Damian Lillard isn’t the first NBA rookie to dazzle ’em in the summer leagues, but he’s the first from around these parts to make that kind of a splash, so Weber State fans are understandably excited.
And despite a pretty solid offseason so far, I suspect a few Utah Jazz fans might be a tad jealous.
The former WSU point guard, selected by Portland with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 draft, recently averaged 26.5 points, 5.6 points and four rebounds per game in the Las Vegas Summer League. He wound up sharing MVP honors with second-year guard Josh Selby of the Memphis Grizzlies.
In doing so, Lillard joins the likes of Blake Griffin (Las Vegas 2009) and Russell Westbrook (Orlando 2008) as a summertime superstar. Of course, Sean May (Rocky Mountain Revue 2005) and Jerryd Bayless (Las Vegas 2008) are also on the same list. So you see, getting it done in the summer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined for greatness. In Lillard’s case, however, hopes are high, especially in Portland, Ore., were the Blazers and their fans are now practically giddy with excitement for the upcoming season.
Much has already been made of Lillard and fellow first-round pick Meyers Leonard (center, Illinois, No. 11 overall), who showed instant chemistry together.
Here’s a tidbit from Oregonlive.com, a website powered by the (Portland) Oregonian newspaper: “On the very first play of their very first Las Vegas Summer League game, it was clear that Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard had a unique connection.
“In the Trail Blazers’ opening game against the New Orleans Hornets, Leonard dashed out to the perimeter on the right side to set a screen for Lillard, setting in motion the first of what promises to be many pick and rolls in the franchise’s future. Leonard set the pick, slipped away and rolled to the hoop as Lillard tossed a perfect bounce pass that Leonard collected and finished with an easy layup.
“It was textbook. It was pretty. And it was just the beginning.”
Yahoo!Sports recently quoted Blazers star big man LaMarcus Aldrige saying, “Who says we have to wait? Damian is good, Meyers is good, I’m getting better, we have Nic (Batum) and Wes (Matthews). Anything is possible. OKC showed that.”
The national NBA media also seems to be heavily on the Lillard bandwagon.
From NBADraft.net, writer Rodney Halprin believes teams will regret passing on Lillard: “Lillard showed poise beyond his years, running the pick and roll nicely in his 4 games. While his shooting numbers were good, there is still room for improvement and he has the capacity to become one of the better scoring point guards in the league.”
Not since the bikini has something so exciting made such a big summer splash.
OK, maybe that last statement is a stretch … but, hey, Lillard really has raised some eyebrows. Nationally, some may have seen a young man from Weber State and the Big Sky Conference going No. 6 overall as a bit of a stretch. But most Wildcat fans didn’t and neither did the Jazz, who began scouting him as a freshman.
The Jazz, who didn’t have a first-round pick this year, tried to move up in the draft, presumably to get Lillard. After all, they were in need of a young point guard to go along with other young puzzle pieces Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. But general manager Kevin O’Connor was caught in a seller’s market and couldn’t find the right deal.
Since the draft, O’Connor and the Jazz have gone in a different direction, acquiring three new players in the last month. Ultimately, that plan may work out nicely, but given the summertime buzz about Lillard, I can only imagine how this state would be celebrating if “DLill” were wearing a Jazz uniform.
It might even put the bikini to shame.