It's barely been a year since Damian Lillard turned pro, and already the Weber State alum and current Portland Trail Blazers mainstay has managed to flesh out a rather impressive resume for himself.
Lottery pick in the NBA draft? Check. Summer League MVP? Check. All-Star Weekend Skills Challenge champion? Check. Fourth unanimous Rookie of the Year in league history? Check.
All-Star? MVP? Playoff hero? We'll see.
Bleacher Report recently caught up to the Oakland native and rising Rip City luminary at an adidas event in Hollywood to get his thoughts on the draft, his success as a rookie and his goals for the future.
BR: At the NBA draft last year, ESPN’s Mark Jones asked you if Gary Payton and the other Oakland greats gave you any advice on how to be successful in the NBA, and you said that Payton didn't offer any such advice. What DID you guys talk about then?
DL: The biggest thing was just being from Oakland. The conversations we did have were just about going in and being me, being the best me I could be, being a competitor, and that was pretty much it.
BR: Have you given any advice to some of the other mid-major and low-major guys in this draft, like C.J. McCollum and Isaiah Canaan? If so, what have you told them?
DL: I actually spoke to them both. They had some questions they asked me about my draft process and how I handled it. I told them both the same thing, coming from a mid-major, especially being in school for four years, you have an experience edge over some of the other players that might be coming out younger. There will be knocks about the school, the level you played at, but that’s what you’ve got to prove in the draft right now, so you’ve got to show teams that you work hard.
Mid-majors are known for their blue-collar type of mindset. Any team wants that on their team, especially with talent like those two guys have. Just attack, any time you get out there at the combine, you’re going up against guys who are more well-known than you are. You’ve got to prove it up at that point, and you’ve got to test better than them and you’ve got to have the intangibles that they might not have, so it’s a lot bigger than just being a good basketball player. I told them all those things.
BR: At what point did you realize that you belonged in the NBA?
DL: I never doubted that I belonged in the NBA from the moment that I decided to enter the draft. Even before that, I felt like I belonged in the NBA. I still believe the same thing. I have no reason not to.
BR: Was there any moment during your rookie season when it hit that you not only were in the NBA and doing well, but also dominating some of these games?
DL: I think the first game of the season. We beat the Lakers. I had 23 points and 11 assists.
Right then, I was comfortable playing that game. It was my first game, and I was able to be that productive, and right then I said, “I could do this often,” and I was able to keep that up.
BR: You had yourself quite a first year in the NBA—unanimous Rookie of the Year, Summer League MVP, Skills Challenge champion and so on. What are your goals, both individually and for your team, next season?
DL: For my team, I want us to be a playoff team. I know we might not be a championship team right away, but I want us to still be in a position to get that playoff experience and try to compete for one. Individually, I want to be an All-Star-level player, All-NBA-level player, and hopefully be an MVP some day.
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