SLAM: Stats Can't Measure Lillard's Brilliance
By DHawes22 Posted in: Blazers
By now you know. The NBA knows. Even you're grandparents know. Damian Lillard is the real deal. What he did in Las Vegas was no fluke. Through his first four NBA games, the rookie out of Weber State is averaging 19.3 points, 8 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game all while leading the Trail Blazers to a respectable 2-2 mark and making history
along the way.
Although the stat sheet reads smoothly the next morning — 20 points, 8-15 shooting, 9 assists, 6 rebounds (as was the case against Houston) — there's something extra, something intangible about his game that an internet box score just can't capture. If you haven't fully sat down and watched Damian Lillard play, you may not understand, but let SLAMonline's Eldon Khorshidi
paint you a picture.
The funny—or scary, depending on how you look at it—thing is, numbers aren’t even the best way to convey Lillard’s abilities. The true beauty of his game lies in the eye test; watching him run the pick-and-roll to perfection, break down his defender with a Gary Payton-like mean streak, consistently set up LaMarcus Aldridge for his automatic elbow jumper or dish to Nic Batum/Wesley Matthews in the corners. Lillard has solidified himself as Portland’s point guard of the future, bringing spontaneity and flair to an offense that’s been tedious for far too long.
While Aldridge and Lillard have only spent two months (tops) playing with one another, there's already a chemistry brewing between the two pillars of Portland's franchise. One particular method Lillard has been using to get Aldridge the ball at the top of the key has really caught my eye. Whenever Damian initiates the pick-and-roll on the wing and draws the defenders to the baseline, he'll bounce a behind-the-back pass, using the his outside hand, crisply to LaMarcus before the defense has any clue what just happened. The result? Buckets.
The stats. The eye-test. The wins. All things considered, it's been the competition Lillard has faced on a nightly basis which has made his performance all the more impressive.
In his NBA debut, Lillard (possible nicknames, anyone?) led the Blazers to an impressive victory over Steve Nash and the Lakers, posting a 23 point/11 assist/3 rebound line to join Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 assists in a debut. The dominance carried into the next two games, as Lillard posted 21/7/3 against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder (becoming the third player in NBA history with at least 20 points and 7 assists in his first two career games), and 20/9/6 against Jeremy Lin and the Rockets.
I use the word dominance because that’s how it’s appeared thus far. Lillard’s calm, cool and collected demeanor has seamlessly translated on to the court, as he is playing under control and at his own, commanding pace. Almost always, the biggest adjustment for rookie point guards is learning how to slow down, be patient and take what the defense gives (big reasons why John Wall and Brandon Jennings have had their share of struggles, and why Rajon Rondo always seems like he’s in control). Apparently, Lillard has already mastered this skill.
And it's not just writers who are taking notice of Lillard's calm, cool, collected approach to the game. After Portland's season-opening win over the Lakers, an unnamed scout told this to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix
Needless to say, I think the Trail Blazers have finally found the once-thought-to-be urban legend known as the "Point Guard of the Future." Now, there will be some bumps along the road, but enjoy the ride Rip City. Rookies of Damian's skill and maturity level don't come around this league very often and we're lucky he plays right in our backyard.