Coming out of Weber State and entering the NBA Draft, Damian Lillard was more preoccupied with where he would fall in the selection process and eventually proving any doubters wrong that he belongs in the league. But now that he is settling in with the Portland Trail Blazers and his first preseason game under his belt, Lillard is gaining steady praise from one opposing point guard.
Cue Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nash went up against the Blazers rookie point guard on Wednesday, as Lillard finished with 14 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds in 24 minutes in his NBA (preseason) debut, a 93-75 Portland win over Los Angeles.
He looks terrific, he’s a very good athlete, very skilled. For a young player, he looks very poised and ahead of his time, so I expect him to have a great career,” Nash said of Lillard.
“He’s got the ability to get places and do things with the ball at the same time. He wasn’t in a rush, and he had an understanding that I think is maybe ahead of a rookie, I’m excited for him.
Sounds like the mentoring is paying off.
Clearly Lillard’s talent level is off of the charts and anyone who saw him perform during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas recognized early and often that Lillard will be exciting to watch grow this season in Portland. Yet much of that growth is not only coming from within Lillard’s overall abilities, but the hands-on development supplied by the Blazers coaching staff, namely new assistant coach David Vanterpool.
Vanterpool joined Terry Stotts’ coaching staff this offseason after spending last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in a scouting a player personnel position. Now in Portland, Vanterpool and Lillard have formed a connection which will only enhance the young point guard’s game during his first year in the league as Vanterpool mentors Lillard.
It's kind of funny because people want in a point guard someone that is a lot more steady,” Vanterpool told Ben Golliver of Blazeredge regarding Lillard’s learning style.
“They don't want guys who go on rollercoaster rides as far as their emotions. They want guys who are steady — never too high, never too low. People look at Damian's demeanor and that's one thing that sticks out. The fact that his demeanor is one thing that always stays the same. Some people want more, more fire or vocality from him. Those things will happen as he gets more comfortable in his role.
Vanterpool — who played in the NBA, CBA, overseas and was an assistant coach with CSKA Moscow – goes on to describe how Lillard must remain calm during the ups and downs of an NBA game and the strenuous 82-game season as well.
Talent-wise Vanterpool says Lillard can “flat out shoot the ball” and is “explosive”, but perhaps equally important in a small market like Portland is how Lillard will impact the organization because of his strong character.
Being such a special kid, a good kid. Character plays a big part in this league in my opinion. Where I came from, Oklahoma City, that was way up high, dealing with guys and dealing with people we wanted in our organization. What's being built here will hopefully be a part of that. Damian is a big part of that, he's one of those good character guys.
Nash praised Lillard’s poise.
Vanterpool applauds his character.
Put them together along with his sick game and Portland is in good hands with the young Damian Lillard.
Will Lillard make an impact in his rookie year? What kind of player can he be? Let us know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter by using the hashtag #BlazersDay.