This year's NBA Draft has been repeatedly touted as one of the best pools of talent in recent memory. With so many great players from big-name schools like Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson, it's likely we will see other talented players slip through the cracks and into the lower part of the first round.
Enter Damian Lillard, the 6' 2" point guard from the mid-major Weber State. Playing at a smaller school, Lillard's remarkable performance this last season went largely unnoticed, especially since he was unable to lead his Wildcats to the NCAA tournament.
Individually, Lillard's skill is evident. He averaged 24.5 points per game this past year to go with four assists and four-and-a-half rebounds per game. Lillard has a versatile, all-around scoring game, which made him a monster in the weak Big Sky conference.
His scoring ability and explosiveness could translate into the NBA and he could develop into a Russell Westbrook-type of point guard. Though he lacks the freakish athletic ability that Westbrook has, Lillard still boasts a great deal of athleticism. Lillard also uses his speed to cut into the lane and draw fouls which he converts into points with his 88 percent free-throw percentage.
On top of his driving ability, Lillard is a good long-range shooter, as he shot 40 percent from the three-point line last season. With his shooting ability, he can function well in pick-and-roll sets where he can roll off the screen to shoot the three or penetrate off the dribble and finish at the rim or dish to an open man. His shooting will help to open up the rest of his offensive game and will be a key aspect of his arsenal in the pros.
Defensively, Lillard has above-average lateral quickness and a long wingspan. These are two keys for him to take the next step against NBA-level talent, especially after playing bottom-of-the-barrel college basketball opponents.
Who is the best point guard in the 2012 NBA Draft?
One dimension of Lillard's game that has come into question is his playmaking ability as a point guard. However, the NBA has recently experienced the trend of more and more point guards becoming primary scoring options rather than facilitating an offense. Additionally, Lillard had to essentially carry his Weber State on his shoulders, and when he enters the NBA, he will have more assistance around him to help out his playmaking ability.
Another appealing part of Lillard's game is his ability to take care of the basketball. He ranked first in the nation for point guards last year in turnovers per possession, losing the ball on just 10 percent of his possessions. His handles are an attribute that will be important in the NBA, where defenses will be as tough as ever.
This year's draft is also notably heavy on talented big men, and most mock drafts don't have any point guards being taken until after the first 10 picks. However, I do believe there are plenty of teams that could use the services of Lillard.
Depending on how the playoff race shakes out, the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz are two teams that could use Lillard, with the future of their current point guards in question.
Other point guards at bigger schools have garnered a lot of attention (Kendall Marshall at UNC or Marquis Teague at Kentucky), but Lillard still holds a ton of upside that could end up making him a better selection than either of them.
Overall, Lillard is a talented and multi-faceted offensive weapon who will make a nice transition into the NBA and who could become a prominent scorer in the years to come.