Damian Lillard was already well on his way to winning the NBA Rookie of the Year when he was selected to play in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at the 2013 All-Star Weekend in Houston, but there were still doubts about what kind of player he would become. Sure, he was putting up great numbers, but some proposed it was a product of having no competition for minutes while being given a role that allowed for him to put up the kind of numbers necessary to win the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy by unanimous selection.
And even after a historic rookie season, there were questions of whether Lillard could really keep up the pace he set in his first season. Perhaps, seeing as how, he was 23, old by NBA sophomore standards, he had already reached his ceiling. And even if he was playing well, if the Trail Blazers were a perennial lottery team, what did it matter?
But while those doubt might have had merits before, they no longer do today. A year after being recognized as one of the best rookies via inclusion in the Rookie-Sophomore game in Houston, Lillard is now a full-fledged all-star, someone his fellow second-year players look to as a leader of their class.
“Damian Lillard, I mean, all the doubt that he had around him for being from Weber State, look what he’s doing now,” said Pistons center Andre Drummond, who was selected three spots after Lillard in the 2012 Draft. “He’s an all-star, he’s in three of the All-Star Weekend games. I told him this morning that I was real proud of him. He proved a lot of people wrong. I’m just proud to call him my friend and know that he’s doing great things.”
“I’ve seen his growth just from coming form a small school, big chip on his shoulder to obviously playing the way he did last year and taking his game and his team to another level,” said Harrison Barnes, the seventh pick in the 2012 Draft. “Portland missed the playoffs last year, one of the best teams in the West this year, he’s an all-star. I’m obviously proud of him.”
“One thing I love the most about (Lillard) is he’s humble, but at the same time, he still has a chip on his shoulder,” said Bradley Beal, who was drafted three spots ahead of Lillard by the Wizards. “He still feels like he has more to prove and he’ll never stop growing. I always try to compete against him all the time because I feel as though he’s somebody in my class who I can always compete and always try to be better than him. And he’s always trying to be better than me. It’s always good to be able to have somebody like that.”
“For (Lillard), I just think it’s about his confidence and him having that role of being a point guard on his team,” said Portland native Terrence Jones, who was selected by the Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. “He just has to play with that confidence, especially in the Western Conference where there’s so many tough point guard. I think he’s really taking that challenge.”
One of the things that impresses Lillard’s fellow second-year players the most is his rapid growth from small college prospect to a leader on an NBA team. Talent is a necessity for a young player when it comes to earning the respect of your teammates, but it also requires a certain demeneor, one which his peers would like to emulate.
“Just from last year … he’s growing into being a leader and guys are starting to follow him,” said Drummond. “Some of the stuff he’s doing, I want to be able to do, too, just how he’s a leader to his team. I want to start to grow into that as well.”
Lillard is able to recognize the respect he has among his draft class and the NBA at large while still remaining humble about it, which is one of the traits which has allowed him to be a leader despite having less than two seasons under his belt. He moved among his teammates on the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge roster with the same quiet confidence that he exhibits on the court, a confidence that comes with being on of the best young players in the NBA.
“I just feel like everybody that I was drafted with and the guys after, I feel like they respect what I’ve done,” said Lillard. “Everybody’s goal when you come in the league is to make an impact. You want to be Rookie of the Year and then you want to make all-star teams and you want to win championships and stuff like that. Just the fact that I was Rookie of the Year and now I’ve been blessed enough to become an all-star, that’s kind of the path that everybody wants to take. So I think, more than anything, they just respect it.”
But that respect and success can come with some peril. Lillard knows he won’t remain at the top of his class if he rests on his laurels, which, to some extent, makes his envious of his fellow second-year players in the exact opposite way that they’re envious of him.
“The thing about it is, it’s all coming so fast that I’ve got to keep getting better,” said Lillard. “I’ve got to be able to be consistent and remain at this level. For a guy that hasn’t been an all-star, hasn’t been the rookie of the year, they have
something to fight for, they have something to prove. Whereas, because I was Rookie of the Year and now I’m an all-star in just two seasons, I’ve got to keep finding stuff to get better at and keep finding ways to improve.”
Which he’ll need to do if he wants to add a playoff birth to his resume, not to mention a second-consecutive all-star selection.
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently barnstorming through Asia as a part of the adidas “Take On Summer” tour. He’s meeting fans, instructing young players, working on his dance moves and generally having a good time in one of the most basketball-obsessed places in the world.
But even though it’s already Tuesday in Asia, it’s still Monday here in the United States, which means Lillard has a new track to post on his Soundcloud account under his nom de rap “DameDOLLA.” And this week, it’s a freestyle featuring V.I.P., one of Lillard’s regular collaborators, entitled “Shook Ones”…
A few select four bars from Lillard’s latest offering…
Last of a dying breed and they’re taking me for granted
I represent the ones working for it, nothing handed
The world is all backwards. How we lazy and demanding?
We ain’t working towards dreams we’re just working towards mansions
I see my people struggle when they still don’t ask for nothing
We always gonna keep it solid, I know when the times are toughest
I know when they gonna be fine and i know when to give them something
Don’t ever try to finesse me, I know when a sucker bluffing
Good stuff. “Shook Ones” is just the latest of Lillard’s growing number of tracks, which include Soldier In The Game, Full Stomach, Why?, Free Bands, The Villains and last week’s Isley. All of these tracks and more can be found on Lillard’s Soundcloud page.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”