- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard can understand the comparisons.
The Portland Trail Blazers rookie plays the game with a potent combo of speed and poise, the same way Derrick Rose moves up and down for the Chicago Bulls. That's why it should come as no surprise that the 22-year-old from Weber State has spent a lot of time reviewing tape of Rose as he prepared for his entry into the NBA.
"I watched a lot," Lillard said before Sunday night's game. "The thing that stuck out to me is how well he uses his speed and athleticism and changes pace. He gets from zero to 70 like this (snaps fingers). I've been watching that for a while so certain things that I've seen him do let me know that it can be done with my ability to jump and run fast. I think watching after him allowed me to see certain things that would be available with some of the ability I have."
Like Rose, Lillard has a lot of ability. The Blazers guard is averaging 19 points, six assists and three rebounds a game through the first three weeks of the season. His play has gotten the attention of plenty of people around the league, including Rose's teammates and coaches.
"I think he's very good," veteran Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said. "As a rookie he's come in and he's running the team and he's playing very well so that says a lot about a guy right there. To come in arguably the toughest position in the league to transition into and play so well off the bat ... he's a high pick and he's showing why."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is most impressed by the fact that Lillard, like Rose, can dominate the game by getting others involved. He doesn't have to score all the time to have an impact.
"Very impressive," Thibodeau said of Lillard. "His skill set makes him very hard to guard. His ability to shoot the ball sets everything up, very clever in the pick and roll, plays with a lot of poise for a rookie. He's taken seven threes a game and if he gets a clean look at it, it's always a very good shot so that's up the drive and when you add in (LaMarcus) Aldridge and (Nicolas) Batum and (Wes) Matthews, it's a very explosive team."
For his part, Lillard seems to be taking it all in stride. He appreciates the comparisons to Rose, but he knows he hasn't done much to deserve them this early in his career.
"I think it's a good thing to be compared to somebody like him," Lillard said. "But I think I'm really focused on myself. I don't really pay attention to comparisons because he's done a lot more than I have so all I'm trying to do is get better every day and focus on the team."
Lillard said he got the chance to meet Rose at an adidas event a couple summers ago but hasn't gotten to pick his brain much. Like everyone else around the NBA, he can see that the Bulls are a different team without the star guard on the floor.
"I think a lot was on his shoulders offensively, obviously, because he was the MVP of the league, he can really score the ball and he makes plays for other guys," Lillard said. "I think now it's more collective, I think it's a lot of guys, (Joakim) Noah's scoring more. Luol Deng was a scorer already, but now he's really going to have to score the ball. (Carlos) Boozer, Nate Robinson comes off and he's really aggressive offensively off the bench. But they're pretty much the same. Defensively, they play really hard, they compete and now it's just more collective offensively"
The difference, of course, is that the Bulls don't have a guy to set up the offense the way Rose did. The Blazers have that guy now in Lillard. If he keeps playing like he has been over the first month of the season they'll be even more similarities between he and the Bulls' injured star. That's because both will have earned the Rookie of the Year award.
19hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com