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The Sixth Man: Lillard crashes the NBA Draft party

Outsiders are rarely welcomed into the VIP Room at the local nightclub.

That's the partitioned off area typically enclosed by fixed walls along with a velvet rope and only the rich and famous need apply.

Coming into the 2012 NBA Draft there was a chance that 30 percent of the first round would feature players from either Kentucky or North Carolina, two traditional powerhouses and the very definition of the privileged in the world of college basketball. In fact, you could call those two programs the one percent of college hoops.

The equivalent of a VIP Room at a television event is the "green room" and the NBA annually invites a number of the top prospects to sit in its special area set aside for them, along with their families and agents.

This season, the consensus No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis, was given the special treatment along with his teammate at Kentucky, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

The Tar Heels' Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson were also there along with players from other college basketball factories like Kansas (Thomas Robinson), Florida (Bradley Beal), Syracuse (Dion Waiters), UConn (Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb), Washington (Terrence Ross), Wisconsin (Meyers Leonard) and Duke (Austin Rivers).

Sticking out like a sore thumb among all that talent from the marquee schools was one of the 99 percent, point guard Damian Lillard of Weber State.

No Lillard didn't win a contest while drinking Sprite or wearing adidas, he crashed the party with talent the NBA simply could not ignore.

The Oakland native first burst onto the scene at the NBA Scouting Combine in Chicago where ESPN's Chad Ford proclaimed him the star of the annual get together.

Since the combine, Lillard's stock continued to rise, so much so that he became a lock to go among the first 14 picks with some expecting Portland to pounce at No. 6.

Despite having options available like Barnes and Drummond, the Trail Blazers pulled the trigger and Lillard became the first player taken out of Weber State since Willard Sojourner was selected 20th overall by the Bulls in 1972.

"I would be lying if I said I expected to be here last year," Lillard said. "But I'm honored, man, just to be drafted that high coming from where I come from, the school that I come from. I'm just so thankful to be in this situation."

Lillard, 21, finished his four-year career at Weber State with averages of 18.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.25 steals. He spent most of his last two years in the Big Sky Conference scoring and placed second in the nation last season with 24.6 points per game.

Despite that offensive acumen Lillard's size and ball-handling skills have NBA scouts projecting him at the point.

"He's a scoring point guard who can get inside, and he's improved his three- point shooting," NBA scouting director Ryan Blake said. "He's a great free throw shooter; he's versatile as a scorer; he uses the pick-and-roll well; and he can finish in traffic."

Virtually all of the criticism hounding Lillard hinges on two things, the level of competition he faced at the college level and the fact he will arrive in the NBA with little conventional point guard experience. That didn't dissuade Blake, however.

"When you have someone with good size, good strength, good speed and you have someone who can shoot the ball and play defense, that's just a great package," he said.

Lillard himself took on the lack of competition issue, pointing to a few current NBA stars that have already made the jump and excelled.

"It doesn't bother me," the Blazers new quarterback said of the criticism. "You've got a guy like George Hill (who played at IUPUI) that's having a lot of success in the league and he played at the same level I played at. Same size, similar skill set.

"Steve Nash played at Santa Clara. There are a lot of mid-major guys -- Norris Cole -- in the league and they are showing the level of competition really isn't a big deal."

Cole certainly showed an upside in Miami during his rookie season but you want more than potential out of the sixth pick in the draft. Meanwhile, as good as Hill has been at times in both San Antonio and Indiana, he still hasn't proven himself as a full-time starter.

Maybe the two MVPs Nash has collected is a bit much to hope for but a few All- Star appearances are not.

Lillard heads to Rip City as Neil Olshey's first draft choice with the team as the new general manager attempts to inject some life into a franchise ravaged by injuries. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are both distant memories after injury plagued stays in the Pacific Northwest while All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge is recovering from season-ending hip surgery.

Lillard will be the face of a nucleus which includes Aldridge as well as emerging wingman Nicolas Batum and the team's other first round pick, Leonard, who was selected at No. 11.

