Tag: Jimmer Fredette

Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard, as stature grows, refuses to become content


BOSTON – Damian Lillard watched in awe as his veteran teammates shared kind words with opponents after each game.

As a rookie, Lillard didn’t know what to make of the friendliness that crossed team lines. He sure didn’t take that approach at Weber State.

“I played against the same guys three years in a row, and I wouldn’t know them at all,” Lillard said. “I wouldn’t speak to them. It was kind of like I had animosity toward them for no reason, because they were the competition.”

Now, he appreciatively describes what he calls the “brotherhood” among NBA players, and he wishes opponents well after games just like everyone else. His old tweets directed at LeBron James and his recent apology illustrate how he felt and now feels about letting his guard down with other players. But more than liking or disliking the camaraderie, Lillard recognizes it as a reality of the league.

Another thing Lillard recognizes: He can’t get too comfortable in his place.

Lillard is one of the NBA’s top point guards, a Rookie of the Year and the first member of his draft class to make an All-Star game. He’s already signed an endorsement deal with adidas reportedly worth more than $100 million. And with a third-team All-NBA selection last season, Lillard is halfway to triggering the Derrick Rose rule and becoming eligible next summer for a contract extension, based on salary-cap projections, that could pay more than $140 million over five years.

Despite all his accolades and wealth, Lillard refuses to rest on his laurels.

“Understanding why you are who you are,” Lillard said. “I know didn’t come here because I was a big-time recruit or nothing. I had to work my ass off to make it happen. Now that I made it, that doesn’t change. You have to stick to what gave you the opportunity.”

Lillard is not the first player to jump from the Big Sky Conference to the NBA’s first round. Rodney Stuckey did at a few years prior, but he ended up at Eastern Washington due only to academic issues. Major teams were recruiting him. Conversely, Lillard was just deemed not worthy by bigger programs coming out of high school. Another major difference: Stuckey played just two college seasons before turning pro, and Lillard played four.

Before the 2012 draft, Lillard encountered many questions about his NBA potential. Specifically, scouts honed in on his competition level and age. Was Lillard truly great, or did he look great just because he was better and older than his opponents?

As much as it’d be convenient to dismiss the concerns as unfair now that Lillard is succeeding in the NBA, they were quite legitimate.

Throughout his entire college career, Lillard faced just seven future NBA draft picks (Jimmer Fredette, Kenneth Faried, Chase Budinger, Carrick Felix, Lance Stephenson, Allen Crabbe and Orlando Johnson). Anyone playing Kentucky this season might trump that number in a single night.

The age issue was probably even more troubling. Lillard, who turned 22 before his rookie year, was the oldest player drafted in the 2012 lottery. In the last 10 years, the only players as old as Lillard drafted so high were Hasheem Thabeet, Wesley Johnson, Shelden Williams, Ekpe Udoh and Yi Jianlian – quite the collection of busts.

Even Lillard acknowledges the age concerns were fair. He brings up Anthony Davis, who still isn’t as old as Lillard was when drafted. Though Lillard entered the NBA more ready than Davis and beat the New Orleans forward for Rookie of the Year, Davis now looks like MVP. On the other end of the spectrum, Lillard has noticed other older players who’ve entered the league since him.

“They just are what they’re going to be,” Lillard said. “They’re not going to improve. If he’s a shooter, he’s going to be a shooter. … There’s not much room for growth.”

Lillard vowed he wouldn’t fall into that trap, no matter how much his advanced age predisposed him to leveling off.

“I’m a worker,” Lillard said. “I always find ways to improve, to better myself. I’m not afraid to challenge myself.”

This offseason, his biggest offseason priority was conditioning. He’s eating better – he really misses Benihana – and looking better on the court. His averages this year (20.2 points and 6.7 assists per game) are pretty similar to last year (20.7 and 5.6), but he’s playing less and and his usage is down, making him much more efficient. He’s shooting 46 percent from the field and, though it should regress to the mean over a larger sample, 47 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also defending better than ever.

