Friday, June 29, 2012

Blazers select Lillard & Leonard with both lottery picks

By Kshell

The Portland Trail Blazers were picking in the lottery for the first time since 2008 held the #6 selection(from the Gerald Wallace trade to the New Jersey Nets) and the 11th selection(their own) in this years NBA draft. For the second straight year the Portland Trail Blazers selected a point guard in the first round. With the 6th pick overall they took Damian Lillard from Weber St. which plays in the Big Sky conference. Then with the 11th pick overall they took center Meyers Leonard from Illinois Fighting Illini. The Blazers are hoping with this draft and a more healthy season out of LaMarcus Aldridge that they can return back to the playoff picture. This has been a tough year for the Blazers franchise that operated the entire season without a general manager, fired head coach Nate McMillan who had been coaching the team since the 2005-06 season, Brandon Roy suddenly retired(he is making a comeback) and finally Greg Oden was released as he missed all of this year and will miss all of next season. The Blazers who were the up and coming franchise back in 2008 just four years later found themselves back in the draft lottery a place no team wants to be.

The Blazers are hoping that Lillard is thier point guard of the future. At Weber State he played in 104 games in his career. As a freshman playing in 31 games helping his team to a 21-10 record he averaged 11.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 2.9 APG while making 1.6 three pointers a game. He shot 43.4% from the field, 37.4% from three point range and 84.1% on free throws. As a sophomore he improved averaging 19.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG and 3.6 APG. He shot 43.1% from the field, 39.3% from three point range and 85.3% on free throws. He made 2.7 three pointers a game in 31 games as Weber State went 20-11. As a junior he only played in 10 games(one where he played two minutes) and didn't really have a junior season. Then as a senior in 32 games leading Weber St. to a 25-7 record he averaged 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG and 4.0 APG. He made 2.9 three pointers a game while shooting 46.7% from the field, 40.9% from three point range and 88.7% from free throws. Lillard is also 6'3" and appears to be more of a combo guard than a true point guard. With Roy gone the Blazers desperately need someone in their backcourt who can carry the scoring load while setting up their teammates. Lillard although playing at a small college is a consistently good three point shooter and free throw shooter. The Blazers are hoping their search for a point is finally over once and for all.

The last few seasons the Blazers have been trying to find a point guard. They drafted Jerryd Bayless with their last lottery selection in 2008. He didn't work out while the Blazers have tried to go with stop gaps in the middle with Steve Blake and then Andre Miller. Having losing in the first round of the NBA playoffs three years in a row the Blazers decided to shake things up on draft night by drafting Nolan Smith and trading for Raymond Felton. Smith played in 44 games averaged only 3.8 PPG and 1.4 APG while shooting 37.2% from the field. Felton was also a disaster as he showed up fat and out of shape. Felton in 60 games averaged only 11.4 PPG and 6.4 APG while shooting 40.7% from the field. The hope now is that Lillard can finally solve that point guard problem which has been holding this franchise back for over a decade now.

With the 11th pick in the draft the Blazers selected center Meyers Leonard out of Illinois. The Blazers who are in need of a center with Marcus Camby now gone and of course #1 pick overall Greg Oden also gone drafted Leonard. First of all I'll start this by saying I don't like this pick and I'll tell you why in a moment. As a freshman Leonard wasn't a factor at all playing in 33 games he averaged only 2.1 PPG and 1.2 RPG in roughly 8 minutes per game. Then he had a big break out season his sophomore year where he averaged 13.6 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.9 blocks in 30 minutes. He also shot 58.4% from the field and was over 70% both years on free throws. He recorded eight double-doubles this past season as well. I didn't like this pick because I think in today's NBA you need to be athletic and I would have liked to have seen Aldridge play center as the Blazers finally run. In the west though with Duncan, Bynum, Utah Jazz, Griffin, Love and Perkins-Ibaka combo you do need some bigs so the Blazers are hoping they finally solved their center problem.

The Blazers last two drafts haven't added up as they passed on Kenneth Faried who made all rookie team in leading the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs in favor of point guard Nolan Smith. Then this year they passed on big man Andre Drummond in favor of Lillard. With the following pick they took a big man in Leonard so the Blazers admitted they needed a big man why not take Drummond who has so much more upside? If you planned on giving up on Nolan Smith after one year why not take Faried who had an elite skill set which is rebounding. I guess that is what happens when you conduct a draft last year without a general manager. Hopefully this works out for the Blazers who are coming off  a disappointing 28-38 season which saw a coaching change and finally a new general manager. The Blazers with two lottery picks I felt could have done more but ultimately time will tell if this was a good draft or not.

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