Damian Lillard had a four-year standout career at Weber State, including a senior season where averaged 24.4 points per game and became fifth all-time leading scorer in Big Sky conference history.
His collegiate success paid off last Summer when the Portland Trail Blazers made him the sixth-overall pick of the 2012 NBA draft and signed to a two-year contract worth more than $6.2 million (according to Spotrac).
Portland is quickly getting its money’s worth only nine games into Lillard‘s young career.
In his debut, Lillard scored 23 points and provided 11 assists and continued his success by scoring at least 20 points in his next two starts. It has been more than a solid start to his career, but a somewhat historic one (according to the Trail Blazers via Twitter).
Damian Lillard is the first NBA player with at least 20 points in six of his first nine career games since Allen Iverson in 1996.
— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) November 17, 2012
In his latest headline-worthy performance, he led the Blazers to an overtime victory over the Houston Rockets by nailing a three-point shot to tie the game with just over three minutes remaining in overtime.
Lillard finished with a career-high 27 points as the Blazers escaped with a 119-117 victory over Houston. It’s the Blazers’ second-consecutive win and the their first win streak of the season.
Damian Lillard and the Season Outlook
Damian Lillard is now averaging 19.3 points and 6.4 assists per game, making him a dangerous weapon nine games into his career.
Portland is sitting with a modest 4-5 record at the moment and has the misfortune of being in the same division at Oklahoma City, but the future is clearly bright if Lillard continues his development.
Lillard is the highest scoring rookie at the moment, beating out the second-place Dion Waiters (14.5) by a sizable 4.8 points per game.
As a result, it’s easy to jump the gun and get swept away in premature Rookie of the Year talk, but with over 70 games still remaining on the schedule, there will be challenges in the future.
Lillard is fresh and new. Sometimes a player benefits from not having a history in the league. Once opponents begin to observe Lillard and grow accustomed to his form and habits, we’ll see how he responds and get a better reading on his true capabilities.
But for now, Lillard is giving Portland fans a lot to be excited about.
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What if the NBA offered the top 100 high school prospects money, every year? What if owners pooled their resources, distributed a scaled amount of say, $25 million (less than what Kobe makes) among these recruits to ensure their arrival in the league?
These athletes could enter the draft, play in the D-League, or simply take the cash. But what they couldn’t do, per NCAA rules, is play college basketball. And that should be an appealing idea for the NBA.
Summer is the time for analyzing NBA draft prospects, many of whom have been waiting to join the league for a year at least. Summer is the time for analyzing college basketball recruits, many of whom have just joined wildly excited NCAA teams, in a process that can perhaps be described as a much celebrated form of forced waiting.
The age limit may not be the reason for the prospecting season, but it certainly impacts its weather like an annual El Nino. There is more hype for a prospect like Shabazz Muhammad or Nerlens Noel (prodigies who will probably only play one obligatory year) than for someone who feels grateful for four years on scholarship.
It is as though everyone subconsciously grasps that UCLA and Kentucky are getting away with something incredible, something other than an NCAA rule violation: These schools have procured the free services of a famous mega-talent who prefers to be elsewhere.
It isn’t just these programs who revel in free labor of the most wondrous kind; it’s the entire college basketball structure. NCAA president Mark Emmert is so addicted to the NBA’s largesse that he’s tacitly begging David Stern to further raise the age limit.
The conventional view is that this age limit is good for pro basketball because it allows the league a “free farm system.” I hardly see how the system is free.
To my eyes, it looks like NBA owners are putting money in the pockets of college athletic directors, and for what in return? So that Casual NBA Fan can knows who Kemba Walker is? So that the NBA doesn’t have to worry about making money on the talent college administrators wring to the tune of $11 billion on March Madness alone?
The “free farm system” angle implies that the NBA and NCAA operate in a state of blissful symbiosis. Except, college basketball is quite popular and overlaps with the NBA season. From fall through winter through spring, NCAA hoops pulls ratings and ticket money that might otherwise go to its big brother.
Not only that, but fans often draw comparisons between college and pro ball that can reflect unfavorably on the latter. Mark Emmert’s sport is less a farm system than it is a competitor.
So if you’re a business (and the NBA lockout reminded us that pro basketball intends to one), then what do you do to a competitor? If you can, you kill it. The age limit is college ball’s deus ex machina, a magical gift from David Stern that keeps the sport more relevant than it otherwise would be.
The NBA could take back that talent and go another step: They could cut deep into the NCAA talent ranks, deep enough to where fans would give up on college ball despite the tradition and French horns and ugly sweaters.
Pro basketball’s advantage: it’s easy to beat the nothing Mark Emmert insists on paying his employees. So what would it take to kill college basketball? Paying the top 100 recruits? Top 200? What price does the NBA need pay to own its own sport?
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