Trail Blazers Introduce 2012 Draft Class: Lillard, Leonard and Barton
The Portland Trail Blazers officially welcomed their 2012 Draft picks on a bright, sunny day in downtown Portland on Monday. In a press conference, they presented their sixth pick out of Weber State Damian Lillard, Illinois center Meyers Leonard and second-round pick shooting guard Will Barton from Memphis.
It clearly sounds that Lillard will be looked at as a franchise point guard and will no doubt be in the starting lineup. No pressure there.
Leonard as well as Lillard are being looked at as players who will need time to grow into fully functional NBA players as the team is in the process of “retooling” the roster. The Blazers front office also keep repeating how much of a steal Will Barton is, surprised that he managed to slip all the way to the 40th pick.
The press conference was somewhat hushed rather than what it has been, Mike Tokito of The Oregonian wrote a great piece as to what the organization expects from these fine three young men. Can’t wait to see them in action!
“Damian Lillard knows Portland – but only a very small part of it. The Trail Blazers’ new point guard visited the city four times when his Weber State team played Portland State, but the sightseeing was limited.
“We stayed at the same hotel, we always ate at the Macaroni Grill, I went to the Nike store every time right there in downtown,” Lillard said. “That was kind of it. It was the same stuff every trip.”
On Monday, Lillard was back in Portland, this time to be introduced with fellow draft picks Meyers Leonard and Will Barton at a news conference at the Children’s Museum. The rookies began their early orientation to the NBA that will also see them take part in three days of practice for summer league starting Wednesday, then flying to Las Vegas for Sunday’s opener.
Instead of being packed for short college road trip, Lillard brought a different type of baggage with him – the burden of expectations. As general manager Neil Olshey introduced his new players Monday, he talked about Leonard’s athleticism and upside, and of Barton being a “gift” at the No. 40 pick. But Olshey tabbed Lillard with the same major label he used June 28, when theBlazers drafted Lillard with the No. 6 pick.
“He’s going to be the franchise point guard,” Olshey said.
Lillard has made a habit of using perceived slights to fuel his rise in basketball. He was not heavily recruited out of high school, and he entered the draft with questions about whether his outstanding play at Weber State – where he averaged 24.5 points per game in 2011-12 – was more a reflection of the competition than his talent.
Although the psychology might be different, the high expectations Olshey placed on him seemed to motivate Lillard in the same way the slights did.
“Even though he’s saying that right now, I know I’ve still go to come in and work for it and earn my stripes,” Lillard said. “So that’s all I’m going to do, just come in and work, compete and try to live up to it.”
The 6-foot-3 Lillard exudes a confident air that he says comes from his roots in Oakland, which has produced such NBA point guards as Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw.
“I’m not cocky at all, but I’m extremely confident,” he said. “I come from a city that, that’s what we breed. … I’m just fearless. I don’t fear the fact that I won’t live up to what people think I will be because I work hard enough and I’ve got confidence in myself that I know I’ll be a good player. So I’m embracing it, I’m ready for it, and I can’t wait to get started.”
In a way, Lillard’s first Portland assist came before the draft. During an interview with the Blazers, he was asked what player the Blazers should take with their second first-round pick if they select him with the other. Lillard named Leonard, whom Portland went on to take at No. 11.
“I knew if I was taken with the sixth pick, they would probably want to draft a post, and I thought he was the most athletic center in the draft,” Lillard said. “He can shoot the ball. I watched him play a few times, and I really like him. I thought what he would bring with LaMarcus Aldridge on this team would really be helpful.”
Olshey said the 7-foot-1 Leonard “has a chance to be a franchise center in this league.” Olshey added, however, that Leonard is probably not developed enough to be a starter on a playoff team yet.
Leonard said he is looking forward to learning from Aldridge, the Blazers’ All-Star power forward.
“I understand that I have to come in and work very hard, develop every aspect of my game,” Leonard said.
The Blazers got Barton with the 10th pick of the second round. Olshey said when the draft was down to the 22nd pick, owner Paul Allen started to ask if the Blazers could make a trade to acquire a high enough pick to get Barton. The Blazers could not find a willing trade partner, but were surprised to find Barton available at No. 40 and quickly took him.
Olshey described the 6-6 Barton as an extraordinary rebounder for a wing player and says he has a chance to be a starter in the league. Olshey thinks highly enough of Barton that he said the Blazers will sign him to a guaranteed contract, which only first-rounders are required to be given under the collective bargaining agreement.
Barton said he had expected to be taken in the 17-30 range of the first round and said he had “mixed emotions” about falling so far, but is ready put that behind him. .
“I’m just excited that Portland gave me a chance to get drafted,” Barton said. “Now I have to make the best of it. It’s over with now. I’ve to just got to produce and do my best in practice.”
photo courtesy of nba.com/blazers