Ever since it became clear that Chris Paul's days as a Hornet were coming to an end, Hornets fans have been craving another game-changer at the point guard position. As solid as Jarrett Jack was this year, no one was confusing his output with that of an all-star. Whether it is the large shadow of Christoper Paul, or the fact that point guard may be the deepest and most talented position in the NBA today, many fans and pundits believe that the Hornets will seek to find a game-changing point guard in this year's draft. One player in the draft who many Hornet fans believe could possibly develop into a star is Weber State junior point guard Damian Lillard.
Bio: Damian Lillard grew up in Oakland, California and unlike many of his lottery-bound peers, he was not highly recruited coming out of high school. Despite some late interest from PAC-12 schools, Lillard stuck with the school that had recruited him throughout his high school career, Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
Stats:Damian Lillard put up some absolutely jaw-dropping numbers in his junior campaign at tiny Weber State. His 24.5 points per game average was good for second in the NCAA. He got those points by hitting 47% of his field goals, 41% of his 3 point attempts (7 a game), and 89% from the charity stripe (to which he made 8 trips a game). He also threw in 4 assists, 5 boards, and 1.5 steals for good measure. His 34.0 PER was second only to some guy named Anthony Davis (35.1).
Skills: Lillard's primary strength was obviously scoring the basketball. He did so in almost every way possible on the court. He was able to get all the way to the rim against college competition and had the strength and athleticism to finish off many of his drives with impressive dunks. He was also a great shooter from the outside, hitting 41% of his 7 attempts a game from beyond the arc. His athleticism and willingness to get into the paint also manifested itself in his 8 free throw attempts per game.
Another skill that Lillard seems to possess is an impressive ability to take care of the ball despite having the ball in his hands in almost every offensive possession (33% usage rate). His 10.7 TOV% was leaps and bounds above of any of the other point guard prospects in this year's class. This could give him a leg up on his peers, as turning the ball over is something that rookie point guards often struggle with.
As DraftExpress has said, Lillard appears to be extremely effective as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations as he is comfortable quickly pulling up off the dribble and hitting from mid-range or using his athleticism to get to the rim. This bodes well for his transition into the NBA as the pick-and-roll will undoubtedly be a staple of the offense of whatever team ends up picking him.
As far as his physical tools, Lillard has good size for a PG coming in a 6'2" with a 6'8" wingspan, and has a 40in vertical, which allowed him to sky for quite a few highlight reel dunks in transition and on putbacks. By all accounts he has been extremely impressive in his workouts, both physically and with his shot.
Lillard's playmaking ability is unproven to say the least. He was not asked to be much of a distributor in college as he had to score on almost every trip in order for the team to have a chance to win. He did show an ability to find the open man, but did not display the advanced court vision possessed by some of the other prospects in this class. It remains to be seen if he will be able to effectively run an offense or if he will only be able to get his own shot.
By far the biggest question mark when it comes to Damian Lillard comes down to the level of competition he faced in college. Weber State's strength of schedule ranking came in at 225 according to Rivals. Many would question how useful his stats are in his evaluation as a potential pro because of the relatively weak competition he faced on most nights. Compounding that issue is that against the two "big name" schools Weber State played this season, Cal and BYU, Lillard struggled mightily, going a combined 9-29 for 29 points. He did, however, score 36 points on 18 shots against eventual NCAA seven seed St. Mary's.
Overall: Damian Lillard's ability to score in several ways, and to do so efficiently, along with his great measurables make him a tantalizing prospect to NBA scouts and fans alike. However, the huge question mark regarding the talent level of his college competition and his inexperience in creating shots for others keep him from being an elite prospect. Ideally, he could be a high-scoring PG who could perform well both on and off the ball and have the athleticism to become a plus defender. Conversely he could never adapt to the extreme jump in talent he will face in the NBA and fail to create his own shot or shots for others. If he does not develop the type of playmaking abilities necessary for a starting PG, he could be relegated to a bench scorer role. Within the top 10 spots of this draft, a team will decide that the strength of competition concerns are not significant enough to pass up on the opportunity to find a starting point guard capable of being a quality starter and dynamic scorer. Personally, I tend to agree with that team, as I think Lillard can develop into an exciting and effective player. For more in-depth looks at Lillard check out this profile from Mid-Major Madness and the usual great stuff from DraftExpress (including a video scouting report).