It seems like so long ago that the point guard position was such a source of frustration for Portland Trail Blazers fans.
Lillard is averaging 18.4 points and 6.6 assists heading into Friday night's home game against the Houston Rockets, and he's playing well beyond his years thus far, looking more like a seasoned leader than a first-year pro.
And that's among the many things Portland was missing last season -- a true, consistent leader and floor general.
Well, that and a center. The Blazers still don't have that. They're starting power forward J.J. Hickson at the 5 spot, because rookie Meyers Leonard -- the only true center on the roster -- isn't quite ready to be an NBA starter.
Hickson has been more than serviceable thus far; at 6-foot-9 and 224 pounds, he's tad undersized for the position, but he's held his own defensively, for the most part, and is averaging 11.3 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
The addition of Lillard has really transformed this team, and I suspect it won't be long before we're looking back at the 2012 draft as being a key reason the Blazers turned things around. But they've got a ways to go with this rebuilding project, and we'll have to wait for Leonard and some of the other youngsters to get up to speed before Portland can truly turn around anything.
Because as well as the team played in Tuesday's 103-86 victory over the Sacramento Kings, there's still almost no bench production to speak of. Ronnie Price led the reserves with eight points in that game, and Sasha Pavlovic had six, as the Portland bench combined for 19 points. And that was actually a huge improvement; in a 95-87 loss to the Atlanta Hawks a night earlier, the Blazers bench scored all of six points -- four from Leonard, two from Price -- and two nights before that, in a 112-109 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the bench chipped in four whole points -- a bucket each from Leonard and Pavlovic.
That's not going to cut it, obviously. No matter how good Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are, Portland has to have some bench production if it's going to win games this season, particularly as we venture deeper into the season and the starters' legs aren't quite as fresh as they are now.
But hey, you knew the Blazers were going to need time, right? What you probably didn't know is just how quickly Lillard would make you forget that other guy who used to play point guard for Portland.
What was his name again?
Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
- Sports & Recreation
- Portland Trail Blazers
- Damian Lillard