All told, Lillard has a PER of 23.3, up from 18.6 last year and up from 16.4 the year before.

Contrary to perception, that steady improvement is not the norm for players who enter the league playing as well as Lillard. Here’s how the last five Rookie of the Years progressed in their first three seasons:


To look at it another way, here are their PERs as a percentage of their rook-year PER:


For all the worry Lillard’s age left him too little untapped potential to justify going high in the draft, he’s the one who keeps improving year after year.

Soon enough, Lillard will truly run out of room to keep growing at this rate. He keeps pushing back that date, but it will happen. Even his coach understands that.

“I don’t know about making big leaps,” Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “His first two years were pretty remarkable, and if you look at other players that have done what he’s done, they do improve, but I don’t think it’s major jumps.”


Beyond defense, one key area of growth for Lillard has been finishing at the rim. He’s making 60.0 percent of his shots at the rim, up from 49.9 last season. Over the summer, he worked specifically on driving and making layups as someone hit him with pads.

He still runs into trouble when he has to twist and bend in the paint, as he’s not a great acrobatic finisher. But more often, Lillard has the strength and balance to stand tall amid contact.

Lillard, on and off the court, is an NBA star.

He always believed he’d get here, and after a breakout sophomore season at Weber State, he thought others would notice too. Then he injured his foot, causing him to miss most of his junior year. He knew his already-slim chance at turning pro had just narrowed. So, he dug in deeper for his fourth college season.

“I just got a little hungrier,” Lillard said. “I knew it was going to be a little bit harder. So, I worked a little bit harder.”

Lillard has made it. He’s picking up the NBA’s customs and rituals. At this point, little on the surface separates the small-school success from his major-program peers.

But Lillard still has the same competitive drive that got him out of Oakland and out of Ogden, Utah. He calls last season’s Trail Blazers-Rockets series, which he ended with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the favorite part of his NBA career so far.


Lillard spent most of the series matched up with Houston point guard Patrick Beverley with whom he shares a historya mutual appreciation, if you will.  For Lillard, the series was a throwback to his college approach.

“There was a little bit of anger in those games,” Lillard said.

Though he appreciated that playoff intensity, Lillard can’t always be driven by anger. Not anymore. But, make no mistake, he still remains driven – and that’s why, against such steep odds, he continues to improve even as he climbs higher and higher into the NBA hierarchy.

“Nobody can perfect the game, so that’s the beauty of it, that you’ve got to keep working, try to perfect something that you can’t perfect,” Lillard said. “So, that’s fun.”

Every rookie-contract team option and extension decided by Friday

2013 Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day

Friday was the deadline for a few contract items for first-round picks on the rookie scale.

Third-year options had to be exercised for second-year players, and fourth-year options had to be exercised for third-year players. Any player whose rookie-scale option was declined becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season.

It was also the deadline for fourth-year players to sign extensions that begin in 2015-16. Eligible players who didn’t sign extensions can, at their teams’ discretions, become restricted free agents this summer.

Remember, the salary scale for first-round picks is determined by the year they sign, not the year they’re drafted (those are usually the same).

Here’s how all those decisions were made around the league:

