Damian Lillard Continues Meteoric Rise
Damian Lillard didn’t have to take the court during the 2012 NBA Draft Combine. After a dominant junior season at Weber State, he’s already considered the top point guard in this draft class. In the past year, he has climbed draft boards and likely solidified himself as a top-ten pick.
Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, gave him the option to sit out the individual drills and only take part in the interview portion of the combine, but the 21-year-old didn’t travel to Chicago to be a bystander. He participated and sent a message to the players, coaches and executives in attendance.
“I’m not running from anyone,” Lillard said after the workout. “A lot of people talk about me playing at a small school like Weber State, and a camp like this is the perfect opportunity for me to show that I can play to the same level as everyone else in this draft. I wanted to come in and show all of the teams that I can make shots. I thought I did a pretty good job of that. When we did one-on-one, I wanted to show that I could defend guys who played at higher levels. I thought I did a good job of that too.”
Executives and coaches in attendance raved about Lillard’s performance. He shot the ball well, played excellent defense and showed that he’s not backing down from anyone throughout the pre-draft process. With his draft stock on the line, Lillard delivered under pressure.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watched Lillard last season. He was the nation’s second-leading scorer, averaging 24.5 points. He also contributed 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists per game. While Weber State’s offense forced him to dominate the ball in college, he believes he has what it takes to make the transition from scorer to facilitator in the NBA.
“I know I can [be a point guard in the NBA],” Lillard said. “Playing at Weber State, in our offense, they needed me to score points. For us to be successful, I had to score points. I’m willing to do whatever I need to do to win games. That’s what I did. In the NBA, I’ll be surrounded by NBA-level players and it’ll be more likely for me to make plays for other guys. I won’t have to do as much on offense. I definitely think I can be a point guard in this league.”
This time last year, Lillard was projected as a second-round pick. During his terrific junior season, he was thrust into the spotlight, which was a new experience for him after going unnoticed for much of his life. Coming out of high school, Lillard was a two-star recruit and Weber State was the only school that offered him a scholarship.
“It’s been crazy,” Lillard said of this past year. “In high school, I flew under the radar. In college, I flew under the radar. Then, this year, all of sudden there were a lot of people at my practices and a lot of people calling me. There were agents. I had never experienced all of that before, all of the attention. It was crazy and it got out of hand for a little while. It overwhelmed me a little bit, but once I realized that it was all good attention and that it came with the territory with how successful I was, I accepted it. It was crazy, but I was happy to know that I was going in the right direction.”
Lillard has already worked out for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz. He has been training for his workouts in Oakland, where he grew up. He hopes to become the next great point guard from the Bay Area.
“I’m from Oakland and I’m competitive, just like Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw,” Lillard said. “I feel like I have to bring that same thing to the table as an Oakland point guard. I want to compete. I feel like I still need to prove myself, playing against high-level guards. I’m happy to have the opportunity to be here and show that I belong here.”
While Lillard’s statistics separate him from the other point guards in this draft, he also has more experience than his peers. Marquis Teague left Kentucky after one season and Kendall Marshall only spent two seasons at North Carolina. Lillard, on the other hand, spent four years at Weber State, developing as a player and growing as a person. He feels his maturity gives him an advantage over the other point guards in this class and he believes he can make an impact in the NBA in his first season.
“I have a degree,” Lillard said. “I’ve been in school for four years. I’ve been away from home and had the opportunity to grow as a man. Not to talk down about anyone else in the draft, but I’ve got experience over them. I think a lot of them are 19 years old or 20 years old, some of them are even 18 years old. I’m 21, turning 22 this summer. I think my maturity is definitely going to help me.”
Lillard showed his poise and maturity during the 2012 NBA Draft Combine, performing at a high level in front of the league’s decision-makers. Lillard’s draft stock is at an all-time high and, just as he’s done over the past year, he’ll likely continue to climb draft boards over the next few weeks.