That Damian Lillard, he sure can play a good game of basketball. He is so smooth, so poised when he’s out there on the court. It’s as if he can’t be rattled.
Sure, not every game is a great one. Take that horrid 1-of-16 shooting night he had earlier this week against the Orlando Magic who, at 15-37, have the second-worst record in the NBA. Not good, rook, not good. In fact, that game was downright bad.
You youngsters out there need to take note, however. Just two nights later, Lillard lit up the reigning NBA champions for 33 points. He wasn’t rattled. He stuck to his game. He didn’t let the previous game affect the current game. He stayed out of his own head and went about his business.
You don’t see Anthony Davis doing that sort of thing. Bradley Beal doesn’t bounce back like that. Most rookies wouldn’t be able to shrug off such a bad evening – 15 misses in 16 shots! – and shred the top team in the NBA two nights later.
Lillard isn’t most rookies.
Looking at his stats, it’s clear to see he’s the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. He’s had that locked up for the last month or two. It’s beyond the stats, however, that really sets Lillard apart from his so-called peers.
Clearly he is no average rookie. But what gives him the edge to those other guys, those guys with the jaw-dropping athleticism?
Lillard understands the game. He didn’t rush to the NBA. He spent four years in college. That allowed him to enter the league with a more refined game. It gave him extra time to develop the lethal pick-and-roll game that is so valuable to the Portland franchise.
The best way to describe Lillard’s offensive game is polished. He spent those four years at mid-major Weber State practicing, developing, learning and refining his craft. The extra time he spent in college allowed his learning curve to become nearly horizontal.
The one-and-done guys like Beal and Davis, on the other hand, are climbing up a steep cliff. While they’re two of the top rookies, they aren’t even close to being on Lillard’s level. The Wizards and Hornets didn’t draft NBA-ready players. They drafted potential. That’s what general managers have done for the last several years.
Sometimes it pays off greatly (looking at you Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant.) Other times, it pays off as well as putting your whole stack on Red 36 (hello Eddy Curry, hi there Kwame Brown).
The Blazers made the right move taking a guy ready to succeed immediately. They made the same move a few years back when they drafted another Rookie of the Year. No coincidence, that young man spent four years at the University of Washington.
Let that be a lesson to you, Nerlens Noel. Maybe you should have thought of that earlier, Jared Cunningham. Sure, the millions have to be tempting. I wouldn’t know – nobody has ever offered me even $20 to play a game of basketball, let alone $2 million.
But if you want the millions to keep coming in, year after year after year, stay in school longer than a year. Spend that extra time improving your game, adjusting to the higher level of competition. That way when it’s time to cash in on your talents, you’ll be able to use them for the long haul.
And if Portland’s recent history is any indication, you might haul in a trophy at the end of that first year.
Kyle Boggs is on Twitter. Follow him at @KyleKBoggs