A couple of Trail Blazers are getting some shine over at Dime Magazine. First, on their list of people who "will shape the future generation of basketball,"
rookie point guard Damian Lillard comes in at No. 10:
All the talk about the weak competition he faced in college dissipated as he absolutely destroyed his NBA opponents, dropping 23 points and seven assists in his debut, followed by 31 and seven, 27 and three, and 25 and four.
But Lillard’s place on this list isn’t so much about his basketball potential as it is his path to the NBA. It’s been a while since a truly small school produced such a high-caliber player, and nowadays it’s rare to see top players stay in school for more than two seasons. If Lillard does succeed in the league, he may give confidence and assurance to prospects considering smaller schools outside of the Big Six conferences, and let them know that staying for a few years of college doesn’t hurt either.
Lillard and Hornets center Anthony Davis are the only rookies who made the list.
In regards to honors that are more tangible than being considered a shaper of the future, Dime Mag lists Nicolas Batum as one of the ten players most likely to win the Most Improved Player award
Among qualified small forwards last season, Batum ranked eighth in PER (17.32) while posting only the 20th-highest usage rate. Under new head coach Terry Stotts, Batum can expect an increase in shot attempts and more opportunities in the open court. Stotts has also been vocal about Batum getting looks in pick-and-roll sets – both as the ballhandler and the screener. Playing for France in the Summer Olympics, Batum showed his ability to stuff a box score and excel as a team’s secondary option on offense (which he will now be in Portland). Batum’s performance will need to exceed expectations this year, and when they do, look for him to be a solid candidate for Most Improved Player.
The expectations for both Lillard and Batum are sky-high. Whether either or both are able to meet the goals fans and the media have for them is one of the most interesting story lines to watch this season.