"We're really happy with the way this year's draft unfolded for us," said Olshey. "We had the opportunity to acquire the best two players at their position who will help us move the needle and fit nicely into our emerging roster. Now we quickly shift gears to be very aggressive in free agency."

Unhook the velvet rope Portland, a VIP is on his way.

2012 NBA DRAFT PICK-BY-PICK ANALYSIS:

1. - New Orleans Hornets - Anthony Davis (Kentucky), Power Forward (6-10, 220) - Maybe the biggest no-brainer since the Cavs took LeBron in 2003. The Hornets truly won the lottery, cashing in on a 13.7 percent chance to move up from the fourth spot to land Davis, a player who is regarded as the only can't miss prospect in this year's draft.

"I'm excited about having the chance to work with Anthony," said Hornets coach Monty Williams. "We have added an incredibly talented, athletic big man with great length who is also a proven winner. In getting to know him, he's also a high-character kid and someone I look forward to helping develop further."

The "Unibrow" will enter the NBA as an elite defender and shot blocker who still has a long way to go offensively. He has the athleticism and skills, however, since he spent most of his youth playing on the perimeter before a massive growth spurt in high school.

"A great feeling, great experience," Davis said after being drafted, "I've wanted this all my life, so it's finally here. To be drafted No. 1 overall means a lot to me. I just can't wait to get down there and start to play."

2 - Charlotte Bobcats - Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky), Small Forward (6-7, 215) - It turned out to be back-to-back Wildcats, the first time in NBA Draft history players from the same team were picked 1-2. Gilchrist, who attended the same New Jersey High School (St. Patrick) which produced last year's top pick, Kyrie Irving, as well as Al Harrington and Samuel Dalembert plays with exceptional heart and energy. MKG is a strong, athletic wing player who possesses a high basketball IQ and projects as a lockdown defender at the NBA level. He's not and never will be an elite scorer, however.

"I just want to play for the Charlotte Bobcats," Gilchrist said. "That's what I want to do right now."

3.- Washington Wizards - Bradley Beal (Florida), Shooting Guard (6-4, 210) - Cleveland was desperately trying to trade up to pair Beal with Kyrie Irving. Instead the Wizards get to pencil him in next to John Wall. Beal, a smooth shooter who also can get to the rim, looks like a perfect compliment to Wall and should solidly the backcourt in the nation's capital for years to come.

"Whatever coach wants me to do and whatever role he puts me in, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win," said Beal, who was celebrating his 19th birthday."I'm not going to come in and just try to force the issue. I'm going to try to come in and try to feel things out and get to know the vets a little bit."

4. - Cleveland Cavaliers - Dion Waiters (Syracuse), Shooting Guard (6-5, 215) - The Cavs missed out on Beal and likely threw out their backs reaching for Waiters, the sixth man at Syracuse. Waiters had pulled out of a number of pre- draft interviews after getting a "promise" from a certain team believed to be the Raptors at No. 8. His stock continued to rise but this is way too early for a guy who played just 24 minutes a night at the college level.

"We knew we needed to add scoring and more playmaking and we were able to do that with Dion," said Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant. "He's an aggressive, athletic, explosive player that is a great fit for our team."

5. - Sacramento Kings - - Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Power Forward (6-8, 240) - The Kings luck out getting the safest player outside of Davis in this draft. Robinson is the rare college player who will arrive in the pros with an NBA- ready body. He doesn't have the height teams covet these days, but the wingspan is there and the Kansas product is a high-energy, low-risk player who brings a lunch pail mentality to the dance.

"I really didn't know where I was going to end up but it's a bit of a surprise," Robinson said of being taken by the Kings. "I didn't work out for Sacramento at all, I probably talked to them once. But I'm here so I'm meant to be here."

6.- Portland Trail Blazers - Damian Lillard (Weber State), Point Guard (6-2, 195) - Even with Harrison Barnes and Andre Drummond on the board, the Blazers didn't waiver and took the Weber State product. Although a scorer in college, NBA scouts think Lillard's skill set is tailor-made for running the pick-and- roll, a necessity in today's NBA.

