Player to Watch: Damian Lillard
The fan bases in Portland and New Orleans might not necessarily be happy with their teams in terms of wins and losses, but there most certainly is a great sense of optimism in both cities as the franchises seem headed in the right direction for the not so distant future.
Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis — wrote a post about Davis here — are two terrific rookies that have most basketball fans raving given the impressive skills they’ve displayed early in their young careers.
The Trail Blazers’ rookie seems to be leading the Rookie of the Year race at the moment because of his impressive showings under Terry Stotts, but Davis’ injury also helped propel him to the top of the list of candidates for the award.
With that said, we shouldn’t look at Lillard as the man leading the race by default because the Kentucky product’s been sidelined; that would be a complete disservice to his talent and production.
Instead, we should look at Damian Lillard for what he is: a terrific scoring point guard.
The Weber State product is a good ball handler that can bring the ball up against pressure without a worry in the world it seems. This sounds like a given when we think about the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and a healthy Derrick Rose to name a few, but for a young point guard trying to make it in the NBA, it’s a trait that must be developed early, otherwise playing the position can become impossible.
Lillard not only brings the ball up against pressure, but he is getting a better understanding of how to run the offense and get the ball to his big man on the low block. Indeed, he feeds LaMarcus Aldridge and typically drifts towards the top of the key to force his defender to either commit to a double-team or to stay with him to give the Texas product room to operate. In the event that his man runs at Aldridge, he positions himself into an angle where his big man can see he’s available and find him for an open 3-pointer where he is making 48.5 percent of his shots in spot up situations, per MySynergySports.
In addition to his ability to make open shots, Lillard is an emerging pick-and-roll player that is bound to torment defenses for the next decade. The Blazers point guard does a terrific job of rarely picking up his dribble, favoring instead to accept the hedging defender and string him along as far away from the hoop as he can to create either a good passing angle, or good driving lane to get himself all the way to the basket.
One area where he must improve though is his overreliance on 3-point shots, especially in the pick-and-roll. The rookie loves to shoot the ball either from deep or directly at the rim, which means that if he fails to locate any driving angles, he will fire away from long-range. Granted, he’s only 22 years old, thus one should expect him to be able to improve on this facet of the game and toy more with defenses and create shots from various spots on the court.
As trigger-happy as Lillard is from deep, he makes up for it with some superb isolation skills.
He will never be confused with Kobe Bryant on this front, but the rookie is still quite impressive in this aspect and the stats back it up. Synergy tells us that 15.7 percent of his field goal attempts come from isos and that he is converting an eye-popping 47.3 percent of his shots out of those situations.
Typically, players struggle to connect a high percentage of their shots in these situations but Lillard does it a little differently. Much like the rest of the league, the Weber State product will occasionally look at his defender with the shot clock winding down, cross him over and take a step back jumper — he’s quite adept at it too by the way — or simply rise up for the jumper from whatever spot on the floor where he is.
But the first year guard also likes to play games with his opponents every now and then, and honestly it’s quite fun to watch.
Lillard will call plays to get his team into the offense and then make a mental snapshot of the way the opposing team defended the play and see where the driving angles were based on the set and the defense called. Afterwards, he might call the very same play again after a few possessions or what not and just blow by his defender and score at the rim before help defenders ever realize what occurred.
And really, these details are what make the Blazers better with him on the court despite the challenges the team faces at the moment. Although they are a sub-.500 team at present time, Lillard is definitely part of the solution as Portland’s production as a team takes a dip across the board when he rides the pine. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, the Trail Blazers manufacture 89 points per game, 17.5 turnovers per game and 17.7 assists per game on 43.2 percent field goal shooting per 48 minutes when the star in the making heads to the bench.
Again, the Blazers aren’t exactly a playoff squad all things considered, but the presence of the rookie definitely makes them a far better team given the scoring punch and playmaking he provides them with. NBA.com tells us that when Portland’s starting point guard in on the court, the team produces 96.7 points per game, 13.6 turnovers per game and 19.3 assists per game on 43.7 percent field goal shooting per 48 minutes.
Thus, fans can afford to have hope in this team because their new point guard may in fact end up being the perfect player to pair alongside LaMarcus Aldridge as the Portland front office tries to rebuild this team into a contender.
And truthfully, it might not take long.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].