I really don’t know what it is, but Damian Lillard is, far and away, my favorite rookie from this years draft class. Lillard didn’t go to my favorite college (is anybody’s favorite school Weber State?) and it’s not like he was the center of attention throughout college basketball last season. When draft season started, however, Lillard stood out to me from day one. I couldn’t tell you why, he just did. I think there’s a lot to like about Lillard going forwards in the NBA, and while I don’t think he will set the world on fire in year one, he does have some value this year and a lot more going forwards.
In this series so far, I’ve often consulted draftexpress.com to help me profile rookies, and this one will be no different. Lillard’s draft express profile is glowing, and that might be putting it lightly. Of the top 21 guards in this years draft class, Lillard “finishing second in overall efficiency (1.142 PPP) despite using 21.1 possessions per-game (1st). Getting to the line on 18.7% of his possessions (4th) and scoring 1.176 point per-jump shot (1.176), it makes sense that Big Sky product is given the benefit of the doubt as he looks to make the giant leap in competition to the NBA level. The most efficient guard in pick and roll (1.039 PP), spot-up (1.388), and isolation off screen situations (1.324), Lillard dominates most categories in this study. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Lillard’s showing on paper is the paltry 9.8% turnover rate he posted despite teams game planning to stop him on a nightly basis.” If these numbers mean nothing to you, they should. Let me try and put this in English: Damian Lillard is the truth. He was the only weapon on Weber State. Teams didn’t have to worry about stopping anybody but Lillard. And he STILL shredded everything in his path.
There are concerns about Lillard’s ability to distribute the ball, but it’s worth bearing in mind that he didn’t exactly have the best teammates in college. He’s now being given weapons such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum, both very good NBA players. The big stat is that Lillard didn’t really turn the ball over at all in college. Sometimes missing the right pass is better than trying to make the wrong pass, and at least Lillard has that going for him. It’s abundantly clear that he’s an elite scorer but his ability to play mistake free basketball shouldn’t be overlooked.
Okay, expectations time. I’ve made mention of this league a few times now, but I play in a dynasty fantasy basketball league. It’s 14 teams. Lillard went in round 6, pick #8 in this draft. These are all guys that I respect, and I’m certain they all know what they’re talking about. Lillard is being given the reins from day 1 in Portland. He has essentially no competition in the backcourt – Ronnie Price and Nolan Smith are the two backups – so it would take an epic collapse on Lillard’s end to not start the whole season. In year one of his career, Lillard should average double digit points with average assist totals (somewhere in the 4-6 ballpark). He was also a phenomenal shooter in college and I’d expect nothing less in the NBA. I think a line of 12-5-45%-85% (at the line) is reasonable to expect out of Damian in his rookie campaign. Going forwards, both of those totals will increase. In his prime Lillard could be an 18-8 guy, which is a pretty high ceiling. He’s never going to be a superstar, but he’s going to be a very, very good NBA player, in my opinion.
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