Oct 03

Lillard Looks To Be More Efficient While Continuing To 'Play How I Play'

By caseyholdahl

There wasn't much debate when it came to which player should win the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year award, as the combination of Damian Lillard's exceptional performance as Portland's starting point guard and the somewhat underwhelming seasons turned in by his fellow first-year players made the choice rather easy. So much so that Lillard became just the fourth NBA player to win Rookie of the Year by a unanimous vote.

But there were a few dissenting voices who said, while Lillard might have been the most prolific rookie in 2012-13, that didn't necessarily mean he was the most valuable rookie. And that entire argument was based on efficiency.

"… If you look at virtually every stat, (Anthony) Davis had a better year," wrote's Chad Ford in a chat on "PER, Win Shares, WARP, you name it ... all of them show Davis clearly as the best rookie last season."

The argument goes that while Lillard might have had far superior per game stats, other players like David and Andre Drummond, players who played far less than Lillard did in 2012-13, were more efficient and therefore more valuable. This is not an argument without merit, though the obvious rebuttal is that while it may be generally true that efficiency is a good marker of a player's value, it doesn't take into account that leading the league in minutes and playing in every game has an intrinsic value that isn't necessarily reflected in efficiency statistics.

"If I'm not as efficient, then that's one thing," said Lillard in May after winning Rookie of the Year. "But I think being out there, playing the most minutes in the league, playing every game is hard! The rookies that they said were more efficient, if they played the amount of minutes and played in every game and had the amount of responsibility that I have and then they were more efficient, then that's one thing. But we had completely different situations."

But now, it's Lillard who is in a different situation. During his rookie season, the Trail Blazers need Lillard to have a productive, if not efficient, offensive performance almost every night in order to have a chance to win thanks to having few scoring options outside of the starting five. That hopefully won't be the case this year after the Trail Blazers upgraded their bench with the likes of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright, Thomas Robinson and CJ McCollum, which, in theory, gives Lillard the option of being more discerning with the shots he takes.

"I do what to be a more efficient scorer and I think I could do a better job of getting to the free throw line, maybe taking better shots," said Lillard. "I got real comfortable taking tough shots because I knew I could make them, but I think taking better shots and getting to the free throw line a little more (will help improve efficiency)."

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts agrees that the next step for Lillard offensively is being more efficient, but he notes that Lillard has already made strides in efficiency as a professional after having to carry the bulk of the offensive load at Weber State.

"I think (Lillard) can shoot a better percentage, get his assist/turnover ratio where we want it," said Stotts. "It's not going to be him going from 19 points a game to 20 points a game, to me that's not the issue. I think it's the efficiency part of his game that, throughout the season I thought he became more efficient."

The three simplest ways a player can improve his efficiency on offense are to take more shots in the paint, take open three-pointers, particularly from the corners, and eschew long two-pointers whenever possible. And when speaking in general about NBA players, these things are true. But when considering what a specific player, in this case Damian Lillard, needs to do to improve his efficiency, the conventional wisdom might not be the best approach.

For example, the average shooting percentage goes up the closer shots are taken to the basket, which is why the all-time leaders in field goal percentage are all big men. But when you look at Lillard's shot chart from his rookie season, you see that he shot one of his worst percentages, 38 percent, from the area inside the paint, excluding the restricted area.


In contrast, Lillard shot 43 percent on "mid-range" shots categorized as shots taken outside of the painted area but inside the three-point line. He shot his best percentage, 53 percent, in the restricted area, so while you could claim Lillard would be wise to take more shots in the restricted area, it's debatable if more shots taken in the painted area would actually make Lillard more efficient.    However, after shooting 46 percent from eight to 16 feet and 43 percent from 16 to 24 feet, one could argue he'd be wise to take closer mid-range shots.

Then there's the issue of the corner three. Lillard set the rookie record for three-pointers made in a season with 185 makes, but he did so while making just nine three-pointers from the corners, which are the shortest three-pointers one can take. And while Lillard might benefit from taking more three's from the "short corner" it's questionable that he'll be in a position to do so as the team's starting point guard.

"Being a point guard my game is played a lot from the wing, top, slot to the wing, so I'm hardly ever in the corner," said Lillard. "I think that's just how it is being a point guard and me being on the perimeter so much. But having guys like Mo (Williams), Earl (Watson), CJ (McCollum), Dorell (Wright), Wes (Matthews) and Nic (Batum), we've got guys that can make these plays up top and they can handle the ball, so I might be spaced in the corner more often this season. Maybe I might shoot from there more often but last year it was just, I'm up here (points to top of three-point line). That's where they came from."

All of this isn't to discredit the idea that Lillard should strive to be more efficient. Even Lillard admits that he could use a bit of refinement on the offensive end, but it's important that he strikes a balance between taking steps to be more efficient while not sacrificing the parts of his game that made him so successful in his first season.

"I'm gonna play how I play," said Lillard. "We want to be more efficient and we're going to take better shots because we have more threats out there now, so there will be more open shots. Guys will be more willing to make that extra pass because we've got more shooters, but I'm gonna still play how I play. I just plan on making more shots and being better at the shots. Playing more efficient doesn't mean I'm not going to play how I play because I'm going to play my game. I'm just going to be better at it."

Which is perfectly fine by Stotts.

"We'd like to get to the rim more, we'd like to shoot more free throws, we want to shoot a better percentage from three," said Stotts. "That being said, Damian Lillard shooting an open 20-footer is a good shot. So you're going to have those opportunities that we want to take advantage of, but getting open shots and trusting each other that those shots will come, I think, leads to better efficiency."

You can expect to see some changes to Lillard's shot selection in an effort to be a more efficient offensive player, but don't expect to see a drastic transformation.

"If I come down in transition and I'm feeling comfortable and I get a guy on his heels, I'm still gonna raise up and shoot the shot," said Lillard. "I'm gonna miss shots. There might be a game where it's not efficient, but the plan is at the end of the season to be more efficient than I was last year.

"You've got to play. I'm always going to do what's best for the team and I'm always going to do what makes me, me."


  1. Hey Casey:
    I think the team will be more efficient therefore, that will usually mean Lillard will be more efficient.

    Passing the ball trusting players and moving players will see the efficiency go up.

    by Hg on 10/3/2013 2:31 PM
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