Logging a whopping 3,166 minutes this season, Damian Lillard became the first rookie to lead the NBA in total minutes played since Elvin Hayes in 1969. Lilllard started all 82 games this year without any significant injuries. Averaging 38.6 minutes per game, Damian tied for second highest average with Kobe Bryant (Just below #1, Luol Deng, and #4 Kevin Durant).
Portland was the perfect storm for this to happen; a young team with limited depth in a rebuilding season. It turns out, when you are arguably the best player in your draft class you see a bit of court time. When Portland drafted Damian, I had high hopes for him, but would have settled for any performance that made me forget Raymond Felton’s buffoonish stint with my team. Now, we depend on him more than anyone.
As you may have heard, Damian just locked up Western Conference Rookie of the Month for his 6th consecutive time, sweeping the season. On a month-to-month basis, Damian Lillard has invariably been the highest scoring rookie in the NBA. As his work load increased, his production climbed, as would be expected for most players. However, it is uncommon for someone so inexperienced to rise to the challenge when pushed so hard. He is consistent like a veteran, but durable like a college kid and the numbers back it up.
November: 18.4 Pts / 5.9 Ast
December: 18.2 Pts / 6.9 Ast
January: 17.6 Pts / 6.8 Ast
February: 19.8 Pts / 6.2 Ast
March: 21.3 Pts / 6.8 Ast
April: 19.0 Pts / 6.2 Ast
The marriage of minutes and production tell a story of dependability. It is now Portland’s job to build a team around Lillard. I know, I know, our supporting cast is great already, but our extras are lousing up the scene. With an extended bill of role players, Lillard could be the star of the show for years to come and if the Blazers act smartly, they’ll be performing on the national stage.
The important thing for Portland to do now is surround Damian with players that can make his life easier. Although it is impressive that he can play into the ground, he shouldn’t have to. I want Damian to last a while more than I want to see his name atop the playing time leader board. Still, I can’t help but look back on this season and wonder how he did it.