While question marks surrounded what the Portland Trail Blazers were going to do with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, it was no secret around the league that they were going to select Weber State point guard, Damian Lillard, to bolster their back-court with the sixth pick. And by selecting Illinois center, Meyers Leonard, at No. 11, the Blazers filled two crucial needs heading into an off-season where they could potentially have over $12 million in cap space.
The second-leading scorer in college basketball last season averaging 24.5 points per game, Lillard possesses supreme quickness to go alongside his lethal shooting range and explosive athleticism, all of which will translate to the NBA immediately. Like all rookies, there will be a learning curve for him to adjust to the faster pace of the NBA game, but having an All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge to play off of makes life much easier.
Competing against Nolan Smith for the starting PG role in Portland — a competition most expect him to win — Lillard will run the pick-and-roll with L.A. and give Portland’s centerpiece a deep threat to kick out to when the double-team comes. The rookie guard can also score in isolation situations, and has a mean pull-up jumper that every defense must account for.
Lillard was the perfect selection for the Blazers — both Chad Buchanan and Neil Olshey knew it. He brings high-octane scoring to the table, and though he only averaged four assists per game in his senior year, has demonstrated play-making abilities to set Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum up for open shots on the perimeter.
I project a rookie stat line for Damian Lillard of 16.3 PPG, 5.7 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 STLPG, 2.3 TOPG
As for Meyers Leonard, it’s a bit of a league-wide consensus that he’s more of a project and will have to develop over the next few seasons to really make an impact in Portland.
Leonard’s got size (7’1,” 245 lbs) and length (7’3″ wingspan and a nine-foot reach) that complements his athleticism perfectly to be a shot-blocking sensation. He’s extremely raw on offense, and doesn’t have nearly a resemblance of a post-up or face-up game at all, but what he does have is a 32-inch vertical that allows for easy scoring around the rim.
Picking up the Illinois product at No. 11 — even though players like Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones II and Tyler Zeller were still on the board — was a great move for the Blazers for two reasons.
1. It Doesn’t Create Positional Redundancy
The Blazers already have Wesley Matthews and Elliot Williams at the Shooting Guard. They’ve also got Nicolas Batum (provided restricted free agency goes well) and sharp-shooter Luke Babbitt at the three, and All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge, and, if they choose to bring him back, J.J. Hickson at the four. The biggest need remaining need for the Blazers after picking up Lillard was a center, and while Zeller is a more offensively-refined big man, the potential for Leonard to develop into an DeAndre Jordan-type player is there.
2. It Gives The Blazers A Solid Three-Man Rotation at Center
It’ very unlikely that Leonard will see more than 10 minutes per game his rookie year, but let’s face the facts.
- Kurt Thomas is going on 65-years old faster than we know it.
- Joel Przybilla re-fractured his patella by slipping into his bathtub.
With the correct player development (and hopefully a bit of mentoring from these two veteran bigs), the Blazers’ newest addition could provide some very decent minutes and, I think, would be a great compliment to J.J. Hickson should he return next season.
I don’t know too much about the Blazers’ third draft pick, Memphis’ Will Barton with the 40th pick in the draft, but from what I do know, he’s got a great mid-range game and will definitely give E-Will some competition for minutes. They’re both scorers, so it’ll be interesting to see how [insert Blazers' next head coach here] handles that three-man rotation.
Either way, we’ll find out exactly how ready this Blazers team is for the 2012-2013 season soon enough. If all goes according to plan — and by according to plan, I mean they sign free agents before Nic Batum signs an offer sheet from another team — Portland could have a roster stacked with talent headed into the new season.
So for now, us Blazer fans will have to just sit back, relax, and let it all play out.
In Neil Olshey We Trust.
Kristian Winfield is a Staff Writer for Rip City Project. He is also the Lead Editor for Scarlet & Game. You can follow him on Twitter here.