Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Projecting Damian Lillard's rookie season for the Portland Trail Blazers

After earning the Las Vegas Summer League co-MVP honors, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard appears to have the talent to be one of the 2012-2013 season's top rookies. In order to try and project how Lillard might do, I've listed every point guard selected from the third through ninth picks over the past ten drafts. From those, I've narrowed the list down to those who either: a) started the majority of their games played; b) played at least 27 minutes per game, and; c) are either a respectable scorer or played more like a scoring point guard since entering the league.

2011 - #9 Kemba Walker (27.2 mins, 12.1 pts, 3.5 rebs, 4.4 asts, 1.8 TO, 46.4 TS%)
2009 - #6 Jonny Flynn (28.9 mins, 13.5 pts, 2.4 rebs, 4.4 asts, 2.9 TO, 45.7 TS%)
           #7 Stephen Curry (36.2 mins, 17.9 pts, 4.5 rebs, 5.9 asts, 3.1 TO, 56.8 TS%)
2008   #4 Russell Westbrook (32.5 mins, 15.3 pts, 4.9 rebs, 5.3 asts, 3.3 TO, 48.9 TS%)
2007 - #4 Mike Conley (26.1 mins, 9.4 pts, 2.6 rebs, 4.2 asts, 1.7 TO, 50.2 TS%)
2005 - #3 Deron Williams (28.8 mins, 10.8 pts, 2.4 rebs, 4.5 asts, 1.8 TO, 50.0 TS%)
           #4 Chris Paul (36.0 mins, 16.1 pts, 5.1 rebs, 7.8 asts, 2.3 TO, 54.6 TS%)
           #5 Raymond Felton (30.1 mins, 11.9 pts, 3.3 rebs, 5.6 asts, 2.3 TO, 48.3 TS%)
2002 - #2 Jay Williams (26.1 mins, 9.5 pts, 2.6 rebs, 4.7 asts, 2.3 TO, 47.2 TS%)
*stats and draft information from          

After Lillard was drafted, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey declared that he was the teams' franchise point guard. I take that to mean that Lillard will be the starting point guard when the regular season rolls around. There is likely to be some push from second year point guard Nolan Smith, but with Olshey taking over for interim GM Chad Buchanan, as well as a new coach in place, there likely will not be any emotional ties to "their guy". The team also signed Ronnie Price to a one-year veterans minimum contract, but will at best find himself as the backup. Knowing what we do about his competition (or relative lack thereof), I suspect Lillard will likely see around 30 minutes per night, which is in the neighborhood of standard "starter" minutes in the league. Keeping that in mind, I've averaged out the above nine players numbers out to 30 minutes, them combined them to create averages, highs and lows based on each statistic listed.
                                      Best                             Average                    Worst
Points/30:               14.9 (Curry)                    12.72                       10.8 (Conley) 
Rebounds/30:     4.5 (Westbrook)                  3.40                  2.5 (Flynn, Williams)
Assists/30:                6.5 (Paul)                        5.13                          4.6 (Flynn)
Turnovers/30:  1.9 (Williams, Paul)              2.36                3.0 (Flynn, Westbrook)
TS%:                      56.8 (Curry)                    49.78                        45.7 (Flynn)

Looking at the numbers, it's little surprise that the "best" players in each of these categories is a very good to All-Star caliber player. When looking at the "worst" players in each category, you still see some All-Stars players in there, but the name repeated often is Jonny Flynn. Part of his struggles could have been while playing in Kurt Rambis' triangle offense in his rookie season (as Flynn has the most success in pick-and-roll), but he also struggled in Houston and Portland as well.
Projection: 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.6 TO, 52.3 TS%

Lillard will struggle defensively early in his career, as the NBA is a far cry from the level of competition he faced in the Big Sky conference. That being said, his execution in the pick-and-roll in college, as well as the Las Vegas Summer League, has shown to be NBA-ready. He also has NBA-caliber quickness and athleticism, as well as a above average-to-good three-point shot. Lillard will obviously have to be more judicious with his shot selection, as he'll have an All-Star-caliber frontcourt player in power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. There will also be solid three-point shooters to space the floor in small forward Nicolas Batum and shooting guard Wesley Matthews.

Ultimately, Lillard will probably put up better numbers scoring numbers than just about anyone on this list did as a rookie, as his well-rounded offensive game and lack of competition at point guard will see him log more than my projected 30 minutes. He also showed a good feel for throwing lobs, which will benefit players like Aldridge, Batum and J.J. Hickson, is not the kind of passer/facilitator that Paul, Williams and Felton were as rookies. Portland isn't a great rebounding team, so Lillard will be at least respectable on the boards.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff homey, I am looking forward to the season, to see how it all plays out!