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Maynor Helps Lillard Bust Through The Rookie Wall

03/14/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0


    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN


    While many were searching for a rookie wall for Damian Lillard to run into somewhere a long the way, it appears that in the search of that wall, we already missed it.

    In the midst of Portland and Lillard's toughest stretch, the Trail Blazers acquired Eric Maynor from Oklahoma City with hopes that he could be someone who could help them manufacture points and be a back-up for Damian Lillard in the future. Portland had lost seven of their last nine games. Damian, 6th in the NBA in minutes played, had nearly all of the ball-handling and playmaking responsibility while also being the team's second leading scorer and best isolation threat off the dribble (7th in the NBA in points per possession among players with 100 isolations or more according to Synergy Sports Technology).

    Portland hit a rough patch in February, along with Lillard's efficiency. Aside from their struggles in November, February was their worst month offensively with an offensive rating of 101.5 (meaning they were scoring 101.5 points per 100 possessions). League average offensive rating is around 102.3. Making matters worse it was also their worst on defense, giving up 110 points per 100 possessions and they went 2-8 in their first 10 games in February.

    Dame was scoring more, but he was doing so simply by shooting better at the line and by taking more shots. He had a season-low effective field goal percentage (a metric that weighs the value of three-point shot along with two-point shots) of 46.9 eFG% in February. The first 10 games in February were also his worst three-point shooting stretch, as he was shooting 30.4 percent on threes.

    What's more, in those 10 games in February Lillard took just as many shots from midrange, the most inefficient shot in basketball, as he did at the rim and converting those chances at the same rate, 47.2 percent. While people were sitting around wondering if Damian Lillard was going to hit the "rookie wall," he hit it. He was still scoring 19.9 points and dishing six assists a night, but at times it appeared the responsibilities and grind of the season were wearing on him, even if he gave himself no excuses.

    Enter Eric Maynor. He came with big-game pedigree, but few could have envisioned the impact Maynor would have. And since Maynor's first game on February 24th, the Trail Blazers have had the NBA's most efficient offense.

    The Trail Blazers offensive rating is 113.1, in front of the Los Angeles Clippers who are second in the league in that stretch (112.9). The Trail Blazers have fluctuated between below and above average the whole season on the offensive end. Since Maynor's first game, the Trail Blazers have gone from average to elite.

    All year it was almost a given that if Lillard had a good offensive game, the Trail Blazers would be "OK". In wins this season, Lillard has shot 46.4 percent overall, 36 percent from three while scoring 19.9 points per game and dishing 7.1 assists. In losses, Lillard is shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 35.1 on threes, averaging 17.9 points and 5.8 assists.

    Since Maynor's arrival, Damian's numbers have skyrocketed so it should come as no surprise the offense has too.

    "It helps a lot," Lillard said of Maynor's presence. "Physically because I'm not exerting as much energy offensively or defensively, because he's taking that pressure of of me. Having to handle the ball the time, make every play. Defense can't just set up and get ready for me because I don't have the ball all the time coming up the court.

    In eight games with Maynor, Lillard is scoring 22.4 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 41 percent from deep. Lillard has cut out some of the fat from his shot selection and in eight games, he has taken 34 midrange shots compared to 46 in the restricted area and 44 shots from three. His effective field goal percentage, which was at 48.8 eFG% before the trade, has been 58.3 percent since the trade and is now at 49.9 percent on the season.

    It's also not just that Lillard is getting to the rim with more frequency, he's also finishing better. He's converting on 63 percent of his shots in the restricted area. His field goal percentage was 53.1 percent on those shots pre-trade but kept declining. The result has been an offense that has been the NBA's best since February 24th and Lillard's best stretch of play all season. This, Lillard agrees, also has some to do with the help of Maynor.

    "Yeah, like I said, that's everything."

    The move has allowed Lillard to play more minutes off the ball. The two-man unit of Lillard and Maynor has been a thorn in the side of the Trail Blazers' opposition, averaging 116.6 points per 100 possessions and being seven points per 100 possessions better than their opponents in 101 minutes over eight games. Lillard's minutes have only gone down slightly from 38.5 per game before February 24th to 38.1 after so it's not that he is resting, he's just been more free on the court. Defensively, there is a lot of room for growth with both of these guys and the team as whole, but the fact units with them have already been able to score so well is something that they can build on.

    While the Trail Blazers still try to find answers on the defensive end in the last 19 games, it seems that they've found what they needed to take their offense to the next level in Maynor. Now, it will just  be a matter of sustaining this recent offensive renaissance, something that won't be easy as they face playoff team after playoff team to finish the season.

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