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.
Comedian/actor/radio show host Jay Mohr was in Portland on Thursday during which he hosted a live edition of Jay Mohr Sports on Rip City Radio 620 AM. Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who is still in Las Vegas taking in Summer League, joined the show to discuss a host of NBA topics. You can listen to the entire interview below, though I’ve also transcribed a few of the more interesting answers…
“They’re going to be damn good, that’s for sure. They’ll be a little bit different, they lost three of their big guys so they’ll have to tweak their defense a little bit. One of the keys to their success the last two years was their defense and I think that got overlooked because of how well they scored the ball. They’re going to be a better offensive team, they’re going to be the favorite to win, but you never know until you toss it up.”
On signing free agent guard/forward Evan Turner…
“I’ve read some of the experts about us signing Evan and I’m surprised they don’t see the fit, because Evan is a really good basketball player. He handles the ball, he’s got a high assist ratio, he makes players better. I talked to Brad Stevens about him afterwards, they’re going to miss him in Boston. He’s a versatile defender, he’s unselfish, I think he fits into our culture. The one thing that I think gets overlooked is there was such pressure on Damian and CJ last year to be scorers and playmakers and particularly, the way I rotated the players, one of them was in the game at all times. Well Evan gives us another playmaker to take some of the load off of Damian and CJ, hopefully they’ll get better shots. You can add more playmaking — you look at the Golden State Warriors, how many playmakers they had on the court. They had two, three, four playmakers on the court at one time and that just adds to your effectiveness offensively. And defensively, Evan’s a versatile defender, he can guard two or three positions. Like I said, I think he fits in really well.”
On Damian Lillard tweeting “Hell no” when asked about returning to Oakland to play for the Warriors…
“It was pure Damian. He’s proud to be a Blazer, he loves Portland, he loves the franchise and he’s really embraced the role of being the face of the franchise. I was glad to read that.”
On the baseless speculation that the team is moving to Seattle…
“(Laughs) No. With all due respect to you Jay, and I do have immense respect, but that doesn’t really deserve a response. We’re the Portland Trail Blazers, always have been.”
It’s summer time in Portland (or at least, it’s supposed to be), which means there’s no lack of street fairs, farmers markets, beerfests and art walks to attend. Anyone who frequents such events knows how hard it can be to get from Point A to Point B when there’s thousands of people in between.
But Damian Lillard has you covered. In a new adidas short entitled “Creating Clutch,” the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State traverses a busy street market in China (wearing the “PDX Carpet” colorway of the D Lillard 2, if I’m not mistaken) using an array of moves that you can incorporate into your own crowd-surfing…
In “Creating Clutch,” Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard shows us there is no such thing as downtime if you want to be one of the best clutch players in the NBA. A crowded street market in China during his recent Summer tour became his court, the ultimate opportunity to test his creativity and put his skills to the test.
Playing in front of capacity crowds at arenas all across country is old hat for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. But his next performance will be in front of a different kind of crowd, at a different type of venue and in a completely different trade.
Lillard announced today on his Twitter account that he would be holding his first full-scale concert under his nom de rap Dame D.O.L.L.A on July 15th, which happens to be his 26th birthday, at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The show is the latest sign of Lillard’s evolution as an artist, which started in earnest with his Four Bar Friday project, which grew into a regular Music Monday feature, then a music video that aired on national television and now a show in front of a live audience.
The 6-3 point guard/rapper has performed in front of small crowds before, most recently during an Adidas-sponsored trip to Manila, but has never held a real show with advanced ticketing at a legitimate venue. Lillard will be joined onstage by his cousin Brookfield Deuce, who has been featured on a number of Dame D.O.L.L.A tracks, with DJ OG One handling duties on the ones and twos, as the kids say. Lillard is also giving some stage time to local pastor Duoshun Pledgegure, who raps under the name Rose Ciddy and is a frequent participant in Lillard’s Four Bar Friday series. And who knows, perhaps one or two of his teammates decide to test their rap skills under the bright lights.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show and can be purchased at the Crystal Ballroom’s website. There are only 1,500 tickets available, so if you want to go, you’d be wise to purchase asap.