Third-year options

Draft Pick Drafted by Current team Player 2015-16 salary Option
2013 1 CLE MIN Anthony Bennett $5,803,560 Exercised
2013 2 ORL ORL Victor Oladipo $5,192,520 Exercised
2013 3 WAS WAS Otto Porter $4,662,960 Exercised
2013 4 CHA CHA Cody Zeller $4,204,200 Exercised
2013 5 PHO PHO Alex Len $3,807,120 Exercised
2013 6 NOH PHI Nerlens Noel $3,457,800 Exercised
2013 7 SAC SAC Ben McLemore $3,156,600 Exercised
2013 8 DET DET Kentavious Caldwell-Pope $2,891,760 Exercised
2013 9 MIN UTA Trey Burke $2,658,240 Exercised
2013 10 POR POR C.J. McCollum $2,525,160 Exercised
2013 11 PHI PHI Michael Carter-Williams $2,399,040 Exercised
2013 12 OKC OKC Steven Adams $2,279,040 Exercised
2013 13 DAL BOS Kelly Olynyk $2,165,160 Exercised
2013 14 UTA MIN Shabazz Muhammad $2,056,920 Exercised
2013 15 MIL MIL Giannis Antetokounmpo $1,953,960 Exercised
2013 17 ATL ATL Dennis Schröder $1,763,400 Exercised
2013 18 ATL NYK Shane Larkin $1,675,320 Declined
2013 19 CLE BRK Sergey Karasev $1,599,840 Exercised
2013 20 CHI CHI Tony Snell $1,535,880 Exercised
2013 21 UTA MIN Gorgui Dieng $1,474,440 Exercised
2013 22 BRK BRK Mason Plumlee $1,415,520 Exercised
2013 23 IND IND Solomon Hill $1,358,880 Exercised
2013 24 NYK NYK Tim Hardaway $1,304,520 Exercised
2013 25 LAC LAC Reggie Bullock $1,252,440 Exercised
2013 26 MIN OKC Andre Roberson $1,210,800 Exercised
2013 27 DEN UTA Rudy Gobert $1,175,880 Exercised
2013 29 OKC PHO Archie Goodwin $1,160,160 Exercised
2013 30 PHO GSW Nemanja Nedovic $1,151,760 Declined

No. 16 pick Lucas Nogueira signed with the Raptors this summer, and No. 29 pick Livio Jean-Charles, whose rights are held by the Spurs, has yet to sign in the NBA.

Fourth-year options

Draft Pick Drafted by Current team Player 2015-16 salary Option
2012 1 NOH NOP Anthony Davis $7,070,730 Exercised
2012 2 CHA CHA Michael Kidd-Gilchrist $6,331,404 Exercised
2012 3 WAS WAS Bradley Beal $5,694,674 Exercised
2012 4 CLE CLE Dion Waiters $5,138,430 Exercised
2012 5 SAC POR Thomas Robinson $4,660,482 Declined
2011 5 TOR TOR Jonas Valanciunas $4,660,482 Exercised
2012 6 POR POR Damian Lillard $4,236,287 Exercised
2012 7 GSW GSW Harrison Barnes $3,873,398 Exercised
2012 8 TOR TOR Terrence Ross $3,553,917 Exercised
2012 9 DET DET Andre Drummond $3,272,091 Exercised
2012 10 NOH NOP Austin Rivers $3,110,796 Declined
2012 11 POR POR Meyers Leonard $3,075,880 Exercised
2012 12 HOU OKC Jeremy Lamb $3,034,356 Exercised
2012 13 PHO MIL Kendall Marshall Third-year option declined  
2012 14 MIL MIL John Henson $2,943,221 Exercised
2012 15 PHI ORL Maurice Harkless $2,894,059 Exercised
2012 16 HOU   Royce White Third-year option declined  
2012 17 DAL BOS Tyler Zeller $2,616,975 Exercised
2012 18 HOU HOU Terrence Jones $2,489,530 Exercised
2012 19 ORL ORL Andrew Nicholson $2,380,594 Exercised
2012 20 DEN ORL Evan Fournier $2,288,205 Exercised
2011 20 MIN HOU Donatas Motiejunas $2,288,205 Exercised
2012 21 BOS BOS Jared Sullinger $2,269,260 Exercised
2012 22 BOS   Fab Melo Third-year option declined  
2012 23 ATL ATL John Jenkins $2,228,025 Declined
2012 24 CLE LAC Jared Cunningham Third-year option declined  
2012 25 MEM PHI Tony Wroten $2,179,354 Exercised
2012 26 IND PHO Miles Plumlee $2,109,294 Exercised
2012 27 MIA   Arnett Moultrie $2,049,633 Declined
2012 28 OKC OKC Perry Jones $2,038,206 Exercised
2012 29 CHI   Marquis Teague $2,023,261 Declined
2012 30 GSW GSW Festus Ezeli $2,008,748 Exercised