7. - Golden State Warriors - Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Small Forward (6-8, 220) - The Warriors get the athletic, small forward they were so desperate for, although it's an offensive-minded one. Barnes is a good spot-up jump shooter who could excel in the often-forgotten- about mid-range game and flash out to the 3-point line for Mark Jackson.

"I always had a lot of respect for him when he was an analyst," Barnes said of his new coach. "I got a chance to talk with him a bit in Chicago (at the scouring combine) a little bit, just talking basketball. And it was a great to see how much a player's coach he is."

8. - Toronto Raptors - Terrence Ross (Washington), Shooting Guard (6-6, 200) - It's pretty clear Toronto wanted a wing player and took the best one remaining on the board. An excellent shooter, Ross has great size and athleticism for the wing. He shoots the ball confidently and has great mechanics on his jumper with range out to the 3-point line.

"It's going to be fun," Ross said of playing with DeMar DeRozan and new center Jonas Valanciunas, the team's first round pick from a year ago. "DeMar is going to help me a lot. He's the best they have. Having another rookie (Valanciunas) will help me and help him at the same time."

9. - Detroit Pistons - Andre Drummond (Connecticut), Center (6-11, 270) - The Pistons knew they would be in a nice spot to find a defensive big man to team up with the ascending Greg Monroe. They thought it would be John Henson but Drummond fell and Joe Dumars jumped.

"He's a player with good size and physical tools and we look forward to seeing him grow within our organization," Dumars said.

Drummond is probably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this year's draft. The physical gifts are certainly there with the big man, who has the size, power and athleticism to excel, especially as a defender, That said Drummond is not even close offensively and his motor has been questioned.

"I know we'll build a great team chemistry right away," Drummond said. "(Detroit) is a great organization and the fans are great up there. I just can't wait to be a part of that team."

10. - New Orleans Hornets - Austin Rivers (Duke), Combo Guard (6-4, 203) - After going big with Davis, it was time to get a legitimate point guard in NOLA and the Hornets went with Doc Rivers' kid, 29 years after Doc himself went in the second round.

"This is who we wanted (at number 10)," Hornets GM Dell Demps said. "We were impressed by him during his workout and we're excited to bring Austin to New Orleans."

Austin, a nice-sized combo guard, figures to fit into the rotation very early. Most scouts aren't sure he's a point guard, however, and he must improve as a defender.

"This is an amazing opportunity," Rivers said. "Coach Monty Williams is a great coach. Anthony is coming. They have a great city. I'm looking forward to going there and working hard."

11. - Portland Trail Blazers - Meyers Leonard (Illinois), Center (7-foot, 245) - The Blazers needed to add more size and a solid defensive presence after getting Lillard and Leonard is an athletic big who needs to add a little strength.

"Obviously with Portland they have LaMarcus at the 4 and I'm going to have to come in and prove myself first and foremost," Leonard said. "But knowing that I have an opportunity in front of me to quite possibly start or just even be a factor is a great feeling."

12. - Houston Rockets - Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut), Shooting Guard (6-5, 190) - The Rockets got this pick from Milwaukee in the Samuel Dalembert trade. Lamb projects as perhaps the best pure scorer in the draft and could be a nice replacement for Kevin Martin, who is on the trading block.

"I can stretch the floor," Lamb said when asked about his game "You know I can add scoring and also contribute on the defensive end."

13. - Phoenix Suns - Kendall Marshall (North Carolina), Point Guard (6-4, 197) - This may signal the end of the Steve Nash-era in the desert. Marshall projects is the best natural point guard in this year's draft since Lillard was more of a scorer in the Big Sky. A natural floor leader who understands how to control the flow of a game, UNC coach Roy Williams called him the best passer he's ever coached.

