Today is Damian Lillard’s 23rd birthday. How’s that for making you feel unaccomplished? We have gymnasts winning gold before they can vote, golfers winning $800,000 tournaments before they can drink, and NBA rookies reaching world-wide fame before they can rent a car to tour it in. Seeing as I got up at 9am to grab my laptop and not 5am to grab the weights, I’m inclined to believe they’ve earned it.
Exactly one year ago today, Damian Lillard made his summer league debut and dropped 25 points on the unsuspecting New Orleans Hornets. Let’s start there for our year in retrospect. On his 22nd birthday, Damian woke up for his first taste of NBA competition with fire in his belly and a chip on his shoulder. It didn’t take long for murmurs to rise.
It turned out those 25 points would be below his Summer League average, as he went on to score 27 against the Rockets, 31 against the Hawks, and 23 against the Nuggets (averaging 26.5 points over 4 games). You know how much buzz McCollum is getting for his 22 point performance? If you don’t remember last year, at that point we had an inkling that Lillard would be something special.
We are going to play the fast-forward game because chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve been watching and do not require individual recaps of 82 contests. I will, however, pause the tape at the end of each month. Ready?
- November Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
- December Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
- January Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
- February Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
- March Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
- April Rookie of the Month: Damian Lillard
He shot, scored, passed, and proved his way to a clean sweep. If I may rewind for a moment (I can do that; it’s my remote), prior to the season beginning I had a talk with my friend, Peter, about Lillard’s potential: “Yeah, he’ll get the start for sure, but he’ll probably be a 14 and 5 guy if we’re lucky. He’s a rookie after all.” – That was me. Before I am painted as a doubter (forgive me, Damian), we had absolutely no right to expect Lillard to perform at such a high level. If we did, it would not have been as special.
To that point, Lillard averaged 19 points and 6.5 assists per game his rookie season. On April 10th, he far exceeded those averages with a career high 38 points and game high 9 assists against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Can you imagine yourself at 22 years old dropping 38 points in the face of a legend? What’s more, after the game, Kobe just shook his head and hailed Damian as, “the full package.”
Now 23, Lillard stands as the unanimously selected 2013 Rookie of the Year, and the burgeoning face of a franchise. In just one NBA season, Damian Lillard:
- Swept the Rookie of the Month Awards
- Unanimously won Rookie of the Year
- Was invited to participate in All-Star Weekend
- Won the 2013 Taco Bell Skills Challenge
- Set the NBA Rookie record for 3PT field goals in a season
- Set the Blazers’ franchise record for most 3PT field goals in a season
- Won the Kia Community Assist Award for March
- Was nominated for the season-long Kia Community Assist Award
- Received the Maurice Lucas Award
- And, most recently, won the Social Media ROY award for being a pretty cool dude
That’s a long way from a Summer League question mark. His success brings me hope for Portland’s future (even if it does make me feel like an under-achiever). I can’t wait to see what 23 has in store for him. Happy birthday, Damian Lillard.
As a present to all of us, let’s enjoy youtube mix champion Maxamillion711’s tribute to Damian and his incredible rookie season.