Phoenix Suns NBA Draft Series: Damian Lillard, PG, Weber State

Lillard lit up the Big Sky, but is he ready for the Big Time?

With the NBA Draft fast approaching on June 28th, we at Bright Side of the Sun want to cover all the bases regarding the possible players who the Suns could draft with the #13th pick.

With a roster consisting of more questions than answers and nobody who qualifies as untouchable, the Suns may be in a position where they choose to draft the best player on the board regardless of position. The subject of the following review may just be that player if he is available when the Suns are on the clock.

Our own 7footer already gave a scintillating review of point guard Kendall Marshall, but there is another floor general in this year's draft slated as a lottery selection. Is he the heir apparent to the throne?

NBA draft coverage continues with a look at Damian Lillard from the Weber State Wildcats.

Damian Lillard is a 6'2" 185 lb. point guard who has been rising up mock drafts as the big day on June 28th approaches. He is a score first point guard (finished second in the nation in scoring) that can attack the basket and score with either hand or bomb from long distance (40.9% 2011-12 3 pt FG%). He even shot 89% from the line on 8 attempts per game last season.

Lillard has a solid frame, good wingspan, and impressive quickness and athleticism - all things that should put him in a position to compete with NBA point guards and succeed at the next level.

Although his overall resume is dazzling, it is not without holes. In the case of Lillard, the list of questions isn't very long, but they are questions of serious magnitude.

Bounce with me to learn more about the other Wildcat (give yourself a hand if you knew a) their nickname and b) that Weber St. University is located in Ogden, Utah) and decide whether he's the best point guard in this year's draft.

Here are Lillard's per game and advanced college statistics:

Season G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2008-09 31 3.8 8.8 .434 1.6 4.2 .374 2.2 2.6 .841 3.9 2.9 1.1 0.2 2.3 11.5
2009-10 31 34.3 6.0 13.8 .431 2.7 6.9 .393 5.3 6.2 .853 4.0 3.6 1.1 0.1 2.4 1.9 19.9
2010-11 10 28.5 4.9 11.2 .438 1.9 5.5 .345 6.0 7.0 .857 3.8 3.3 1.4 0.2 2.8 2.3 17.7
2011-12 32 34.5 7.2 15.5 .467 2.9 7.2 .409 7.1 8.0 .887 5.0 4.0 1.5 0.2 2.3 1.9 24.5
Career 104 33.6 5.6 12.6 .446 2.4 6.1 .390 5.0 5.8 .867 4.3 3.5 1.2 0.2 2.4 1.4 18.6
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 6/3/2012.

Season G MP PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS
2008-09 31 .569 .524 18.3 2.0 0.6 2.6
2009-10 31 1062 24.8 .594 .529 1.2 12.8 6.9 23.3 1.9 0.4 12.5 28.0 121.2 105.1 3.8 1.1 4.9
2010-11 10 285 28.1 .609 .522 2.7 13.2 8.1 27.3 3.0 0.8 16.2 32.5 116.6 100.8 1.3 0.3 1.6
2011-12 32 1105 34.0 .635 .562 1.9 14.8 8.7 27.1 2.5 0.7 10.7 33.0 128.4 101.2 5.9 1.5 7.3
Career 104 2452 29.3 .606 .540 1.7 13.7 7.8 25.5 2.3 0.6 13.4 30.8 124.1 102.9 12.9 3.5 16.4
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB: View Original Table
Generated 6/3/2012.

Lillard's PER was second in the nation to some guy from Kentucky named Anthony Davis. More advanced statistics are available for your perusal here.

As always is the case for players from mid major schools, there are concerns stemming from the daunting level of competition Lillard has faced in the fearsome Big Sky Conference. While this skepticism may be well founded, there have been plenty of players who have come from small schools and went on to do big things.

Steve Nash (Santa Clara), John Stockton (Gonzaga), Tiny Archibald (UTEP), and Bob Cousy (Holy Cross) are point guards that still managed to go on to moderately successful NBA careers despite lack of pedigree.

