The knock on Damien Lillard heading into the NBA Draft was that he played college ball at Weber State and in the Big Sky, so the fact he earned the conference's MVP award twice amounted to little more than a big-fish, small-pond situation, as far as some NBA analysts were concerned.
But make no mistake; this kid can play.
If you tuned in to any of the Trail Blazers' summer league games in Las Vegas, you saw why Portland took him with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. The YouTube highlights are ridiculous, including a monster, "no he didn't" dunk and a dagger of a 3-pointer that he drained on his 22nd birthday.
Lillard is the real deal, and now basketball types are wondering if he might just be a big fish in a big pond, with Lillard heading into the 2012-13 season on everybody's short list for the Rookie of the Year Award.
ESPN.com has Lillard as its No. 2 pick for ROY, behind top draft pick Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets. Lillard is a distant second, having gotten 10 votes to Davis' 71, and the Charlotte Bobcats' Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is third with eight votes.
But it's good company for Portland's new point guard, and more than anything, it signifies that the league and its closest followers are recognizing Lillard's talent and potential, in large part because of that summer league splash he made.
If Lillard does go on to win the Rookie of the Year Award, he'd be the fourth player in Portland history to do so. Geoff Petrie (co-ROY in 1970-71, with Dave Cowens), Sidney Wicks (1971-72) and Brandon Roy (2006-07) are the others.
Does he have a chance to join those Blazers greats? Sure. He's gonna get a ton of playing time, so he'll have plenty of opportunity to make his mark.
Lillard also won't be asked to carry the offense load by himself, with scoring threats like LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews that he can feed, potentially taking off some of the pressure many elite-level rookies face and allowing him to just play.
It might be a tall order for Lillard to emerge as the ROY, and defense in the NBA looks just a little bit different from the summer league, so we'll have to see how he holds up against the NBA's best in his first season.
But in the meantime, Blazers fans have to feel good about the talk surrounding their new point guard.
He's looking like quite a catch.
Adam Sparks has followed the Portland Trail Blazers since the early 1980s, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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