Don't look now, but the Portland Trail Blazers may have landed the most exciting player in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Damian Lillard has been tearing up the courts the past two months, earning co-MVP honors of the Las Vegas Summer League, and probably has some general managers scratching their hands as to how he fell to sixth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Damian Lillard has been one of the best players in the summer league.
During the summer league, Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 5.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game, and did not go a game scoring under 23 points.
In an 84-78 win over the Atlanta Hawks, Lillard finished the game with 31 points and seven assists, and provided entertainment for YouTube.com when he scorched Hawks' 2011 second-round pick Keith Benson on an unforgettable one-handed dunk.
"Every time I talk about this kid, it just keeps (getting better)," rookie center Meyers Leonard said. "He's unbelievable. His ability to finish around the rim, shoot, create plays for others, defend, play hard -- he's a special player."
The Blazers finished their season on a sour note, as they lost seven-straight games to end with a disappointing 28-38 record. Portland heads into the 2012-2013 season without Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Gerald Wallace, who all left via free agency.
With an emerging star like Lillard, Portland should be a dark horse to make the playoffs next season.
Lillard looks like an elite shooter from virtually anywhere around the court, and appears to have the confidence and leadership needed to run the point position effectively.
The 6' 3" rookie certainly plays above the rim, and can provide some immediate scoring to bring the Blazers' offense rankings above their 16th position in the NBA.
"He has good focus and he understands his place, but he also believes in his ability and the fact that no matter what point guard is in this league, he can compete with him," said Hersey Hawkins, the Blazers' player development director, according to Deseret News. "And that's an inner confidence that you can't teach. I just hope he keeps that edge."
As impressive as Lillard was over the past couple of weeks, he is the second summer league MVP for the Blazers in five years.
In 2008, Portland watched Jerryd Bayless dazzle the summer league when he average 29.8 points per game and earned MVP honors, yet the combo guard struggled to make a meaningful impact in the NBA.
Portland's front office, however, is not comparing the two players, but rather feel more confident that Lillard is a more game-ready prospect of the two.
Lillard ranked second in the NCAA last year in scoring, and has proven that he is a gifted shooter.
Unlike Bayless, and most productive summer league players, Lillard's shooting has not been reckless or inconsistent. He has a reputation for being a smart athlete, and has the ability to transfer his play in the summer to the regular season games in the fall.
Lillard also appears to have the confidence to be a leader on a Blazer squad that could use a burst of energy and confidence. His ability to dominate summer league might be a fine preview of what's to come.
"I know it's a whole 'nother level up in the NBA, with NBA players, not summer league players," Lillard said. "Being the MVP of this, I would be happy with it, but it's not my main concern."
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