Damian Lillard was the second leading scorer in the NCAA this past season, averaging a whopping 24.5 points per game for the Weber State Wildcats. Lillard is considered by many to be the top point guard in a relatively weak PG draft class. He has decent size (6’2” 195 lbs) and impressive athleticism with a big frame. Possessing a 6’9” wingspan and a good vertical leap, Lillard’s success stems from his explosiveness and ability to create his own shot. Critics will point to the generally weak mid-major competition that he played against in the Big Sky Conference and his failure to lead his team to a NCAA Tournament berth this past season, but Lillard displayed some serious pro potential in his 3 years at Weber State.
There was not much that Lillard did not do for the Wildcats, as his team’s offense was completely reliant upon his playmaking abilities. With the ball, he is an extremely shifty dribbler and possesses excellent lateral quickness. He uses an explosive first step to blow by his defender while utilizing his strength and athleticism to penetrate the lane to get high percentage looks. When driving, he attracts help side defenders and does a great job of using his big body to absorb contact while finishing at the rim. A true scorer, Lillard is very crafty when finishing in the paint and maintains great body control through contact. He is also able to use the floater with great efficiency when driving through a packed lane. Lillard is a very polished dribbler and has confidence driving from either side, keeping the ball low and tight to his body while having the ability to change direction extremely fast. He did a very good job of not settling for poor looks and continually attacked the rim, finding much success when coming off of the pick-and-roll. This is a great indicator for Lillard, as a big part of NBA offenses revolve around the success of the pick-and-roll game. His drive first mentality will bode him well at the next level and his high free throw rates will make his transition to the NBA easier. Running in transition, Lillard demonstrates outstanding baseline-to-baseline agility and sees the floor well, operating in the open court very well.
Lillard was a great college shooter, but has somewhat flawed mechanics. His release point is a little low for scouts liking, but he maintains a quick and consistent release that needs very little space or time to get up. He used his explosiveness and lateral quickness to create room to get shots up over college defenders, but may need to raise his release point against longer and quicker NBA defenders if he is to consistently get shots up when defended. As is with every prospect, there will be a question if his three-point shooting can translate to the deeper NBA three-point line. As he extends deeper and deeper, his shot tends to flatten due to his lower release, and he may face much more difficulty connecting from long range if he does not raise his release. He also does not consistently keep his elbow tight to his body, and his flailing elbow may lead to issues shooting with consistency. As he demonstrated this past season, he has the ability to score from virtually anywhere on the floor and finds success scoring off balance and when not squared up to the hoop. In the NBA, Lillard will likely have a smaller role in his offense and will need to learn to shoot mainly when squared up to the basket instead of forcing difficult shots. Despite his mechanical flaws, he has a very smooth stroke and posted excellent numbers shooting from beyond the arc. While he did the majority of his scoring off the dribble, he is also a great spot-up shooter and can really pour it on opposing defenses. His shot selection should only improve in the NBA, as he will likely not be the focal point of his offense and will not instantly attract double teams.
While he is not a tremendous passer, Lillard did a pretty good job of making his teammates better and of taking what defenses gave him. He generally resorted to making the easy pass and does not have much flare to his dishes. Constantly attracting double teams, he was able to find the open man and to set up teammates with easy looks with decent efficiency. He was at his best as a passer when penetrating into the lane and dishing to open teammates on the perimeter. Displaying some promise as a distributor, Lillard looks to score first, which was largely due to the lack of talent around him. As he transitions to the next level, his future position will largely depend on the offensive system he lands in and how his coach chooses to utilize his skill set.
For a guard, Lillard is a good rebounder due to his high motor and his proclivity for being in the lane. He pursues balls relentlessly and does not shy away from contact with bigger, stronger players. Because of his athleticism, quickness, and strength, he has the ability to be an above average rebounder as a guard.
While he was an elite playmaker on offense, the same cannot be said on the defensive end. Lillard was by no means a shutdown defender and will need to have the same intensity on defense that he gives on offense. A big bodied guard, he has all the tools to be a strong perimeter defender and has the foot quickness and fast hands to provide steals for his future team.
Damian Lillard was a man among boys playing at mid-major Weber State and is a likely lottery pick come draft night. The need for playmakers on the perimeter will always be something that NBA franchises highly covet, and the success of players in recent years including Stephen Curry (Davidson) will make Lillard a hot commodity.
Photo Credits: Brian Nicholson/Deseret News