Bill Russell (San Francisco), Larry Bird (Indiana St.), Julius Erving (UMass), David Robinson (Navy), Karl Malone (Louisiana Tech), and George Gervin (Eastern Michigan) highlight a star-studded cast of players that came from humble beginnings (honorable mention to two former Suns - Dan Majerle (Central Michigan) and Danny Ainge (BYU)).

Scrutinizing the list of NBA players from mid major schools, two names resonated with me - Tim Hardaway (UTEP) and Stephen Curry (Davidson). Neither is a perfect comparison. Hardaway went on to become a prolific scorer AND distributor at the NBA level. Curry faced much more adversity at the college level, as his numbers were sometimes achieved against double and triple teams and by opponents using ball denial strategies. Lillard is more athletic than Curry, but the sharpshooting, score first point guard dynamic follows an approximate parallel.

Let's look at their final years in school next to one another for comparison:

Lillard

Season G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2011-12 32 34.5 7.2 15.5 .467 2.9 7.2 .409 7.1 8.0 .887 5.0 4.0 1.5 0.2 2.3 1.9 24.5

Curry

Season G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
2008-09 34 9.2 20.2 .454 3.8 9.9 .387 6.5 7.4 .876 4.4 5.6 2.5 0.2 3.7 28.6
Hardaway
Season G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1988-89 33 35.8 7.7 15.4 .501 1.5 4.0 .366 5.1 6.9 .741 4.0 5.4 2.8 0.2 2.7 2.4 22.0

Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CBB

In advanced statistics, Lillard compares favorably in eFG% .562 (Curry .549, Hardaway .548) and turnover% 10.5 (Curry 13.5, Hardaway - info not available). In fact, Lillard's .12 turnovers per possession is best among all NCAA point guards.

The area where Lillard lags behind in this comparison is in the assists column. That is the second area of uncertainty with Lillard - playmaking/distributing. Lillard propitiates this doubt to a certain extent through his demonstrated ability to effectively run the pick and roll (an NBA staple) as the ball handler.

There are plenty of examples of score first point guards in the NBA (listed with career apg) such as Russell Westbrook (6.8), Tony Parker (5.9), Monta Ellis (4.5), and Stephen Curry (5.8). It actually appears that the pass first point guard (e.g. Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo) who can average 10 assists per game is more exotic. Although each of these players has his own unique attributes (e.g. Westbrook's freakish athleticism), I can see Lillard's ceiling being in the general vicinity of these players, which would be an absolute windfall for a 13th pick.

There's a good possibility that Lillard won't be available when the Suns select at 13. The teams drafting 8-11 don't have franchise point guards in place. The Hornets and Blazers have two picks each, and point guard is an area of need for both teams. Here's a melange of where the pundits have Lillard projected (links included):

Draft Express - 10 (Hornets)

NBAdraft.net - 6 (Trailblazers)

ESPN - 7 (Chad Ford's Big Board)

Hoopshype - 6 (Trailblazers)

Mynbadraft - 8 (Raptors)

Hoopsworld - 6 (Trailblazers)

I think that's enough of a sample size to suggest that Lillard very well may not be available when the Suns draft at 13. Several outlets seem to be of the opinion that the Blazers may take Lillard at #6 because they are concerned he won't be available by the time they make their second selection at #11. It's possible that he could fall, though, or maybe the Suns will wheel and deal their way up a few spots...

Let's review:

Strengths

Scoring

Shooting

Ball Handling/Ball Control (low turnovers)

NBA size/body

Quickness/Athleticism

Ability to Execute the Pick and Roll

Weaknesses

Playmaking/Distributing

Competition Level

Here's a highlight reel that reinforces the above lists - spoiler alert: don't expect to witness many mesmerizing passes...


So what do you think Brightsiders? Is Lillard destined to be a star, a bust, or somewhere in between? Should he be the first point guard taken or do you prefer Kendall Marshall? Vote in the poll and leave your comments below.

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