"We are ecstatic," said Suns general manager Lance Blanks. "Looking at our board and who was there at the 13th pick, that was the guy we were targeting all along. Kendall represents where we are as an organization. Don't read too far into this as far as free agency-he represents everything we want to be about, as a player and as a person. He's a winner."

14. - Milwaukee Bucks - John Henson (North Carolina), Power Forward (6-10, 220) - Carolina's Henson is a slight guy with a major league defensive presence who needs to add polish to his is offensive game. There is no question that he needs to add strength also, but he can destroy half-court sets with a 7-foot-4 wingspan.

"You want to find ways to get on the court whether it's you're defense or shot blocking. I'm in good hands (with coach Scott Skiles)," Henson said. "I'm excited to get this started and get to Milwaukee."

15. - Philadelphia 76ers - Maurice Harkless (St. John's), Small Forward (6-8, 220) - You can never have enough small forwards in Philly evidently but this was a prudent move for a team which could have made a big mistake by assuming Tyler Zeller was the answer in the middle. Harkless has great size for the 3 and a big upside as a scorer.

"I showed teams how hard I work and how hard I compete," Harkless said. "A lot of teams didn't think I could shoot the ball and I showed the teams I could shoot the ball really well. I think I just left a good impression on Philadelphia."

16.- Houston Rockets - Royce White (Iowa State), Combo Forward (6-8, 250) - White could be a steal at least offensively. He's a lottery-level, unique talent who loves to drive and dish but needs time to develop his defensive game at the next level.

17. - Dallas Mavericks (picking for the Cleveland Cavaliers) - Tyler Zeller (North Carolina), Center (7-foot, 240) - The Cavs traded No. 24 and two early second round picks for Zeller, a legitimate center who moves well for his size, and swingman Kelenna Azubuike. Zeller needs to add strength so he can hold up on the blocks at the defensive end. Getting the UNC big man, however, should enable Anderson Varejao to play more minutes at power forward, his natural position.

"We needed another big man that can shoot, rebound, defend and get up and down the court with our style of play," Grant said. "We were able to do that with Tyler and we feel he is also a great fit for our team."

18. - Houston Rockets - Terrence Jones (Kentucky), Combo Forward (6-8, 245) - Jones is a powerfully built combo forward who took a back seat to Davis and Kidd- Gilchrist on an ultra-talented Kentucky team. He is a nice option here. Despite his size,Jones relies too much on the jumper and should consider attacking the basket a bit more. He looks like a power forward and plays like a small forward.

19. - Orlando Magic - Andrew Nicholson (St. Bonaventure), Power Forward - (6-9, 225) - The best Bonnie since Bob Lanier. Nicholson should gain major minutes early thanks to a high basketball IQ and solid athleticism.

"We are excited to have Andrew (Nicholson) join our Orlando Magic family," said general manager Rob Hennigan. "We feel he embodies the types of values that will put him in a position to achieve success here. He's a humble, high character player, who's committed to working hard and playing within a team concept. We are intrigued by his cerebral, instinctual approach to the game."

20. - Denver Nuggets - Evan Fournier (France), Swingman (6-6, 190) - The first international goes a little higher than most expected but Fournier is a very crafty player who might give Denver an interesting scoring option from the wing.

"I'm a slasher, kind of like (Manu) Ginobili," Fournier said when talking about his game. "I can charge to the basket and finish around the rim. I think that's my biggest strength."

21. - Boston Celtics - Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Power Forward (6-8, 260) - You could see this shaping up. A smart organization taking a smart player who fell due to a balky back. It's certainly worth rolling the dice here. A lottery level talent, the risk-reward ratio is off the charts with Sullinger at 21.

22. - Boston Celtics - Fab Melo (Syracuse), Center (7-foot, 255) - Boston hasn't had a legitimate center since shipping Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City and Melo could be the answer, projecting as a Perkins-type player, limited offensively but solid as a defender.

23. - Atlanta Hawks - John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Combo Guard (6-4, 212) - The best pure shooter in the draft, Jenkins may not have the athleticism to be much more than a specialist at the NBA level.

