Weber State's Damian Lillard (Getty Images)
The only time I saw Weber State's Damian Lillard in person this past season, he was not the best player on the floor.
Cal defensive stopper Jorge Gutierrez took that honor, limiting Lillard to 14 points on 4 of 17 shooting by seldom letting the nation's leading scorer beat him off the dribble or get off a jumper without a hand in his face.
It was only one game and Lillard went on to have a brilliant redshirt junior season, but that night lingers in my mind every time I hear someone tout the Weber State guard as a likely top 10 pick in tonight's NBA Draft. I can't help wonder whether Lillard would be more than a mid-to-late first-round pick were this a typical point guard draft.
One thing I can't argue is whether Lillard should be the top point guard taken this year. He clearly has less flaws than the other first-round hopefuls at his position.
Kendall Marshall is a brilliant passer in the open floor, but his jump shot is a weakness and his lack of lateral quickness defensively will be exposed in the NBA. Tony Wroten has great size, athleticism and quickness to the rim, but his tendency to go for the spectacular pass makes him turnover-prone and his jump shot is simply abysmal. And Marquis Teague has the speed and athleticism to lead a fast break and get to the rim, but his jump shot remains erratic and he still has a tendency to force shots or passes.
Just because Lillard is the best of this year's crop of point guards, however, doesn't mean he'll pan out at No. 6 for Portland or No. 8 for Toronto.
Will he be able to make a smooth transition to point guard after playing mostly as a scoring guard for Weber State? And does he have the burst necessary to get by taller, stronger NBA defenders who will be crowding him at the 3-point line as a result of the excellent range on his jump shot?
All this attention and scrutiny is fairly new to Lillard, who flew mostly under the radar before averaging 24.5 points per game for Weber State this past season.
Four years ago, Lillard was a lightly recruited guard from Oakland, Calif., who received no scholarship offers from prominent programs. One year ago, Lillard was still an unknown among all but the most diehard college basketball fans and a projected fringe second-round pick. Now, it would be a huge surprise if Lillard weren't off the board tonight by the time Houston picks at No. 12.
Maybe Lillard's famous work ethic will help him prove me wrong just as he did so many college coaches who doubted him years ago. Still, I can't quite wipe the memories of Jorge Gutierrez locking him up out of my mind, nor can I erase the idea that teams are reaching for a point guard in a draft that doesn't have one who's lottery-worthy.
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