The Trail Blazers have drawn comparison to the Golden State Warriors for a few months now. Both are young squads piloted by a burgeoning point guard and an established power forward, they both rain threes from the exterior and struggled defensively on the interior (until Bogut got healthy at least), and they were both rookie-laden last season. The biggest differences were a year of experience here and there, and depth.
While the Blazers have far from caught up experientially, they’ve managed to replace their bench with a few handy vets and some raw, moldable talent. But let’s face it; they are not the same team. The parallel I would like to draw is, instead, on an individual level. What Stephen Curry was able to accomplish this year is a glance into Damian Lillard’s future.
Stephen Curry is, and will probably always be, a more efficient 3-point shooter than Lillard. It’s hard to argue against a career low of 43.7% over four seasons when you only shot 36.8% yourself. This doesn’t mean Lillard won’t improve, but expecting a sharp upgrade in accuracy and consistence is unprecedented. However; Damian Lillard did manage to break the record for most 3-pointers made in a rookie season, previously held by one Stephen Curry.
Here is why this is important: 39% of Lillard’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc this year, 6% more than Curry in his rookie season. The division of Lillard’s offensive usage sets him on the fast track to specializing. Where Curry began with 380 3-point attempts his rookie year, Lillard began with 503. Any guesses how many treys Curry took this year? 600 even. Lillard was closer to present day Curry than rookie Curry in this regard.
At this stage of Lillard’s career, each shot is a mental refinement of his game. That is my single favorite thing about basketball; every shot is a culmination of its predecessors’ failures and successes, honed by the sting of defeat and the pride of victory, forged in the will to improve. With Lillard’s work ethic and exclusive shot selection, he is well on his way to competing with Steph. Again, it won’t be immediate, but with time and practice, Lillard will be a premiere ranged shooter in the NBA.
The two also share a comparable quickness, but this is where Lillard has the advantage. Curry’s glass ankles are enough to train any fan base to live without oxygen, but no one is holding their breath to see if Lillard can stay on his feet. Lillard is 2 years younger and played all 82 games last season, hardly sweating a league high 3,167 minutes logged, whereas Curry was very fortunate to string together a fairly complete season.
By the time Lillard hits his 3rd or 4th season, the semblance will be undeniable. A hyper-agile point guard that shoots threes like they keep the world spinning and can orchestrate the offense at a high level sounds very familiar. Curry led the Warriors with 22.9 ppg this year; think Lillard can meet that mark before he turns 25? He may even match Curry’s defensive production (steals-wise) if his training with Gary Payton pans out.
The great thing is that Lillard’s ceiling is probably higher than Curry’s. For the stat-driven readers, his offensive and defensive ratings are practically mirrors of Curry’s rookie ratings (Lillard: 108 O, 112 D; Curry: 107 O, 111 D), yet he lacks the aforementioned ankle problems that stand to stymie Curry’s ability to finish at the rim in the long run. This year’s healthy Curry is the closest comparison for where Lillard should be in the last year of his rookie contract.
So while the current Blazers, as a whole, may not replicate the Warriors’ newfound success, there is one shining star that may surpass it. By the time Damian Lillard is 25, the team will look entirely different, thanks to Olshey’s short term contracts plan, but you can rest assured Lillard will be a big part of Portland’s future, and his future looks bright.