Here at Rip City Project, we will be releasing report cards for the Trail Blazers’ top rotational players over the next week or two. We’re going to lead off the series with two players Blazers fans have become very familiar with this season: point guards Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor.
Damian Lillard | #0 | Guard
The Blazers went through a tough season, and one that was at times difficult to watch as the team missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. The saving grace was the team’s 6th overall pick from Weber State, a point guard named Damian Lillard who worked hard to become the Rookie of the Year by unanimous vote.
Lillard was everything Blazers fans could have hoped for, and probably more. Offensively, he was the sweet-shooting star on the perimeter the Blazers haven’t had since Brandon Roy. Only one rookie came within one three-pointer made of Lillard’s 2.3 per-game mark (the Wizards’ Bradley Beal), and only the Cavaliers’ Dion Waiters came within five points of Lillard’s 19.0. Assists? Lillard nearly doubled the rookie that finished in second place, averaging 6.5 to Alexey Shved’s 3.7.
Compared to Raymond Felton the season before, Lillard was a significant step up as he was able to score consistently and get the offense going. The Blazers don’t have many perimeter players that can create offense with the ball in their hands, but with Lillard fulfilling that role, their many shooters had space to work with. Lillard also proved to be a reliable closer in games for the Blazers, winning them a few in the final minute himself (Exhibit A, B).
Lillard did struggle somewhat with turnovers (3.0 per game) and efficiency (42.9% from the field). For a rookie with his workload, it’s not particularly surprising. Those are fixable problems that should wither as Lillard gains more experience.
All things considered, Damian Lillard put in a great rookie season for the Trail Blazers. It exceeded all expectations, and set a precedent for even greater seasons to come. It might not have been perfect, but certainly there wasn’t much more that could have been asked of him.
Eric Maynor | #6 | Guard
Portland’s bench woes last season cannot be overstated, as they received inconsistent play from just about every bench player and finished in the bottom three of just about every bench statistic. At the trade deadline, the Blazers picked up Eric Maynor from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for the draft rights to Greek player Giorgos Printezis. In the 27 games that Maynor played for Portland, he was the closest thing they had all season to a reliable sixth man off the bench. He might have been the only consistent bright spot for the team when the starters checked out, and he proved to be a great addition at the deadline.
Maynor doesn’t identify much as a scorer, and it shows on his stat sheet. What he was able to do for Portland was run the offense when asked to, and make the right play within the system. Maynor’s 4.0 assists per game was an exceptional number given his playing time, and he helped to pace a second unit that had struggled heavily without him on offense. He was even able to knock down a three from time to time at a decent rate, which is about as much as could be asked for the career 35.4% shooter from beyond the arc.
Don’t mistake Maynor for a J.R. Smith-level player, however. Portland was desperate enough for bench help that they would gladly play Maynor, a competent and steady point guard, but his defense was a major weakness for the team. He regularly struggled to keep up with opposing point guards, and even by Portland’s low standards on that end of the floor this season, he was one of the Blazers’ worst defenders.
Maynor’s offensive impact was beneficial, but his defense was the very opposite. His impact as a pass-only point guard was limited, and he’s primarily a stopgap role player. Maynor’s contract expires after this season, and he will be a restricted free agent. It’s likely that he will be brought back, especially if Portland can get him on a cheap contract. However, it remains to be seen if he will be relied upon for 20+ minutes per game again. Certainly, he won’t be the Blazers’ best sub.
For now, consider this season to be a relatively good one from Maynor, and be grateful the Blazers were able to get him cheap. He had his flaws, but at the same time, he was a much-needed upgrade for Portland’s bench.