Blazer fans, welcome your new fearless leader, Damian Lillard.
The buzz around Lillard grew throughout the summer, into camp and more during the preseason. Then, in a season-opening win over the LA Lakers, it boiled over even more. It’s for good reason – the No. 6 overall pick scored 23 points and had 11 assists in his professional debut. That’s great.
But that wasn’t his biggest contribution.
He came through the biggest on what was probably his worst decision of the night. And it was a missed shot.
It came early in the game when the 6-3, 195-pound Lillard tried to dunk over the hulking 6-11, 265-pound Dwight Howard.
Lillard got stuffed, fell to the ground and the ball went out of bounds.
This play, this one unspectacular offensive play, proved to everyone in Portland that Damian Lillard is here to play ball and he is not backing down from anyone. He saw an opportunity and he tried to seize it. Sure, the smarter play is to float the ball over Howard. But it was the rookie’s first game and he wanted to make a statement – he wanted Howard on a poster.
It didn’t happen. Lillard will learn.
That’s the type of aggression, however, this team has lacked. Lillard showed the confidence bordering on cockiness that people with a lesser vocabulary might refer to as swag. This team needs that. This team hasn’t had that since Rasheed Wallace. This team hasn’t had it from its point guard since Rod Strickland. Now it’s back.
Later in the season, if Lillard gets another opportunity to try dunking over a big man, he might float it instead. When it drops through the net, fans will cheer. It will be a smart move. He will have shown some experience, shown he can learn from his mistakes.
The image of Lillard sizing up Howard, going up strong with two hands to the rack is one Portland fans need to remember. It’s the moment Lillard announced to the rest of the league that he will not be pushed around. He’s going to make opponents respect him. If they don’t, he’s going to clown them.
He didn’t get Howard on this one. He didn’t get the bucket.
What he did do, however, is establish a new mindset for the Portland Trail Blazers. He let his teammates know he is going to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league… even if it’s the NBA’s best big man. Damian Lillard will challenge any man.
That’s the type of point guard – the type of leader – that every good team needs. He’s the type of bulldog other players can rally around.
Welcome to Portland, Damian Lillard. We’re ready to follow you.