Portland’s Damian Lillard has undoubtedly been the most impressive rookie after the first week of this NBA season. The Weber State product’s final season in college was downplayed by some due to the lower-level competition he was playing each night compared to the other lead guards in the draft. However, Lillard’s season was incredibly efficient, as he ranked second in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), shot 40.9 percent from three, ranked seventh among all draftees in True Shooting percentage, and turned the ball over at a minimal rate.
The sixth overall pick has been doing more of the same through his first four professional games, as Lillard is averaging 20.8 points per 40-minutes and eight assists a game, while keeping giveaways to a minimum and shooting an impressive 94.7 percent from the free throw line.
With the help of Synergy, let’s take a closer look at where Lillard is finding early success.
On-Ball Screen Shooting
Lillard has been excellent early on in finding space to get off a jumper through on-ball screens. He’s a great mid-range shooter and that will probably remain his most prominent offensive trait moving forward. The majority of his offense through the first four games has come from pick-and-roll situations and he’s relied more on the jumper when looking for his own shot. He’s currently averaging 0.87 PPP (points per possession) as the pick-and-roll ball handler, which is good for fifth in the league. Lillard has rarely taken bad shots or dribbled into traffic in these situations, showing patience that can often elude young point guards.
Two-man game with LaMarcus Aldridge
Lillard’s ability to be an effective shooter through pick-and-rolls will go along way in creating one of the more potent two-man games in the league. His teammate, LaMarcus Aldridge, is one of the best pick-and-pop bigs in the NBA due to his superb shooting from mid-range. Aldridge connected on 43 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet in 2012, according to Hoopdata.com. Lillard’s poise is once again on display in these actions, as he’s turning the ball over less than 10 percent of the time.
As you can see in the video above, defenses have had a difficult time guarding this duo when they operate through pick-and-rolls (or pops, however you see fit). The player defending Lillard often goes over the screen due to Lillard’s shooting ability, and on top of that, Aldridge’s defender must hedge enough to cut off any potential Lillard drive without completely losing sight of Aldridge. It’s a basic action, obviously, but the duo’s offensive talent should make it a staple of Portland’s offense moving forward. If Aldridge and Lillard are knocking down their shots, the rotations of opposing defenses must be on-point if they expect to slow them down.
While Lillard is only shooting 29.2 percent from three after a week (24 attempts), he’s 5-for-7 on those three-pointers labeled as “Spot-up” threes according to Synergy. Although that’s an extremely small sample size, it shows that Lillard can be effective shooting from deep when you factor in his 40.9 percent mark during his final collegiate season.
In the video above, Lillard once again runs a middle pick-and-roll with Aldridge and passes it off to him at the top of the key. Aldridge’s shot is cut off due to Houston’s Patrick Patterson recovering quickly enough. Aldridge compensates by dribble-driving to his left, grabbing Jeremy Lin’s (Lillard’s defender) attention in the process. As Lin over commits to Aldridge, it allows Lillard an open look for three with his feet set. A shot he’s often successful with. This action once again displays the effectiveness of the Lillard-Aldridge combination.
As teams begin to adjust to Lillard, he’s almost certainly going to hit some bumps in the road. However, when watching his play during these first four games, his poise on the ball for a rookie point guard shouldn’t be overlooked. A prime example of that came most recently against Dallas, as Lillard went 2-for-13 from the field, but still connected on all of his eight free throw attempts and turned the ball over just once.
Ultimately, Lillard possesses the skill set to be a star point guard — his poise and patience, shooting, and ability to get to the line are all major positives. Only time will tell if he’ll join the ever-growing list of point guards in the NBA.
Majority of statistics were collected from Synergy Sports Technology