For Portland Trail Blazers fans, the 2012 NBA draft will either go down as the day they found their point guard of the future in Damian Lillard, or the day they passed on incredible talents such as Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond.
Drummond’s concerns were well documented, and while anybody could have justified drafting him, the first eight teams let him slide and nobody will blame them for doing so.
Barnes, however, had far fewer concerns, and is looked at as a player who will surely go on to have a solid NBA career. Many mock drafts had him going in the top five, and having slipped to the seventh spot, he could become one of the steals of the draft.
But fear not, Rip City, as Lillard will prove to be the right choice moving forward.
Lillard, a 6’3”, 195-pound point guard, has all the potential in the world to become one of the league’s great point guards.
The NBA has transitioned to a point guard’s game, and as a player who can score, run the pick-and-roll, finish above the rim and shoot from beyond the three-point line, Lillard should thrive despite the questions about his underwhelming collegiate competition.
The Blazers needed to find a new point guard, and they found him in Lillard.
But when comparing Lillard and Barnes, the choice was about so much more than positional necessity.
Barnes has been touted for his shooting ability as he enters the NBA, but Lillard is the one who shot an unreal 40.9 percent from beyond the arch last year.
Barnes played with a great, pass-first point guard in Kendall Marshall who could get him his shot, which is something he would not have had with the Blazers.
Coming off the failed Raymond Felton experiment from last season, the Blazers could have gone on to sign a point guard in free agency; but if the team didn’t end up with highly coveted players such as Steve Nash or Goran Dragic, where would the team have turned?
Without a good point guard on the roster, Barnes would have been left to create his own shot on the perimeter next year.
As good a shooter as Barnes is, he has subpar ball-handling skills and has difficulty creating his own shot. If he can beat his man off the dribble, he’s likely to score. However, having struggled to do that at the collegiate level, it’s tough to anticipate him adding that to his game right away in the NBA.
With no guarantee that you pick up a great point guard in free agency, you’re risking putting Barnes in a situation where he’s not ready to succeed.
His game also duplicates Nicolas Batum in a number of ways.
If you truly believe that you won’t retain Batum this summer, Barnes makes sense. You get a replacement at the small forward spot at a much cheaper price than the anticipated value of Batum.
But if you envision Batum as a long-term part of the organization, Barnes just doesn’t fit.
There are certainly questions about Lillard’s score-first style of play, but one thing to realize is that his scoring nature was brought to the surface by necessity, not selfishness.
Coming from Weber State, Lillard had to take 15.5 shots per game if his team stood any chance of winning.
Transitioning to a facilitator may be difficult, though, whereas Barnes would have likely filled a similar role to the one he played last season at North Carolina.
There’s going to be a learning curve for the new point guard, but don’t expect him to fizzle out in times of adversity (Via CSSNW):
“I want everyone in Portland to know that when things are going bad, I will remain calm and search for solutions to gets us out of certain predicaments,” Lillard said. “That's what a point guard does and that's what leaders do.”
With a great work ethic and a fantastic motor, the long-term benefit of having a great point guard will trump a perimeter player like Barnes, even if Lillard has to adjust to the NBA game early.
With an All-Star forward in LaMarcus Aldridge on his side, the two scorers could prove to create one heck of a two-man game, and the pick-and-pop system will have two players involved who can score from almost anywhere on the floor.
Lillard was the pick the Blazers needed to make, and the team was smart enough to make it happen.
Some people will argue that the Blazers, yet again, drafted for need over talent by choosing Lillard, but as his game develops and his career progresses, we may just find that he was the most talented player left on the board despite his position.