Contract extensions

Draft Pick Drafted by Current team Player Extension
2011 1 CLE CLE Kyrie Irving Five years, $89 million-$98 million
2011 2 MIN SAC Derrick Williams No extension
2011 3 UTA UTA Enes Kanter No extension
2011 4 CLE CLE Tristan Thompson No extension
2009 5 MIN MIN Ricky Rubio Four years, $55 million
2011 6 WAS   Jan Vesely Fourth-year option declined
2011 7 SAC CHA Bismack Biyombo No extension
2011 8 DET MIL Brandon Knight No extension
2011 9 CHA CHA Kemba Walker Four years, $48 million
2011 10 MIL NOP Jimmer Fredette Fourth-year option declined
2011 11 GSW GSW Klay Thompson Four years, $70 million
2011 12 UTA UTA Alec Burks Four years, $42 million-$45 million
2011 13 PHO PHO Markieff Morris Four years, $32 million
2011 14 HOU PHO Marcus Morris Four years, $20 million
2011 15 IND SAS Kawhi Leonard No extension
2011 16 PHI ORL Nikola Vucevic Four years, $54 million
2011 17 NYK NYK Iman Shumpert No extension
2011 18 WAS   Chris Singleton Fourth-year option declined
2011 19 CHA ORL Tobias Harris No extension
2011 21 POR   Nolan Smith Third-year option declined
2011 22 DEN DEN Kenneth Faried Four years, $50 million
2011 24 OKC OKC Reggie Jackson No extension
2011 25 BOS   MarShon Brooks Fourth-year option declined
2011 26 DAL UTA Jordan Hamilton Fourth-year option declined
2011 27 NJN   JaJuan Johnson Third-year option declined
2011 28 CHI MIA Norris Cole No extension
2011 29 SAS SAS Cory Joseph No extension
2011 30 CHI CHI Jimmy Butler No extension

No. 23 Nikola Mirotic signed this season and not for scale.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

Anthony Davis, Anthony Bennett

Last season: In their first year as the Pelicans, New Orleans spent big to bring in Tyreke Evans and traded for Jrue Holiday. On paper, they should have been a playoff team, with a deep backcourt and a franchise centerpiece in Anthony Davis who is rightly viewed as the heir to the LeBron/Durant “best player in the world/destroyer of the universe” mantle. But Holiday went down partway through the season with a knee injury, Ryan Anderson had back surgery, and Davis and Eric Gordon both missed some time. With that many injuries, their playoff hopes were doomed, and the Pelicans finished 34-48.

Signature highlight from last season: Davis got faked out by Deron Williams’ crossover and still recovered in time to block his shot and finish a fast-break dunk in about three seconds.

Key player changes: The Pelicans traded a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts for Omer Asik, finally giving them an actual center to put next to Davis. They also signed Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Keys to the Pelicans’ season:

Will Davis take the next step defensively? The Brow is going to win multiple MVP awards during his career, and probably multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards too. Going into his third year and coming off a gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, this should be the year he blows up. The addition of Asik will be huge for him on the defensive end, as Davis won’t have to guard centers anymore. He’s a shot-blocking monster, but he gets bullied by more physical big men. He’s bulked up this offseason. Hopefully that helps. Either way, he’s a terror.

Can everyone stay healthy? The Pelicans were done in by injuries last season, with Gordon, Holiday, Davis and Anderson all missing time. Their playoff hopes start and end with their most important players’ ability to stay on the floor. The health of Holiday and Gordon is especially important, because if they can’t play Evans at small forward, their starting three is John Salmons, which is…not ideal.

