bringing you draft profiles for every potential prospect deemed worthy. With this year’s crop of talent, that list is long. Our last profile was on Illinois’ sophomore center Meyers Leonard. This week’s profile is on Weber State’s junior point guard Damian Lillard.

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Best Case: Jason Terry
Worst Case: Jerryd Bayless
Final Comparison: Jeff Teague

(on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being overseas talent and 10 being NBA Rookie of the Year)

We are currently in a golden age of point guards. They come in all shapes and sizes. One thing in common among a vast majority of the modern day point guards is that they are all ridiculously athletic. A guy like Damian Lillard looks athletic in the Big Sky Conference but by NBA standards, he is no freak of nature. He has decent athleticism. Lillard won’t pull a Russell Westbrook by blowing by his defender and dunking on the opposing team’s center in the lane. That just isn’t his game.

One point of concern while watching Lillard was his apparent lack of lateral quickness on the defensive end. One thing to keep in mind is that Lillard did a lot of the heavy lifting for his Weber State team. As you can see from the graph below from StatSheet.com, there were times when he would take over 40 percent of his team’s shots. When a team has a player doing so much for them on the offensive end, it is hard to ask much of him on the defensive end. It is also possible that Weber State head coach Randy Rahe asked him to stay out of foul trouble. Once he reaches the league he will be able to have an even focus on both ends of the floor.

Grade: 7

There was no other player in college basketball who had as productive and efficient of a season as Lillard. He averaged 24.5 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting from the field, 40.9 percent from beyond the arc, and 88.7 percent from the line. Lillard obviously will not be putting up those kind of numbers when he gets to the NBA considering that his competition will be significantly tougher, but it was pretty amazing how he managed to score so efficiently despite having to take so many shots. From a skill standpoint, Lillard is ready for the league. There is only one question: can he be a good floor general? He showed decent playmaking skills at Weber State, but nothing extraordinary. Once he is surrounded by NBA players, however, he very well may prove that he can play the point guard position full time.
Grade: 9

NBA Readiness
There are few players in this draft as ready for the NBA as Damian Lillard. He will be able to either start for a bad team or contribute for a decent one (think of a role similar to that of Norris Cole on Miami at the beginning of the year). Lillard can score in every way possible. He may need to adjust to the NBA game a little bit because he will not be taking 15 shots a game. There were times during the season when Lillard took some questionable shots and he will need to get those out of his system once he makes the big jump.
Grade: 8

The big knock on Lillard is lack of upside. Nothing really jumps out about him other than his scoring. He has average size (6-2) and average athleticism. He will be one of the first point guards off of the board in this upcoming draft, but will he ever be able to hop into the elite group of point guards in the league? Can he become like a John Wall or Jrue Holiday? It is highly unlikely. The key for Lillard is to land on the right team in a role where he can succeed. Since he is a scorer, landing on a team where he could play a Jason Terry or Mo Williams type of role would be the best situation for him.
Grade: 6

Lillard is a player who went to a small name school and never received a great deal of hype. He has virtually no ego, which is surprising for a guy who took as many shots as he did this season. But the amount of shots he took had nothing to do with him being selfish. He was doing what he had to do for his team to be successful. As we saw with Jeremy Lin this past season, sometimes those guys who fly under the radar are the ones who are the most motivated and do whatever they can to win. It is also hard not to like Lillard when listening to him speak.
Grade: 9

Combined score: 39 out of a possible 50 points
Damian Lillard is not as elite as some of the top point guards who have came out in recent years. That does not mean he won’t be a good player. One thing is for sure: Lillard can score the ball. He has a lot of question marks surrounding him since he comes from a small name school, but something tells me this guy will be around the league for a while.

Best fit: Phoenix Suns
There are a lot of teams in this year’s lottery that need a point guard. If Steve Nash leaves, Phoenix will need a point guard in the worst way. Everyone knows that Phoenix will not be spending big bucks on a marquee free agent, so Lillard would make sense for them. Lillard wants to go the point guard route and Phoenix would be somewhere we he could start from Day 1 and learn the NBA point guard spot.

“At times last season, Damian Lillard looked like a man amongst boys in the Big Sky – his best was simply better than other people’s best. He missed most of the 2010-11 season with a foot injury, and he used the time off to get stronger and faster, earning rave reviews for his time in the weight room. His range starts the minute he steps on the court, and he shot 41 percent from beyond the arc, making just about three per game. His offensive game is far more than just launching threes, however. He is adept at getting into the lane (and is a strong finisher) and getting to the charity stripe, as he shot over eight free throws per game last year (making 89 percent of his attempts). He will play PG in the pros, and he has the skill set for that. He averaged four assists per game, and was a willing passer. Among all elite PGs in the country last year, his turnover rate was among the best. Defensively, he is average, but he has the athletic ability to get better. He may draw comparisons to Rodney Stuckey, because of the Big Sky ties, but he is more skilled (though less athletic) than Stuckey. He is not a natural point a la Kendall Marshall, but he could be the first one off the board because he knows how to score, and he should be ready to step in and contribute from day one.” –Jonathan Reed of BigSkyBBall.com


How good will Lillard be?

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