“You've got to love everything about him,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of Lillard. “We thought highly of him. He was clearly the best point guard in the draft ... No surprise what he's doing. They found themselves a point guard to build on for a long time to come.”
Lillard has impressed his teammates and NBA peers with his veteran aura. He plays with a poise that has impressed even LeBron James.
“He's never out of his comfort zone,” James told reporters on Wednesday. “He's never too fast, he's never too slow. He plays in his own lane.”
He's got the kind of control on the court that makes San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich take notice.
“His skills are obvious, but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills,” Popovich told reporters after Lillard totaled 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a mid-December win over the Spurs. “I think he's a wonderful player. He really plays within himself, and that doesn't mean he doesn't play hard. He's aggressive, he's not afraid of contact.”
Lillard's journey explains his makeup. That edge to his game was inherited from his dad, Houston, known for handling his own on Oakland's blacktop in his day, and groomed in the same Oakland hoops culture that birthed Gary Payton and Jason Kidd.
But what added to it was the chip on Damian's shoulder that comes from being overlooked by major colleges. A star at Oakland High, he dominated the competition. But despite his obvious potential, Lillard wound up at Weber State in Utah. That didn't turn out to be the worst thing, as the culture shock helped hone his ability to adapt. The small-town, familial atmosphere of college allowed his personality to shine.
“We always taught him to respect people,” Lillard's dad said. “He's always been a great kid. We've never had any problems with him. He gets along with everyone. If you don't like Damian, then something is wrong with you.”
Weber State also prepared him for the task of running a team. Known for being a score-first guard, Lillard got experience as a floor general. He was the heart and soul of the Wildcats.
So instead of being less ready for the NBA because he came from a small school, he had gained valuable experience.
“He's not unlike Steph Curry in that he knows what it's like for any chance your team has of succeeding riding on you,” Olshey said. “He's been in big-game situations. He's had to handle the pressure. He's unflappable.”
Distributed by MCT Information Services