NEW YORK — An hour before tip-off on New Years Day, prior to his first game at Madison Square Garden, Damian Lillard sat relaxing on the empty Portland Trail Blazers bench and taking in the historic aura that The Garden exudes.
He’d just finished his pre-game workout, one in which he got some shots up, attacked the paint, worked on his floater and practiced some post defense.
Despite being in NYC on New Years Eve 2012, Lillard had only relaxed the night before, and 60 minutes before tip-off the 22-year old rookie out of Weber State looked and spoke like the calmest person in the building.
He would go out an hour later and score 21 points on 9-for-19 shooting — making the biggest shot of the game (video below) — as Portland defeated the Knicks 105-100.
“Nothing special, man,” said Lillard, beginning to speak about how he’s become such a good shooter over the years. “I just shot the ball a lot. I did form shooting to warm up in high school because our team had to. I never really did stuff like that. I’d go out there and just start shooting the ball. My dad always told me to start in close and then just start working your way out. I never did anything special though. I always just shot the ball.
“My dad taught me how to shoot – how to roll the ball off of my fingertips – but that was pretty much it, man. Just from shooting the ball and playing all the time.”
In a nutshell, that’s what this game is for Lillard; it’s that type of attitude – that he’s doing ‘nothing special’ – combined with a brilliant basketball mind, unselfish attitude and the skills to match these traits, especially for a such a young player at the lead guard position.
After the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas where Lillard averaged 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and 4 rebounds per game there were rumblings as to whether he might challenge Anthony Davis for Rookie of the Year honors. Thirty games – and an above .500, 16-14 record later – Damian Lillard has taken firm control of the Rookie of the Year watch by playing consistently, learning on the fly, keeping his emotions in check and leading his team.