ChrisHaynes, CSNNW.com Trail Blazers Insider(@ChrisBHaynes)
PortlandTrail Blazers guard, Nolan Smith, hears the talk, but at the sametime, hes not paying attention to it. Sure, he would have loved tohave had a more productive rookie season, but things dont alwaysgo as planned.
TheTrail Blazers selected Smith with the 21st pickin the 2011 NBA draft when many expected the Trail Blazers to selectMorehead States Kenneth Faried. The Denver Nuggets picked upFaried at No. 22.
Despitebeing a first round pick, Smith never developed as the team's backuppoint guard behind Raymond Felton and former head coach, NateMcMillan, elected to use shooting guard Jamal Crawford in that role.
Therewasn't any controversy at the time because Faried was also paying hisdues sitting behind Danilo Gallinari, Kosta Koufos, Timofey Mozgovand Nene.
However,Faried's time would come in mid February due to injuries and fromthat point on, he racked up 12 double-doubles, and conquereddouble-digit rebounding games 13 times highlighted by a 17 and16-rebounding performance.
Theundersized power forward finished third in the Rookie of the Yearvoting behind Minnesota's Ricky Rubio and Cleveland's Kyrie Irving,was a First-Team All Rookie selection, and led all rookies in fieldgoal percentage and rebounds per game.
Faried'sbreakout season opened the door for criticism directed towards theTrail Blazers' way. Many have said it was a mistake passing overFaried to draft Smith.
Smithjust thinks it was a matter of an opportunity.
"Idon't listen to all of that stuff," Smith told CSNNW.com. "I'm proudof what Kenneth accomplished, but you can't look at his situation andcompare it to mine. If he was drafted here (in Portland), he probablywouldn't have got the opportunity to play behind our big man rightaway. I'm one of his biggest supporters and I couldn't be happier forhim."
McMillanwas fired at the trade deadline and assistant coach, Kaleb Canales,stepped in as the interim head coach. With little to play for, theTrail Blazers decided to test their young players to evaluate whatthey had.
Andthat meant more time for Smith.
"Iwas excited because Coach K. told me to be ready and said I was goingto get a chance," Smith said. "I felt really bad for CoachNate because he meant a lot to me. Those were strange times."
Smithgot his opportunity, started off slowly, but found his groove thelast five games of the season averaging 12.8 points, 4.6 assist, andshot 42 percent in that span. He said he never put any pressure onhimself to play to the level of Faried, he just wanted to showeveryone what he was capable of.
"I'ma self-motivated person. I don't need anything else to motivate memore," Smith said. "I just want to go out there and playfor Chad (Buchanan) and (Steve) Rosenberry, the ones who drafted me.Year two, I just have to be more aggressive. That's what Neil(Olshey) says he wants from me and I know I can be better at it."
Smith says he struggled with his identity early on in the season. He said he tried to play like a pure point guard, but realized that wasn't what he brought to the table at this point in his career.
"There's not too many true point guards in the league anymore," Smith said. "I just have to always be on the attack. That doesn't mean I'm shooting the ball all the time, but I'm staying aggressive and looking for my teammates and my shot."
TheTrail Blazers are in the process of holding pre-draft workouts and aname that has received high praise of late has been Weber State'spoint guard Damian Lillard. He had a good showing at the Chicagocombine and his knowledge about the makeup of the Trail Blazers'roster is impressive.
Ifthe Trail Blazers were to select Lillard or North Carolina's KendallMarshall at No. 6 or No.11, Smith says he would welcome it and warnsthat he'll be coming for them.
"Anypoint guard that comes in, we'll be teammates, but I'm going to letthem know that I am here," Smith said. "We're going tobattle and compete and may the best man win."