About a year ago Lillard lead Weber State to Victory against Eastern Washington in Cheney, WA. Tonight, hits a huge 3 to ice it in MSG.
— Ian Karmel (@IanKarmel) January 2, 2013
I was perusing John Hollinger’s advanced statistics on rookies the other day, and I noticed something interesting about Damian Lillard.
In true shooting percentage, a sabermetric statistic that considers free throws, three-pointers, and two pointers to develop a more accurate shooting percentage, Damian ranks 12th behind big name rookies Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond.
In assist ratio, an advanced statistic that is defined as the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist, Damian ranks higher, 5th, but still trails Minnesota’s Russian rookie Alexey Shevd. In turnover ratio, the same as assist ratio but for possessions that end in turnovers, Damian comes in at 16, behind a veritable stable of other Rookie of the Year candidates: Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Dion Waiters, and Bradley Beal.
In the more important advanced statistics, Damian does a lot better. Damian’s usage rate, an estimation of the number of a team’s possessions used by an individual player, is third among rookies, which is good, but is still behind Dion Waiters. Lillard’s value added score, the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above replacement, is second among first-year players, as is his estimated wins added score, but in both categories he is behind Detroit’s Andre Drummond.
But even if Damian scores highly in a couple of the more significant advanced statistical categories, in maybe the most important category, player efficiency rating, Damian is fifth. Ahead of him in PER are Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and once again Andre Drummond.
So what am I getting at here? Well, we’ve already seen the “hero ball” backlash against Damian being asked to do too much at the end of games, and so regardless of what Twitter seems to say about the inevitability of Dame pulling in the Rookie of the Year award, I can sense an advanced-statistics fueled campaign for somebody other than Portland’s rookie point guard to be recognized at the end of the season as the league’s best.
Tuesday evening, the Blazers got arguably their biggest win of the season when they successfully held on to five of what had been a 19-point lead against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Tuesday, Damian shot a not great 9-of-19 from the field and 2-of-8 from three, following up an 8-of-18 and 4-of-11 shooting night in Portland’s win on Saturday at home over the 76ers. Those are rookie shooting numbers, and that’s why one could see a guy like Anthony Davis or MKG sneaking into the Rookie of the Year conversation when it’s certainly clear that Damian Lillard is the best rookie in NBA.
How do we know Damian Lillard is the best rookie in the NBA? Because Tuesday night, as he’s done more than once this season, Lillard had the ball with the clock running down and his team needing a big bucket, and he got that bucket. It wasn’t a game winner, but it was exactly what his team needed at the exact moment they needed it. That’s what Damian Lillard brings to the Blazers.
Portland accomplished a couple things by beating the Knicks on Tuesday night. First, and maybe most importantly, they got a road win against a good opponent. The Blazers have now won five times away from the Rose Garden. The first four of those victories came against the Bobcats, the Cavaliers, the Kings, and the Rockets. Only one of those teams, the Rockets, has an above .500 record. By beating the second-best team in the Eastern Conference in an arena where they’ve only been beaten twice before gives Portland a game tape to watch, feel good about, and build off of.
The second thing the Blazers accomplished on the first night of 2013 might be a little harder to quantify than a win. Portland jumped out to a big lead Tuesday by taking advantage of the Knicks’ small front line, porous interior defending, and inability to get scores from anybody not named Carmelo Anthony. But a team like the Knicks, who will be around probably until the very end of the NBA season, doesn’t lose a game in the first half. New York came back, as everybody seemed to know they would. When playing a good team making a comeback, the key for the team trying to hold a lead is to not let the game get tied or let the lead change hands.
How many times have we seen Portland comebacks get to within five or three, but get no further because the Blazers were unable to get a big stop or convert on an extra possession? Lots of times. Portland let Tuesday’s lead vanish; they led by 15 with four and a half minutes to play and by three four minutes later. But through 48 minutes of basketball, New York never led. If Carmelo Anthony had capitalized on Damian Lillard’s inopportune turnover with 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 103-103, how do you think this one would have ended?
By building a lead, then holding a lead through a couple of dry spells, and finally putting the game on ice at the end, Portland showed that they are developing fortitude. There’s no column to chart the raise and fall of fortitude, but it’s a very important thing to have.
The danger of getting a win like Tuesday’s is that it makes it very easy for Blazer fans to get ahead of themselves. Portland still has three games left on this road trip, all against teams that are playing pretty well right now. If the Blazers lose to the Raptors, all of their work Tuesday won’t be for naught, but it will be diminished just a little bit. Certainly head coach Terry Stotts has had that conversation with his troops. The conversation that goes, tonight was great, but there’s always tomorrow.
Until tomorrow, though, the Blazers can take great pride in the way they played and in the win they got at Madison Square Garden. There might not be a whole lot to celebrate when the 2012-13 season is over outside of Damian Lillard’s emergence and the continued development of a couple of solid stars, but we can all at least celebrate that probably the toughest game of this trip is over and that the Blazers won it.
Portland is in Toronto tomorrow to face the Raptors.
Couple of quick things:
- Amar’e Stoudemire made his season debut Tuesday. He came off the bench, played almost 17 minutes, and scored three times. He looks rusty, but could very well round into shape at some point. I’ve never been a huge Amar’e fan, and considering how well Carmelo Anthony has been playing, he doesn’t really seem to be New York’s X-Factor. Who knows though, there’s a chance he sees what his team is capable of when healthy, which is a lot, and decides he’s fine coming off the bench and picking up Melo’s scraps. With his health history and contract, he’s almost an immovable object. In my mind, it makes sense for him to embrace his role as second or third fiddle. We’ll have to wait and see. Amar’e has never been one of the brashest stars in the league, he’s no Dwight Howard, but he does seem to cultivate a little bit of drama.
- Speaking of Carmelo Anthony, a game-time decision prior to tip, Melo went off on Tuesday. Anthony finished with 45 points on 24 field goal attempts. As with Amar’e, I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Carmelo Anthony. However, his game is undeniable.
- Wesley Matthews returned to Portland’s starting line-up, Tuesday. he played 30 minutes and contributed eight points. It wasn’t Wesley’s best outing, but he put the nail in the Knicks’ coffin with two big free throws. What Matthews really brings though, doesn’t show up in the box score, and no I’m not talking about intangibles like hustle or grit. With Wesley back in, there are more options in the rotation. Tuesday, Stotts played a number of line-up variations that included two or three bench players and two or three starters. With Wesley in the line-up this becomes much easier to do. Mixing starters and second-unit guys might seem unsustainable, since starters aren’t given full rest, but when you can play guys like Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Luke Babbitt, Victor Claver, and Will Barton at the two, three, and four positions (not Barton at the four and not Luke at the two obviously but you know what I’m saying) the combinations of who gets to spell which guy become almost infinite. Portland doesn’t have depth, so they have to manufacture it. They did that all game Tuesday, and it paid off. The Blazers got a big quarter from Nic Batum when he was sharing the court with all bench players, and Portland got some key contributions from Ronnie Price and Luke Babbitt when they were on the floor with starters.
- I said I’d bring back my Standings Watch once Portland got to two games above .500. They did it, so here it comes. By winning on Tuesday, the Blazers moved into 8th place in the Western Conference, a half game ahead of the Timberwolves, and a half game behind the Nuggets. If Denver had lost to the Clippers, Portland would have been in 7th. The Blazers play Minnesota on the third night of this current four-game trip.