Gerald Wallace is a tenacious defender, a strong rebounder for his size and a known veteran quantity at forward. When the Brooklyn (then New Jersey) Nets acquired Wallace at the trading deadline last season, he was seen as a player capable of doing the dirty work that Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries were not known for. They will get a good look at the price they paid for his services, however, when the Portland Trail Blazers visit Brooklyn today.
In exchange for Wallace, Portland received Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a conditional first-round draft pick, which was protected from being in the top three. When the Nets ended up with the sixth pick, it was sent to the Trail Blazers, who used it to draft Damian Lillard, 22, a point guard from Weber State.
Lillard was considered among the more polished prospects in the draft, but one without a high ceiling for improvement. Given his averages of 20.2 points and six assists per game through Friday, both of which easily led all rookies, it would be hard for Portland to ask for more.
Although Lillard plays the same position as Deron Williams, the Nets’ unquestioned leader and best player, making it unlikely that the Nets would have used the pick on him, it is easy to see in retrospect how his scoring ability combined with his age and salary would have been an enticing package for Brooklyn, especially with Wallace having struggled to recover from an ankle injury sustained in the first game.
Lillard is the latest NBA point guard from an Oakland, Calif., fraternity that includes Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. Although many rookies would shy away from being compared with accomplished players, Lillard invited the comparison.
“Being a basketball player from Oakland, especially a point guard, it comes with a standard," Lillard told The San Francisco Chronicle this year. “You’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to do it all. It’s a standard that I intend to live up to."
LeBron James may never average a triple-double for a season, as Oscar Robertson once did, but he may average a double-double for the first time in his career if his rebounding continues to improve.
Entering Saturday’s game against Cleveland, James had recorded double digits in points and rebounds in seven of 12 games, including a stretch of five consecutive games. During the streak he averaged 24.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and six assists per game. His average of 9.1 rebounds a game this season was leading the Heat.
James’ career-high average in rebounds is 7.9, set in 2007-08 and matched last season. His career high in assists per game was 8.6 in 2009-10.
Replacing the Bobcats as the NBA’s worst team are the Washington Wizards, who became the topic of an unflattering debate last season when the former Maryland coach Gary Williams said the University of Kentucky basketball team could beat them. Stan Van Gundy, Orlando’s coach at the time, argued strongly that the college team could not beat the pros, pointing out that Kentucky had a number of NBA prospects but that the Wizards had an entire roster of NBA players.
The debate eventually turned into an online meme, with “But could they beat Kentucky?" being asked about teams of all shapes and sizes, not limited to basketball.
The Wizards were 0-11 through Saturday, and Kentucky had six players taken in the NBA draft. But the answer to the question of which team would win is unknown. No exhibition was ever scheduled.