Neil Olshey became the general manager of the Portland Trail Blazers in June, and he did it with a big gamble in his job interview with owner Paul Allen.According to SI’s Lee Jenkins, Olshey told Allen that the team needed to draft Damian Lillard — a low-profile point guard from tiny Weber State.
Here’s what Olshey told SI about Lillard:
“It was basically the whole interview. The biggest need was clearly point guard and Damian was the guy. There was no question he was the guy.”
Portland took Lillard sixth overall, and now he’s a darkhorse candidate to steal the Rookie of the Year award from Anthony Davis.
Lillard is averaging 18.6 points and 7.2 assists in his first five NBA games. He became only the 2nd player to get 20 points and 7 assists in each of his first three NBA games, joining Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.
Olshey told SI that he wanted Lillard for one reason — the pick and roll. College players typically take a while to understand how the pick and roll works, but Lillard was different, Olshey says.
“All our analytics told us he was the most effective pick-and-roll player in college basketball. Then you go to see him and he’s running middle pick-and-rolls, side pick-and-rolls, and he’s involving others. He had a translatable skill.”
Lillard is sort of a toned-down version of Russell Westbrook. He’s not as explosive or vicious off the dribble as the OKC guard, but he’s a better distance shooter and he protects the ball much better. At 6’3″, he physically looks a lot like Westbrook too.
He led the country in scoring in college, but he never really faced NBA-calibre competition, so many people considered him a risk as a top-10 pick.
It’s only five games, but it really looks like Olshey and the Blazers hit the jackpot. This is a franchise that had some bad luck with injuries to Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. But with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and now finding a diamond in the rough in Lillard, they’re right back to being a playoff contender.
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