Damian Lillard has signed with Adidas heading into his rookie season, and while attending an event at the Adidas Village in Portland, Ore., I had a chance to briefly catch up with the point guard about his transition to the NBA.
Lillard’s game fits the mold of today’s NBA floor general. He can score at will, he has the athleticism to make plays and he can get his teammates involved, especially in pick-and-roll situations.
Questions about his transition from small-time school Weber State are reasonable, and if you worry about how well he can be a facilitator, you’re not alone. But having averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the Las Vegas Summer League, he’s seemingly on his way to proving doubters wrong early in his career.
Bleacher Report: The 2012 draft class is being called one of the best classes to come along in quite some time. What do you guys, as a group, need to do to meet those expectations?
Damian Lillard: I just think we need to be who we are. Coming in, there was a lot of hype about it; a deep draft, even into the second round… As long as we stick to what we’ve been doing, I think we’ll be successful. I don’t think it’s anything extraordinary that we need to try to accomplish. As long as people keep working how they’ve been working and bring the same things to the table, I think we’ll be fine.
What’s been the biggest transition up to this point, going from a college basketball player at Weber State to being a professional athlete here today?
Just the vibe you get from people; the reaction. You know, where they see you one day and you’re in college, and it’s like, "Oh, that’s just a college player," and then you see them another time, and it’s like, "Oh my god, it’s Damian Lillard!" So, that, and how much people really appreciate being around you.
You and Meyers Leonard are the only lottery picks who will be joining an All-Star next year. How do you think LaMarcus Aldridge can help transition your game?
He can help me a lot. He’s an All-Star post, obviously, and he demands a double-team, so me being a point guard with my ability to make shots, I think I can play off of that. I think I’ll have a lot of open shots, and me being able to make plays for myself, I think I’ll open it up for him and he won’t have to play against the double-team hopefully. And Meyers, also, being an athletic post, he’ll take some pressure off LaMarcus on the block.
Can you and LaMarcus be the next Stockton and Malone?
That’s saying a lot (laughs). I think we can be productive together. I think we complement each other, and hopefully we can be.
How well do you think you fit in with the current roster?
Well—I know I fit in well. Just because of their personalities; I’ve gotten to know them. And what I bring to the table on the floor; I think I make plays for people, I can make plays for myself. Because I can make plays for myself, I think it’ll open up other guys; they can shoot the ball. And they can make plays for me as well, so it should be fun.
What did winning the Las Vegas co-MVP award mean to you?
It was just an accomplishment, I guess. I didn’t really think much of it just because I felt like I was capable of doing something like that, and I just wanted to come out and prove myself. I knew that a lot of people said, "Sixth pick, and he went to Weber State, and nobody knows him," so I had a lot to prove in my mind, and that’s what I expected from myself—to come out and play like that.
At what point in your basketball career did you know you were headed for the NBA?
I always wanted to as a kid, but I think after my sophomore year of college is when I said I’m gonna have a shot.
Why stay so loyal to Weber State even after bigger programs started calling?
Because that’s what I come from. I come from a family of hard-working, loyal people, and that’s the reason I went to Weber State. They were hard-working and a family-oriented program, and I knew that I would excel there.
If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here because they pushed me so hard and held me to such a high standard that it allowed me to be in a position to make the NBA.
I feel like, going to a bigger school, you’re risking losing that type of help and that type of family environment, and you'd be around maybe a lower level of character and people that don’t stand for the same thing. It all worked out the same. I still got to where I wanted to be. I know I’m happy I stayed.
Do you feel that same kind of connection with the Trail Blazers organization for drafting you with the sixth pick?
Well, I feel like they trusted themselves to take me sixth. I really don’t know them extremely well; I know them well. Hopefully we can build that type of relationship.
Your name is being thrown out there in a lot of circles as the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year. How can you win that award, and then who do you think is the favorite to win it?
Well, first of all, I think Anthony Davis is the favorite, and rightfully so. But me, I think I come out and do what I do. I’m a scoring point guard, but I know when to make the right plays, so I know I’ll have assists and I know I’ll score the ball. So I’m just gonna do what I do. It’s just a matter of who gets picked, I guess. So I’m just gonna come out and do my best to perform how I’ve always done.
Generally, what are you looking for out of your rookie season, both on and off the court?
Well, off the court I want to be able to get in the community. Like you said, people got to know me better throughout this draft process, and I want to allow Portland to get to know me. I want people around here to know what type of person I am and win them over. And then, hopefully, maybe be in the running for Rookie of the Year and make the playoffs.