Is Monty Williams a good coach? If the Pelicans struggle early on, Williams is a good candidate to be one of the first coaches on the hot seat. The last few years, he’s had the cover of dealing with a badly injured roster, but there are real questions about his rotation management and X’s and O’s acumen.

Why you should watch the Pelicans: Again, Anthony Davis is pretty good at this. Here are some more highlights:

Prediction: 46-36. Assuming their injury luck isn’t as bad as it was last year, the Pelicans will at least be in the running for a playoff spot in the West. Whether they have enough to actually get there is a different discussion, and it’s hard to point to one team out of last year’s playoff crop that’s likely to fall out. But if Davis is as good as he’s going to be and everyone else stays relatively healthy, they’ve got a chance.


Anthony Davis tweaks finger in preseason win over Miami Heat, X-rays negative

New Orleans Pelicans Media Day

There were plenty of positives for New Orleans in its Saturday night preseason opener in Louisville — Ryan Anderson looked good, hitting 4-of-9 shots, Jimmer Fredette scored 17 points, Luke Babbitt had 15, plus Russ Smith dropped 12. But all you really wanted was to get out of this contest against the Heat healthy.

They had a scare at one point: Anthony Davis left the game after injuring the index finger of his left hand.

But it appears not to be serious.

That’s good news for the Pelicans. And they were right not to put him back out there.

Count me in the group that thinks New Orleans is going to make the playoffs this season. Probably. This is the brutal Western Conference but if any other team slips this team is poised to step into their spot.

But they need a fully healthy Davis for that to happen.

Pelicans’ Austin Rivers: “This is my year”

Monty Williams, Austin Rivers

Last season Austin Rivers took a step forward in every aspect of the game, all the way up to “almost serviceable backup guard.” That may sound a little harsh, but watching Rivers play his rookie year two seasons ago was harsh. Last season his finishing at the rim got better (but still needs work), he became good at catch-and-shoot threes, his defense improved (but needs work), even his free throw shooting got better (although, shockingly, it still needs work). He got thrust into more minutes when Jrue Holiday got hurt and Rivers by the end of the season became a guy you could play against the other team’s reserve guards and usually hold your own.

Now entering his third season, Rivers says he’s ready to make another leap.

Rivers has been healthy all off-season and said all the right things about taking the next step, speaking to John Reid at the Times Picayune.

”I was constantly working the entire summer,” Rivers said. ”I gained 10 pounds and I’ve got stronger in my upper body. This is my year….

”I’ve strictly worked on mid-range and getting my body stronger this summer,” Rivers said earlier this week. ”I’ve got both of those things and I’m ready to prove and show people that this year.’’

The midrange game is something that needed work, it’s a key reason Rivers had a well below league average true shooting percentage of .482 last season (missed free throws hurt here too). Rivers has a good first step to go with great handles, so he gets into space or to the rim well. His problem was he’d pull up for midrange shots and clank them, or he’d get to the rim and draw contact but wouldn’t finish (53 percent shooting inside 3 feet) or hit his free throws (63 percent). Getting stronger to absorb some contact would help, and he’s got to knock down the freebees.

Rivers needs to improve just to fight for his minutes. Holiday is back and healthy and he will be the starting point guard. Behind him it will be Rivers and Russ Smith battling for minutes, with Jimmer Fredette in the mix too. Last season Rivers got minutes at the two (about 21 percent of his playing time) but if Eric Gordon and veteran journeyman John Salmons stay healthy those minutes will dry up.

The bottom line is the Pelicans with Anthony Davis are poised to make a leap this season into playoff contention in the West (I think they can make it if any of the teams above them in the deep West slip a little). This is a team on the rise and if Rivers wants to be there for the ride the former No. 10 pick has to prove it now.

Rivers needs to establish himself as the backup point guard on this team because the Pelicans have decisions to make about what to do with him long term. In a couple years he could hit the market as a restricted free agent and if he wants a little security and bigger pay checks his game has got to take some more steps forward.