Opening day in baseball is a cesspool for every hack sports writer to scribe the same, trite expression:
“Hope springs eternal for…” blah blah blah.
Alexander Pope doesn’t deserve the disservice baseball has done to his poetic muse, but the saying’s prominence coupled with the meager and uninventive usage of its prose resonates for basketball fans — most notably, the maniacs of Portland.
Despite all the hardships, Blazers fans are still, in fact, Blazers fans — no matter how many reminders of the Blazers futility in selecting Bowie over Jordan or Oden over Durant they receive. Furthermore, despite the organization’s imposing number of knee injuries(how is this figure not featured on the “Welcome to Portland” sign yet?) faith is renewed every draft and consequent free agent period.
But rather than feed into an already overused cliché, perhaps Portland pundits should get with the times and embrace a new mantra:
It takes a “minor setback for a major comeback.”
These were the words of the franchise’s newly dubbed savior, Damian Lillard and were an eerily parallel of what has become of the Blazers organization over the past several years.
Lillard, by no means, is a flawless player. But let’s gush for a moment, shall we? He reeled off 24.5 points per game as a junior playing in the Big East Sky Conference… Oh right, you haven’t heard of the conference and if Dick Vitale isn’t shrieking with an awkward, unfortunately placed “baby,” at the end of a conference’s name, then that conference must not be noteworthy, right? Fine. You win. As everyone knows, when it comes to objective journalism, and in the game of “rock, Vitale, scissors,” Vitale covers everything.
Lillard finished his 2011-12 campaign averaging a hyper-efficient 24.5 points while attempting 15.5 shots per game. For comparison’s and timeliness’ sake, Stephen Curry, who also forfeited his senior year of college at mid-major Davidson, averaged 28.6 points on 20.2 attempts per game. Even in his sophomore campaign, when his scoring average drifted closer to Lillard’s at 25.9, his scoring output came on 18.2 attempts. Lillard reigns supreme as the champion of efficiency.
Not to offend the entire populus of Portland, but the only more relevant and efficient measure of late was the shooting guard who is still going hard in the paint of my heart, Brandon Roy. Roy averaged 20.2 points on 13.6 shot attempts his senior year at UW — capping off a remarkable career that culminated in a Sweet Sixteen appearance.
The similarities between Roy and Lillard don’t end there. Lillard’s quiet demeanor, knack for scoring in crucial situations, and genuine infatuation with the game are what elevates Lillard into (perhaps unearned) Roy-like territory. Yes, Roy’s accolades came fast and furious, with a NBA Rookie of the Year award followed by three All-Star campaigns and an All-NBA Second Team and Third Team appearance.
Such gaudy accomplishments — along with public pressure and Paul Allen looking over his shoulder — forced Kevin Pritchard to give Roy a max-level contract when he knew Roy had knee issues. Remember, Roy admitted his left knee bothered him throughout his entire career.
This is where you exhale a deep breath of Northwestern relief; Lillard isn’t checking into PDX with injury baggage. Lillard suffered a stress fracture in his right foot after his sophomore season, a season that saw him collect the Big Sky’s MVP award after averaging 19.9 points on 43.3% shooting, including 39.3% from the 3-point line. So what did he do after that? Recorded these diaries, rehabbed, came back better, and won another MVP award after a medical redshirt season.
It’s early and Lillard has not used a LaMarcus Alridge screen and come off a pick-and-roll attacking the hoop with much more athletic NBA specimen defending the paint. But in our short glimpses of his pre-draft workouts it’s clear: Lillard is the future.
With that said, is Damian Lillard the next Brandon Roy?
But big things are coming, and I wouldn’t call it a comeback.