Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, has emerged as the leading candidate for this season's Rookie of the Year. Steve Dykes / EPA
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, has emerged as the leading candidate for this season's Rookie of the Year. Steve Dykes / EPA

NBA: Damian Lillard is trail blazing into the rookie limelight

After a history of NBA Draft blunders, the Portland Trailblazers selected unknown Damian Lillard in last year's first round and the 22-year-old has emerged as the top rookie in the league, writes Steve Dilbeck.

Happy surprises are rare in the NBA.

For every player who emerges from relative obscurity to become a star there are a dozen "sure things" gone wrong.

And the exceptions, the undersold talents, quickly become objects of curiosity. Players like Damian Lillard.

It was almost as if the young Lillard made a point of remaining anonymous. He played at three high schools in Oakland, California, and moved on to a second-tier college programme at Weber State, in Utah, which in 50 years had never produced an NBA first-team player.

The Portland Trail Blazers, who are known for staggering blunders in the NBA draft (Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan; Greg Oden over Kevin Durant) spent the No 6 pick on an obscure point guard who is poised to become the NBA rookie of the year.

Lillard likes to wear a T-shirt that reads: "Don't Doubt Me". Certainly, no one does now, after 58 games, in which he has averaged 18.5 points and 6.4 assists.

Perhaps a factor in his rise lies in the intangibles often attached to him: toughness and confidence.

"I can't really compare him to any other rookies that I've had," said Terry Stotts, the Blazers coach. "He's playing at a very high level. He's been very consistent. And you wouldn't really know that he's a rookie by the way he plays or by the way he handles himself, and that's very unusual. And I haven't seen that very often in my time in the NBA."

With the Blazers' dubious draft history, it was understandable that many in Portland doubted Lillard would make a difference. Now he is a growing into a folk hero, a young star to build around. Dime, a magazine dedicated to the NBA, called him the most exciting rookie since LeBron James. At the recent NBA All-Star game, Lillard won the skills contest.

"He's a tough player," said the Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap. "His toughness has made him successful and that's what gotten him this far. That, and his confidence. He does well for that team. He fits that team with the people around him."

Lillard, 22, is expected to be the runaway winner for the rookie award, but he seems unaffected by his quick journey from comparative unknown to rising star.

"When you keep the same circle of people around you, you tend to do the same things," he said. "My family and the friends around me, they want the best for me, so they encourage me to do what I've always done. I mean, I do the same stuff I always have. I haven't changed."

The perceptions of him, however, have. "I think he's a wonderful player," said Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs coach. "His skills are obvious, but I like his demeanour as much as I like his skills."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Chris Burch will play fly-half as part of a new-look back line for the UAE national rugby union team that will face Singapore at The Sevens grounds in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National

Chris Burch to lead UAE’s charge against Singapore

he UAE’s bid to safeguard their place in the second tier of Asian rugby against Singapore next week will be piloted by a player who was contemplating retirement from the sport at this time last year.

 Seiichi Shimomura, centre, is part of a Japan squad that is the gold standard for sides such as the UAE, here in a Asian Five Nations rugby match at Dubai on May 10, 2013 and Singapore aspire to reach. Marwan Naamani / AFP

UAE and Singapore are rugby teams with a similar tale to tell

The UAE versus Singapore in rugby: a battle to see whether our expatriates are better than their expatriates, surely? Well, maybe not for much longer.

 Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr is pictured before the Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England, on March 1, 2014. Glyn Kirk / AFP

New Southampton owner leading club’s resurgence from the shadows

Katharina Liebherr keeping with family tradition and letting others dominate the spotlight

 Sharjah Cricket Stadium's colorful past was never like this – the IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Daredevils was loud, raucous and commerical. Pawan Singh / The National

No need for rose-coloured glasses when Sharjah Cricket Stadium host IPL

Sharjah still plays well as India's home away from home when it comes to big-time cricket, but the commercial overtones were in overdrive.

 Jorginho accepts the challenge that lies ahead for Al Wasl's improvement, and the club says it will give him time ... if they see results.  Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Wasl will give Jorginho time but results in Arabian Gulf League are needed

Al Wasl officials said they will provide Jorginho, their new coach, sufficient time to change the club’s fortunes while also warning that his fate ultimately will depend on results.

 Mickael Barzalona riding Sudden Wonder, left, to victory in the Tattersalls Millions Trophy at Newmarket racecourse on April 17, 2014 in Newmarket, England. Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images

Godolphin boosted by performances of two fresh horses at Newmarket

Be Ready underwhelms in Craven Stakes during otherwise successful day for stables

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National