You can forgive Chad Buchanan, the Portland Trail Blazers' Director of College Scouting, for thinking highly of Damian Lillard. After all, he was the acting GM of the Blazers up until early June and surely passed along a good word or two to Neil Olshey before the team took the stud out of Weber State with the sixth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
And it was Buchanan who pried that pick from the now-Brooklyn Nets when he sent Gerald Wallace to New Jersey at the trade deadline last season.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Buchanan (and Olshey) would be so bold as to compare Lillard to none other than Chauncey Billups. As Buchanan told Blazer's Edge blogger Ben Golliver after the Las Vegas Summer League in July:
In a best case scenario down the road, [Blazers GM] Neil [Olshey] has talked a lot about Chauncey Billups for Damian. I think there are some similarities between those two guys and their temperament. Good pick and roll players. Not elite athletes but good enough athletes.
As lofty a comparison as Mr. Big Shot might seem for the rookie, Billups and Lillard do have plenty in common, particularly when considering their pre-draft measurements. Per DraftExpress, Chauncey measured 6'3 and 207 pounds at the combine, while Damian checked in at 6'3 and 189 pounds.
Their numbers in college—Billups at Colorado and Lillard at Weber State—match up fairly closely as well:
It would seem, then, that Billups was more productive across the board, but less efficient with regard to shooting from the field and taking care of the ball.
On the whole, though, both graded out as scoring point guards as collegians. Both were and are capable of handling duties as floor generals, but neither would be considered a pure point guard in the mold of a Chris Paul or a Steve Nash. That is to say, Billups and Lillard might even be more valuable as scorers than as facilitators.
Not that they don't understand how to run offenses. As Buchanan noted, Lillard and Billups share proficiency in the ubiquitous pick-and-roll game, particularly when scoring the ball for themselves. They both have a keen understanding of how to read and react to what the defense gives them.
Here, we see Chauncey running pick-and-roll with Amar'e Stoudemire during his brief stint with the New York Knicks back in 2011:
Billups assesses the situation carefully, sees that his defender decides to trail on the screen rather than go over it and puts his man behind him. That leaves him with an open pull-up jumper from the free-throw line, which he nails.
Lillard demonstrated in college that he, too, can score off the pick-and-roll:
According to Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti, Lillard put up an efficient 1.083 points per possession (PPP) in the pick-and-roll during his senior season, including a PPP of 1.039 when he was the one shooting.
Both players are aided in this endeavor by their ability to hit shots from just about anywhere on the floor. Billups has long been a tremendous marksman for a point guard, having hit 38.9 percent of his three-point shots in the NBA. Lillard was no slouch himself in college, with a high of 40.9 percent from downtown in 2011-12.
And it's not as though Lillard toed the line every time, either:
At this point, what separates Billups from Lillard is consistent focus and intensity on the defensive end. Chauncey was a pitbull at the point of attack for a Detroit Pistons group that reached six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, earning two All-Defensive nods for himself along the way.
Lillard, meanwhile, has a ways to go before anyone will consider him a lockdown-type guy at the point. In speaking about where Lillard must improve at the pro level, Chad Buchanan added:
For me, defensively. See him really guarding the ball, fighting through screens. Really defending the ball, containing the ball. He exerts so much energy on offense, at our level there are some pretty talented point guards that he's going to have to defend. That's where he's got to improve.
These same concerns shone through during his time at Weber State. He demonstrated that he has the tools to be a good (if not great) defender, but too often seemed to lack hustle and initiative when providing help and fighting through screens:
For Lillard, then, the issue is a mental rather than a physical one. He'll have to commit himself to all aspects of the defensive game in the NBA, where he'll find the quality of competition to be astronomically higher than it was in the Big Sky Conference.
That concern stemmed to all facets of Lillard's game, at least until he set foot in the Las Vegas Summer League. He averaged a league-high 26.5 points along with 4.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists—good enough to garner co-MVP honors with Memphis' Josh Selby:
Of course, Lillard will have to do far more than dominate rookies and basketball journeymen to establish himself as the next Mr. Big Shot. Forget about five All-Star appearances, three All-NBA selections and a Finals MVP; Lillard must demonstrate that he can reconcile his duties as a point guard with his proclivities toward scoring, and that he can be more than just a serviceable defender.
It took Billups five seasons with four different teams to figure it all out and find his niche, when he landed in the Motor City in 2002. The Blazers can only hope that Lillard won't need so much time (or so many stops elsewhere) to become the player that they (most notably, Chad Buchanan) think he can be.