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By Andy Roth, Contributing Editor - Archive - Email
The Pulse of the NBA
New York, NY (Sports Network) -

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

I have a feeling I'll be mentioning rookie point guard Damian Lillard a lot this season. For the second time in his young career, Lillard keyed an overtime win, as the Blazers beat the Houston Rockets on Friday in Portland, 119-117.

The former Weber State star, who was the sixth overall pick, scored 15 of Portland's last 21 points, and five of its eight points in overtime.

"He played great," said teammate LaMarcus Aldridge of Lillard. "He had ice in his veins. Took big shots, made big shots."

Lillard has shown supreme confidence in his game from the very start, going back to when he was the co-MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League. When you have that kind of strong belief in your game, it makes the transition from college to the pros a lot easier.

Lillard was the third guard taken in the draft, but his play has been far superior to the other two players selected before him.

Bradley Beal, who was selected third by the Washington Wizards, lost his starting job last week after he shot a combined 4-for-25 from the field in losses to the Bobcats and Mavericks. Beal, who's scoring 10.9 ppg, is shooting just 33 percent from the floor.

Dion Waiters, who was selected right after Beal by the Cavaliers, is shooting 39 percent from the field, while averaging 13.7 points. He really struggled in the Cavs's three games last week, hitting just 9-of-45 shots from the floor (20 percent).

From what I've seen, Lillard, who is averaging 19 points and 6.1 assists and is shooting 45 percent from the field, is the most talented player among the three. Beal and Waiters are shooting guards, but Lillard was clearly the better shooter in college, and there's a really good chance that'll be the case on the next level. And neither Beal nor Waiters has his playmaking skills.

I think both Washington and Cleveland will regret passing on Lillard. Since I'm not a fan of John Wall, if I were the Wizards, I would've drafted Lillard and traded Wall. As for the Cavaliers, I would've paired Lillard with Kyrie Irving.

I was told after the draft by a source in Cleveland that Lillard had the best workout of all the players the Cavs brought in. They should have been smart enough to draft talent over position, and selected Lillard to play with Irving, rather than selecting a shooting guard in Waiters.

INDIANA PACERS

Roy Hibbert was a first-time All-Star last season and that helped him earn a four-year, $58 million dollar extension from the Pacers after they matched the offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers to the restricted free agent.

But the fifth-year center has basically been a no-show so far, and along with the absence of the injured Danny Granger, his play has been a big reason why the Pacers have played so poorly.

Without Granger, Indiana needs Hibbert to at least play as well as last season, but I'm sure the hope was that he would build on it and get better. That's certainly not the case in the early going. He's averaging just 8.5 ppg, his lowest output since his rookie year, and he's shooting a miserable 37 percent from the field after being a career 48 percent shooter over his first four seasons. He's also struggling from the foul line, hitting just 46 percent.

"I'm just not getting it done, not in a rhythm," said Hibbert. "I feel like I'm getting the shots, but they're not going in. I've got to put in extra work and get it right."

Coach Frank Vogel doesn't think Hibbert's struggles are his fault entirely.

"He's playing with guys he's been playing with for a couple years," Vogel said. "If we're going to turn the ball over four or five times each game trying to get him the ball, it doesn't matter what his field goal percentage is. We have to be effective in our post feeding and the execution of our post offense."

"(Hibbert) had stretches like this every year. It's something you can't overreact to. You have to keep going and doing your work and he'll be fine."

But in watching Hibbert in person at Madison Square Garden in Sunday's Pacers' loss to the Knicks, I'd have to say he has to shoulder a lot of the blame for his struggles.

He's way too slow and methodical once he gets the ball in the low post, giving the defense easy double-team opportunities. Hibbert needs to make quick, decisive moves, so the defense doesn't have a chance to react.

As for his teammates, they have to start hitting their perimeter shots to make the opposition pay for the double-teams. The Pacers are 29th in the league in field goal percentage at 40.5 percent and shooting just 31.4 percent from 3- point range.

DENVER NUGGETS

Everyone knows what a monster Kenneth Faried is off the boards, but this season he's also made an impact on the offensive end. The 6-foot-8 power forward, nicknamed "The Manimal" is averaging a double-double with 14.1 points and 11.1 rpg.

After pretty much being a non-factor in the first two games of the season, which the Nuggets lost, Faried has been on roll. Over the last eight games, he's averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds, and has shot 57 percent from the field.

Faried, who led the nation in rebounding and was named the NABC Defensive Player of the Year in his final season at Morehead State, was selected by the Nuggets with the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2011 draft.

This is another case of NBA talent evaluators underestimating players who don't play in a major conference and not valuing players enough who are great rebounders and defenders.

Copyright 2012

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