Resume: 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 38.6 minutes (3rd in league), 185 threes made (5th in league), 43% FG, 37% 3PT, and 84% FT… Team record in games played: 33-49… 1st Team All-Rookie, Rookie of the Year
It’s really easy to get caught up in a player’s numbers and forget that sometimes “good stats, bad team guys” aren’t quite as good as we generally like to think that they are. Take for example Monta Ellis, an honorable mention on my list who is very comparable statistically to Damian Lillard. Check it out:
19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals (4th in league), 37.5 minutes, 42% FG, 29% 3PT, 77% FT… Team record in games played: 38-44
The resumes are pretty similar; impressive individual stats that didn’t necessarily translate into team success. So what differentiates Lillard from Ellis, aside from the lack of a large tree tattooed on his chest? Ellis just doesn’t have the “It Factor” that Lillard has already shown in just one season in the league. Seriously, I know Dame was a pre-season favorite to win Rookie of the Year after shooting up draft boards two summers ago, but how the hell does a Weber State Wildcat come into the NBA after tearing up the Big Sky Conference and handle the rigors of a long season with very few hiccups along the way? Lillard’s rookie campaign rivaled that of Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose, past Rookie of the Year winners, All-Star point guards, and upcoming top 20 players in my countdown.
It’s not just Lillard’s numbers that are noteworthy. You rarely got the impression that he wasn’t accustomed to seeing players that talented—which if that had been a problem, you couldn’t really blame him; he played in the Big Sky Conference for goodness sake—or that the game was moving too fast for him. On any given night Lillard could outshine the best players in the world. He played at his own controlled pace and rarely, if ever, was blatantly overmatched on the court. Defensively he has a long way to go which does make sense when you again consider the whole Big Sky Conference, crappy competition thing from college. But offensively he has a chance to be a special talent. Armed with a deadly pull up jumper and a three point range that earned him the rookie record for three-pointers made in a season, Lillard can rival Kyrie, Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry, John Wall and Rose going forward in this golden age of point guards.
With an improved yet youthful roster, the Blazers might find themselves in the playoffs sooner rather than later with Lillard and teammate (and upcoming Top 50 player) LaMarcus Aldridge as the catalysts. I would bet all of Jamal Malik’s 20 million rupees that next year when I drag myself through this arduous process yet again, Lillard will be ranked higher than #32. There had to be a learning curve of some type for Lillard to deal with. When he’s completely comfortable out there, look out.