SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The education of Damian Lillard continued Monday night in a semi-homecoming and a full-realization that the biggest obstacle to overcome as a rookie may be himself.
In immediately being installed as the Trail Blazers starting point guard, the No. 6 pick in the draft has established an early trend of being too deferential to teammates the first three games. A rookie trying hard to fit in is nothing unusual, especially a rookie known as a scoring point and needing to prove he can be a distributor as well, but Lillard can be a dynamic offensive threat right away and needs to assert himself.
The Trail Blazers are attempting to get that very point across, re-enforcing to Lillard that he is one of the focal points, behind LaMarcus Aldridge and for now in the same range as Nicolas Batum because Batum has experience and some attack. Lillard can play nice all he wants, but this is someone who can be the No. 2 option in an offense with several veteran starters before the All-Star break of his first season.
If Lillard shows that he is able to get others involved, what is already a promising start on the Rookie of the Year campaign trail — with Anthony Davis of the Hornets — receives another boost. (Davis does a lot that will not show up on the stat sheet. Lillard is on a team with an established star, and both New Orleans and Portland are projecting to the lottery.) Monday night against the Kings, about 70 miles from his hometown of Oakland, was another Lillard slow start, with one basket in six tries in the first half before he took greater control after intermission and made six of eight attempts in Sacramento’s 117-100 victory.
Three exhibition games in, Lillard has taken 38 shots in 86 minutes, compared to 41 in in 82 for Batum and 40 in 78 minutes for Aldridge, so Lillard is not exactly being shy with the release. The Blazers are watching, though, to make sure he looks for his shot at the outset rather than holding back as a scorer to prove he is a distributor. They want Lillard to be Lillard.