Damian Lillard Is Still Improving

Jan 20, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) shoots during the first quarter as Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard is used to taking a back seat when it comes to the limelight. Lillard is from the point-guard haven of Oakland, Calif., that produced the likes of Jason Kidd and Gary Payton and yet he only got scholarship offers from three Division I colleges after his high school days were up: San Diego State, Saint Mary’s and his eventual choice, Weber State.

Lillard didn’t sulk or get upset; he used this as motivation and worked super hard, put up monstrous numbers and ultimately was selected sixth overall by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2012 NBA Draft. The selection (the same as his time at Weber State) turned out to be exactly what Lillard needed and he has thrived ever since.

Rookie of the Year

Lillard unanimously took home Rookie of the Year honors last season and won Rookie of the Month EVERY month during the season. He played and started in all 82 games last season and though the team didn’t have much success — going 33-49 — Lillard always worked to improve.

Now in his second year, Lillard is showing that he wasn’t a flash in the pan as he has actually improved in almost every facet of his game. Lillard is constantly compared to the 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year — Kyrie Irving — for obvious reasons. Their games are very similar and though at first glance Irving seems to be more explosive Lillard has shown the ability to leap as well. See below (from last year):

The Jump

Now take a look at their first two-season comparisons and the growth that Lillard has shown from year one to year two. I think the consensus is that Kyrie had the better of the two rookie seasons, but when you look at the details I’m not so sure.

For starters Lillard played and started in all 82 games, he set the rookie record for 3-pointers made at 185 and averaged less turnovers per game in more minutes played.

2012-13 22 POR 82 82 38.6 .429 .368 .469 .844 3.1 6.5 0.9 0.2 3.0 19.0
2013-14 23 POR 40 40 36.1 .422 .438 .408 .900 3.8 5.8 0.8 0.4 2.3 21.4
Career 122 122 37.8 .427 .394 .450 .866 3.4 6.3 0.9 0.3 2.7 19.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/20/2014.

Kyrie started every game he played as well, but managed only 51 games played his rookie year (it should be noted that 2011-12 was the lockout-shortened 66 game schedule but Kyrie still missed 15 games due to injury). Irving averaged more points in less minutes and shot better percentages from the floor.

2011-12 19 CLE 51 51 30.5 .469 .399 .491 .872 3.7 5.4 1.1 0.4 3.1 18.5
2012-13 ★ 20 CLE 59 59 34.7 .452 .391 .474 .855 3.7 5.9 1.5 0.4 3.2 22.5
Career 147 147 33.4 .451 .385 .474 .853 3.5 5.8 1.3 0.4 3.1 20.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/20/2014.

To each their own but when you consider durability, toughness and clutch shot-making I’m taking Mr. Lillard 100 percent of the time.

Clutch Gene

Much of the MVP talk is going to LaMarcus Aldridge this season — rightfully so — but when the game is on the line and the Blazers have needed a big shot, the play is always drawn up for Damian Lillard. What usually happens? Hint — he doesn’t like to disappoint. In fact, his first victim this year was Kyrie’s Cavs — see below:

That kind of shot is becoming commonplace for Damian this season and he’s one of the main reasons they sit at 31-10 after Monday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets. If that video wasn’t enough, there are also stats to back up Lillard’s clutch gene.

Lillard seems to do his best work when his team is trailing and the game is on the line:

Tied or trailing by five points in the last five minutes of the game he’s shooting 15-for-29  (51.7%) from the floor and 8-for-16 (50%) from the 3-point line. Good, right? It gets better.

Tied or trailing by five points in the last minute of the game he’s shooting 6-for-12 (50%) from the field and 3-for-7 (42.9%) from deep. Just wait…

Tied or trailing by three points in the last 30 seconds of the game Lillard goes bananas. He’s an unreal 5-for-7 (71.4%) from the floor and 3-for-4 (75%) from the land of plenty. It’s OK, pick your mouth up off the floor and continue — those numbers are like something out of the Twilight Zone. Nobody is supposed to get better as the game gets more intense and pressure-packed yet that’s exactly what Lillard does.

Just in case you were curious — Irving in the same scenarios: tied or trailing by five in last five minutes shooting 40.9 percent overall and 35.7 percent from 3. Tied or trailing by five points in the last minute he’s at 31.3 percent overall and 16.7 percent from deep. Tied or trailing by three points in the last 30 seconds he’s 28.6 percent overall and 33.3 percent from the land of plenty.

Still want Uncle Drew over Damian “4barFriday” Lillard? Be my guest…

**You can contact Chris regarding this article or anything basketball related on Twitter: @Chris_Reichert

Topics: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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