Damian Lillard joined with Dan Le Batard Show, which was co-hosted by former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy, on ESPN Radio Wednesday afternoon, which you can listen to above. Lillard talks about the changes this season, when he realized the Trail Blazers were more than a team on a hot streak, transitioning from Oakland to Ogden and who the toughest player is for him to guard.
Here’s the transcript …
Stan Van Gundy: (Lillard) can do everything. He’s a guy who can get in the paint, he can really play in pick and rolls and he can really shoot the ball, which changes his whole pick and roll game because he’s got to be played honestly. This is a guy who is going to make over two three’s a game shooting over 40 percent from three, so you can’t go under on his pick and rolls, which makes it harder to keep him out of the paint. He’s capable of playing big, big minutes and he’s very mature. He came into the league with a tremendous amount of poise. Even last year as a rookie, could not be rattled and was playing big minutes. This guy is probably as big a star as people don’t see in this league, because he’s playing on the west coast, the majority of his games are on very, very late. A lot of NBA fans have not seen a lot of him and he’s probably the biggest star they haven’t seen a lot of.
Dan Le Batard: Damian, how do you feel about that appraisal? Thank you for joining us, by the way. Sound about right?
Lillard: I appreciate it. I’m very aware of who that is. That’s high praise from somebody like him, so I appreciate it.
Le Batard: I’m wondering, you’re 18-4 on the season, this has been a huge surprise in a sport that doesn’t provide many surprises. Are you surprised?
Lillard: Kinda. We came into the season and I could just tell it was different with the guys we brought in, Mo Williams, Earl Watson, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez. The culture was just different from training camp to how much guys are speaking up and how we challenge each other, our coach challenged us. I figured it would be a good year but I’d be lying if I said I thought we’d be off to this good a start.
Le Batard: Challenge each other how?
Lillard: Just in training camp, how we competed against each other. If somebody wasn’t bringing it then guys weren’t afraid to let them know that. We didn’t have that last year.
Le Batard: Who’s the guy? You were too young to do it last year, right? You were too young or you did it last year, too?
Lillard: I mean, everybody had they time last year but this year, I’ve had times where I’ve had to say something, Mo, Earl, L.A. But I can remember one time in training camp where we were in a scrimmage and Robin Lopez came over to help, somebody tried to block a shot at the rim and his man ended up getting a tip dunk and he got mad. He just started yelling, “Where is my helpside?” He got after everybody else that was on his team. The next possession something similar happened and everybody was like, me and Earl were like “They were right where they were supposed to be.” Just the fact that he spoke up and he was kind of pissed off about it and everybody kind of jumped right in line. From that point on it started to happen, people weren’t holding back from speaking up when they needed to.
Le Batard: Was there a game where you said to yourself ‘Oh, I’m no longer surprised by this. We belong here. 18-4 is not a mirage. We can do this.’ Was it winning at Golden State? Was it winning at home against Indiana?
Lillard: I think Golden State was probably the game. There was kind of a little scuffle out there and everybody on the floor was involved in it. They had each other’s back and that was the moment I realized we were all together. We lost a couple of our players. Wes had 26 points at the point he got tossed out, Mo was playing a good game, he got tossed out and we had to find a way to get it done on the road against a really good team. We found a way to get it done.
Le Batard: How did your life change when you got to the league?
Lillard: I went from Ogden, Utah, the people there knew me, to being drafted. A lot of people were familiar with who I was and when I would go places people would recognize me and people started to need a lot of favors. It was like I became the person that everybody in my family was turning to and when I was in public it was like I wasn’t the same person that I was just two months ago. It happened kind of fast but I guess that comes along with being an NBA player.
Le Batard: Was it a burden? Like, when all of the sudden the same people who treated you normally two months earlier are now asking for favors, was it a burden?
Lillard: Not really. The only thing that I hoped for was that it wouldn’t get out of control. Most of the people that are around me, which is not a lot of people, they’ve always done a lot for me and they’ve always supported me, so I knew I wouldn’t have a problem doing the same for them and I know that they knew that I wouldn’t have doing it, so I just hoped that they wouldn’t get carried away or get comfortable with the fact that I reached some level of success for myself and think that it was for all of us. I’m just happy that it hasn’t gotten that way.
Le Batard: I’m guessing you have to say no sometimes. Is that difficult?
Lillard: I have to. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it makes it easier when you have people around you who can accept the fact that you have to say no sometimes. It’s definitely one of the harder things you have to do when you’re in a position like I’m in.
Stan Van Gundy: Damian, what was the bigger adjustment: Moving from Oakland, California to Ogden, Utah for four years or making the adjustment from college basketball to the NBA?
Lillard: I think going from Oakland to Ogden was a bigger adjustment for me. It was tough going from college to the league but I think just, they’re so different. I mean, Oakland, I knew about a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have known. You know, it was a real fast-paced city and I was right there in the heart with a whole bunch of stuff going on. Then I go to Ogden, Utah in a Mormon state where everything is slower and not a lot is going on, it’s more laid back, nice people. It was just different and I had to get used to it, how things work there and some thing that I know they don’t know or how to act in certain situations, they don’t know how to act. I had to get used to the people and how people acted, it was a bit of a tough transition at first.
Le Batard: What’s a moment last year during play where you were awed Damian, where you were playing with somebody and you were like “Wow, I can’t believe that I’m playing with this guy. I used to watch him, I worshipped him”?
Lillard: I would say when I played against Kobe. I wasn’t really in awe, but it was some of the things that he was doing, it was just like, I couldn’t believe it. We basically sold-out to him, like we’re gonna send two people at him and we’re going to try to make him get rid of the ball and he was turning around, hitting fadeaways over two people, dribbling into a crowd of people and just raising up and hitting jumpers over them. It was like, there was nothing else we could do about it. I remember seeing him do that on TV and being like “Kobe’s the best player in the league,” like arguing with my friends and now he’s doing it to my team. So it was kind of unreal.
Le Batard: Did he say anything to you?
Lillard: Yeah, he said something to me at the end of the game. It was kind of a close game, he was at the free throw line and I told him, I said “Go ahead and miss one of these” and he didn’t even respond to me. He was like in a zone. He didn’t respond and then we called a timeout and when I came out of the timeout he just walked past me and was like, “This ain’t my first rodeo, rook.” I didn’t know what to say.
Le Batard: That was disrespectful of you! What are you doing? It’s a guy you love, why you telling him to miss one of these?
Lillard: I was just trying to win the game, not that that was going to have an effect on him, but …
Jon Weiner: People compare your game to Isiah Thomas’ game. Who do you compare your game to?
Lillard: I never really thought about that. Even when people ask me who I pattern my game after, I never had nobody like that, I just played. I was a big fan of Allen Iverson, Steve Francis and Gilbert Arenas but I never tried to play like anybody.
Le Batard: Who’s the guy Damian Lillard has to guard where he’s like “Ah, I don’t want to guard this guy”? Like, this is a little bit harder than the other guards.
Lillard: It’s hard to guard Chris Paul because he holds onto the ball and he’s really crafty and you just never know what he’s going to do. He uses his eyes really well. He can be looking like he’s going to pass the ball to somebody off a pindown and then he’ll throw a lob. When he comes off of pick and roll he keeps his dribble and he’s just pounding the ball. When you’ve got a guy like that, it’s hard to guard because I might be wanting to cut him off then he’ll come back opposite direction. It’s tough, but other than him I’ll say Kyrie Irving because he’s probably got the best handle in the league and he dribbles the ball a lot, too.