"John can really shoot, plays hard and is a competitive kid," said Hawks general manager Danny Ferry. "Having a guy out there who can space the floor for our core group will make everything function better when he's on the court."

"We're very happy John was available at number 23, and we were able to get him," added Hawks head coach Larry Drew. "He can really come off screens, and needs just a little bit of daylight to get his shot off. He has terrific range, and when you play against guys like that who can shoot the ball, it just gives you another weapon."

24. - Cleveland Cavaliers (drafting for Dallas) - Jared Cunningham (Oregon State) Combo Guard (6-4, 190) - With Jason Kidd and Jason Terry both unrestricted free agents, Dallas got a little security here with Cunningham, a slasher who can give the Mavs minutes at either guard position. The jumper must improve, however.

25. - Memphis Grizzlies - Tony Wroten Jr.(Washington), Point Guard (6-6, 203) - A left-handed, athletic point guard with imposing size. Wroten needs to improve his decision making and jump shot to succeed at the NBA level. There have been a lot of comparisons to Rajon Rondo because of Wroten's freaky athleticism but that's a stretch.

26. - Indiana Pacers - Miles Plumlee (Duke), Power Forward (6-11, 250) - An athletic big man with incredible leaping ability, Plumlee doesn't have great basketball instincts and likely projects as a 15- to 20-minute backup.

27. - Miami Heat (drafting for Philadelphia) - Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State), Power Forward (6-10, 235) - The Sixers gave up the 45th pick (LSU center Justin Hamilton) and a protected future first round pick to move back into the first round and get Moultrie, a solid move since Elton Brand is on his last legs and could be amnestied. Moultrie is a well-rounded big body who could help early in his career.

28. - Oklahoma City Thunder - Perry Jones (Baylor), Power Forward (6-10, 240) - The rich get richer here. Early on Jones was considered a possible No. 1 overall pick, so the skills are certainly there, but he never produced consistently at Baylor and a knee problem scared off a number of teams. He's more than worth a flyer here for a team that can afford to wait a bit.

"I just wanted the opportunity to play in the NBA," Jones said. "It didn't really matter where I was picked. I just wanted the chance to play with somebody and I'm more than happy to play with Kevin Durant. He's my favorite player."

29. - Chicago Bulls - Marquis Teague (Kentucky), Point Guard (6-2, 190) - With Derrick Rose recovering from a torn ACL getting a point guard like Teague, the brother of Atlanta's Jeff Teague, was a prudent move by Chicago. He will eventually be a nice 10- to 15-minute option to run things as Rose's caddy.

30. - Golden State Warriors - Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt), Center/Power Forward (6-11, 265) - Ezeli is a big powerful guy still learning the game. He didn't start playing organized basketball until 2007 and needs to learn how to use his body more effectively

DRAFT NOTES:

-Davis is only the second player from Kentucky selected with the top overall pick, joining Wall from 2010. He's the third SEC player taken No.1, after Wall and Shaquille O'Neal (1992).

-This was the second time in franchise history the Hornets made the number one selection. In 1991, the then-Charlotte Hornets used the top overall choice to select UNLV's Larry Johnson, who went on to capture 1991-92 Rookie of the Year honors. A year later, the Hornets had the second overall pick and selected Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning. The only other time the franchise selected in the top three was 1999 when UCLA's Baron Davis was nabbed with the third overall pick.

-As least one son of a former NBA player has been selected in the last 11 NBA Drafts: Mike Dunleavy (2002), Luke Walton (2003), Jackson Vroman (2004), Sean May (2005), Ronnie Brewer (2006), Al Horford (2007), Patrick Ewing Jr. (2008), Stephen Curry, Gerald Henderson and Austin Daye (2009), Ed Davis (2010), Klay Thompson and Nolan Smith (2011) and Austin Rivers (2012).

-This year marks the first time two schools have had four players selected in the first round, Kentucky (Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jones and Teague) and North Carolina (Barnes, Marshall, Henson and Zeller).

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