Damian Lillard is just finishing up his second season in the NBA, but the Portland Trailblazers guard has already proven that he could be the next big thing for adidas and their basketball brand.
While Derrick Rose was and still could potentially be that guy, his absence from the game over the last two seasons has been damaging for the growth of adidas. Utlilizing Lillard would really allow the brand to take full advantage of what they currently have on the court.
Like Rose, Lillard is a former Rookie of the Year. He is also continuing to grow as a cornerstone franchise player, which was on full display over the NBA's All-Star weekend.
Lillard participated in five events, which was not just the most of any player over the entire weekend, but in NBA history.
He started Friday night playing in the Rising Stars challenge, following that up Saturday night with the skills competition and the dunk and three-point contests. He finished with the most important event of all—the All-Star Game.
While Lillard didn't shine in his first event of the weekend, he started out Saturday night taking home the skills title with partner Trey Burke. He also nearly made it to the final of the three-point competition, losing out to Marco Belinelli by one point. The dunk contest was difficult to really judge, but Lillard put up some impressive attempts, especially in the freestyle round.
But what was perhaps most impressive, and even more a sign for adidas moving forward, was that Lillard was named an All-Star reserve in just his second season. And while he only played nine minutes, he put up just as many points.
Nonetheless, the All-Star weekend proved that Lillard has the potential to become something special—and what happened in New Orleans was really only scratching the surface.
Lillard also embraces what adidas embodies—speed, skill and performance. They create a product that compliments his game—and that has been everything that adidas represents and what they were looking to accomplish with an athlete like Rose.
With Rose sidelined, missing key events like the All-Star weekend, adidas has lost a lot of potential to continue to build their basketball brand. Utilizing a guy like Lillard, someone who is starting to really come into his form, would be a huge opportunity to pair the two guards together.
Rose and Lillard have a lot in common, including their numbers over the first two years of their careers. Of course, Lillard hasn't finished his second NBA campaign, but currently his numbers are nearly identical to Rose's.
But it isn't just the numbers—they are both similar people. Rose is known to be a humble guy, but on the court he is as tough as nails and puts the team on his back. The same goes for Lillard. As told by Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins:
"He is an incredibly humble kid from a good family," says Portland GM Neil Olshey. "He has a small-school sensibility and is active in the community. But the moment he steps on the court, he is a point guard from Oakland who will rip out your heart to win a game."
Lillard and Rose are a different breed of NBA stars, especially compared to a lot of players that have signature shoes.
They don't carry that flash, or the swag that you see with guys like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. That is unique, something that adidas has the privilege of using in their favor to be different from their biggest brand rival.
According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, adidas is already in a pretty difficult situation. They currently hold roughly five percent of the basketball shoe market, while Nike controls nearly 90 percent:
As the basketball shoe business has grown, adidas has been a bit player -- 5.5 percent of the U.S. basketball shoe market compared to Nike's 90 percent -- based on a combination of bad scouting, bad execution and bad luck.
The signature shoe market is hugely profitable if done right. According to Forbes.com, Nike netted a combined $385 million from LeBron ($300M), Kobe ($50M) and Kevin Durant ($35M), while adidas only brought in $30 million between Rose ($25M) and Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard ($5M).
That is a big, and I mean BIG, difference.
Lillard wouldn't even be able to resolve that big of a financial separation, but bringing him to the forefront of their basketball brand wouldn't hurt the future of adidas, especially once guys like Bryant and LeBron begin to fade.
However, they can't focus on when those two will start to change the landscape, especially since James is nowhere close to being done. Adidas can only set themselves up to take advantage of when such a time comes.
The most important thing for adidas is that they don't want to put themselves in a hole given their current predicament.
Rose's health continues to be an issue for growing adidas' basketball division. Another setback could not only make his future bleak, but also that of adidas.
For that reason, adidas needs to start to put more weight behind Lillard, essentially gambling on him being the next big thing. There isn't really a loss there anyways, as adidas could either have two similar players in Rose and Lillard. And if things don't go as planned with Rose, they would at least have Lillard ready to take center stage for the company—like he did over the All-Star break, wearing a variety of the Rose 4.5.
The brand is already depending on Lillard to carry the Rose brand for the 2013-14 season, and if he can prove something in increased sales and building the brand, it would be a no-brainer to shift some of the brand towards the future.