June 28, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; Damian Lillard (Weber State), right, is introduced as the number six overall pick to the Portland Trail Blazers by NBA commissioner David Stern during the 2012 NBA Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Are We Low-Balling Expectations for the Blazer Rookies?

We knew he was a great athlete and one helluva shooter, but is pin-point passing next in the Portland Trail Blazers’ star rookie’s repertoire?

Nicolas Batum absolutely thinks so, and if that’s truly the case, Anthony Davis is going to need to shift into fifth gear to claim that Rookie of the Year Award.

OregonLive’s Sean Meagher sat down with Batum after a workout to pick the Frenchman’s brain on the rookies in camp thus far, and, to my surprise, nothing but glowing reviews came out.

When asked “what have you noticed about Damian Lillard,” Batum responded:

“He’s gonna surprise a lot of people. He’s good, he’s fast, he knows the game. And the other thing was he’s such a good passer. He can pass the ball well. I didn’t know that.”

Lillard led the NCAA in scoring his senior year at Weber State, posting an almost obnoxious 26.5 points per game  and earning the label of a score-first guard in the process. In previous interviews, he’d called himself a play-maker, citing the fact that he scored so much in college because it’s what the coaches needed him to do.

D-Lill (as I like to call him) also averaged only four assists per game, adding more fire to the bad name that comes with guards that aren’t known for sharing the ball. But being called a good passer by someone like Nic Batum, who plays Olympic basketball alongside Tony Parker, is nothing short of the highest of compliments.

Batum went on to say:

“When he [Lillard] wants to drive, he’s going to drive. He reminds me of like a (Russell) Westbrook or (Derrick Rose) kind of player. … explosive.”

So now, the Blazers have an above average passer who can get to the rack at will and kill you from downtown. That’s one way to fix a couple torn ACL’s and degenerative knee conditions, no?

Batum was also high on another rookie, Joel Freeland.

“Joel is not like a normal rookie, he’s had a big career already in Europe at a very high level, so he knows the game. He’s not like a normal rookie. People say maybe he’s like a soft European shooter, like forward shooter, but no, he’s got some big moves inside, he plays hard. I like it.”

Toughness is something the Blazers have lacked every time Greg Oden went down, and while Jared Jeffries brings that element to the roster, getting a proven European talent to contribute immediately to both sides of the floor is an invaluable addition.

Portland is far away from a finished product. The center position is still up for grabs between J.J. Hickson and Meyers Leonard, Elliot Williams is sitting this season out due to Achilles surgery, and the Blazers still don’t have a scorer off the bench, provided Will Barton doesn’t become the next Jamal Crawford.

But Rip City, like OKC, has had a very successful first off-season building through the draft.

The dark times will pass. If not this season, next.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ time might not be now, but it’s been a long time coming.

And I know a change will come.

Tags: Damian Lillard Joel Freeland Portland Trail Blazers

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