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Damian Lillard: Portland's potential ace in the hole (+video/graphic)

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 23 2012 1:30 p.m. MDT

NBA.com Nightly Notable: Damian Lillard

The Daily Emerald is saying former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard could be a bright spot in a dark season for the Portland Trail Blazers this season.

For the first time in six seasons, fans of the Portland Trail Blazers will go into the season with low expectations. The Blazers look to rebuild with young players and a new coach.

That's where Lillard comes in. Not only was he was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, but his play in the NBA Summer League gave Blazer fans something to be excited about.

Blazer fans have been excited about a player's summer league play before, only to be let down. Former Blazer point guard Jerryd Bayless lit the summer league on fire, but fizzled out in the NBA. Analysts believe Lillard is more of a sure thing, however.

In fact, Las Vegas gives Lillard the second best odds at winning rookie of the year. The only player rated as more likely to win rookie of the year is the No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis.

Lillard has already shown some shades of brilliance in the preseason.

While hosting the Utah Jazz, Monday night in Portland, Lillard went off and scored 21 points on 6-8 shooting, 3-4 from deep and 6-7 from the free throw line. Lillard also dished out eight assists on the night. Sure it's only one game, but shooting 75 percent for 3 and from the field isn't bad. Only one player scored more than Lillard in the game, as Nicolas Batum had 27 points for the Blazers.

So far in the preseason, Lillard is averaging 17 points and 6 assists per game. In two of his last three games, he has scored at least 20 points and had at least 7 assists. He's also shooting a stellar 94 percent from the free throw line, 40 percent from 3 and 50 percent from the field.

But even with his good statistics, Lillard still has room for improvement. Oregon Live has correctly pointed out that his play has been a tale of two halves. As is visible in the chart above, his field goal shooting percentage nearly triples in the second half. Also, his assist-to-turnover ratio decreases from 2.59 to 1.73.

"In the first half, I'm too busy making sure I get guys involved," Lillard told Oregon Live. "I think I worry too much about them and (whether) they get the ball enough. So I make sure I spread the ball around. And in the second half, I know I've done that throughout the first half, so it's easier for me to come out and attack."

The Blazers' offense is built around player and ball movement, causing Lillard to be cautious about injecting himself into the offense too much. Young point guards have a tendency to encounter the same problem, former Jazz and current Blazer point guard Ronnie Price, told Oregon Live. But he thinks Lillard is handling the situation well.

"I think he's doing the right thing," Price told Oregon Live. "You can't understand what he's going through right now, being a rookie point guard having such a big responsibility early on. As a teammate, we want him to be aggressive. We need him to be aggressive. But I think he'll get there. That's what the preseason is for."

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts isn't worried about how Lillard's play differs throughout the game. "We've said for a long time that he's mature for his years and he sees the game," Stotts told Oregon Live. "He's involved. He's not aloof, he's into the games. He was into the game (Wednesday) night even when he wasn't playing. He wants to learn and he's very much aware of what's going on. It's a learning curve and he'll figure it out."

EMAIL: bbullock@desnews.com

TWITTER: @BullockBlaze

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