Portland Trail Blazers: Comparing Rookie Years of Damian Lillard and Chris Paul


Damian Lillard is far from a carbon copy of Chris Paul, who’s fresh off a 31-point, 15-assist night against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night.

Obviously Lillard has much to learn before people can start putting him on Paul’s platform, but he’s certainly on the right track to becoming one of the game’s most celebrated point guards.

Coming out of college, Lillard was more scoring guard rather than pass-first guard. Scouts gave him that reputation because it’s not all too often that “true” point guards average 24.5 points per game, but only four assists.

Perhaps the talent around Lillard at Weber State stunted his assist numbers a bit, as Weber State isn’t traditionally known to be a powerhouse program such as Duke or Kentucky. That may even seem like a likely proposition with the youngster seeing nearly a three-assist upswing in his first year at the NBA level.

Paul, on the other hand, instantly surfaced to be a “true” point guard. He wasn’t merely the shooter that Lillard is, but he had such poise for a young point guard at the helm of an NBA team, turning the ball over just 2.1 times per game.

Below are Paul’s rookie year stats stacked up against Lillard’s stats through 32 games this year. Take note of the smaller sample sizes.

As the comparison suggests, Lillard is the superior shooter of the two. Yes, Paul did have a higher overall field goal percentage, but that’s due to the fact that the bulk of his shot attempts were closer to the basket.

According to NBA.COM, 230 of Paul’s 947 field goal attempts were from nine feet or closer. Closer attempts generally mean easier shots, which was inevitably the case for Paul. So in turn, his field-goal percentage is currently better than Lillard’s.

But now I turn you over to eFG percentage, which values the difference between 2-pointers and 3-pointers. Looking at the chart again, hopefully you can detect the difference. If not, take a peek at their respective 3-point shooting percentages and perhaps that will paint a clearer picture.

The above charts also indicate that Lillard is scoring the ball at a slightly higher clip than Paul did during his rookie campaign. But to do so, he’s taking roughly three more shots per game, which again, attests to his scoring prowess, whereas Paul’s strength is being a reliable distributor.

However, Lillard doesn’t have much of choice but to shoot a lot shots and score a lot of points, as outside of LaMarcus Aldridge (20.2 PPG) and himself, the Blazers don’t really have anyone else capable–on a consistent basis at least–of scoring 15-plus points per game.

Nicolas Batum may beg to differ, but he can be wildly inconsistent offensively, as can the streaky Wesley Matthews.

Still, Portland is on the cusp of playoff seed by riding their rookie point guard because he thrives in a role where he’s called upon to put the ball in the hoop.

Now to Paul’s case…

In 2006, Paul didn’t have much of supporting cast either, to be sure. New Orleans’s offense essentially revolved around a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop scheme between David West and Paul. Eventually, Tyson Chandler came along and provided Paul with an alternative weapon. But that’s a story for another day.

After Paul and West, Speedy Claxton was the Hornets best scorer, which is saying something as Claxton wasn’t a reputable scorer. From Claxton, the Hornets’ scoring went downhill with only one more player averaging double figures. With barely three productive players, they averaged just 92.8 points per game as a team, which ranked 25th in the league.

Realistically, Lillard and Paul are or were in similar positions as rookies. They both have or had capable a big man to run various picks-and-rolls through, but are starved for another options. Portland’s roster probably consists of more talent when it’s all said and done provided that they have a younger core with more upside.

While Lillard’s future is extremely bright, he can’t be deemed a Paul-esque talent quite yet. He’s on the right track, yes, but let’s give him some time before comparing to basketball’s best point guard.

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