January 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30, right) look on during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Trail Blazers 103-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why Damian Lillard Will Surpass Stephen Curry

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.

Tags: Damian Lillard Portland Trail Blazers Stephen Curry

  • Thatguyyouworkwith

    “honed by the sting of defeat and the pride of victory, forged in the will to improve” made me think we were talking about an ancient weapon.

  • Gregory Carradine Jr.

    I don’t understand your point. In what way will he surpass Curry? He will never be as good a shooter as Curry. You mean as an all around point guard? You wrote about his 3pt shot attempts in his first season as compared to Curry this season. I don’t think he’ll every be able to break that record. The more talent they surround Lillard with, the less shots he will throw up. He is somewhat of a volume scorer now. Curry is deadly because of his accuracy; which is second to none. No one will be able to match that or really come close.

    • David MacKay

      It’s more that Lillard’s efficiency will increase, his usage will remain high, and his body will last a lot longer than Curry’s will. He will reach Curry’s current level of play in a few years, with a more reliable ability to drive substituted for paramount 3-point accuracy, but has a higher ceiling because he had a more impressive rookie year with 0 cringe-worthy health issues, and his efficiency will only get better.

      • Gregory Carradine Jr.

        I think you are overstating Curry’s injury problems. Through his first 4 seasons, Curry has played in 258 games. Through that same time period, 09-10 through 12-13, That is more than Paul 255 GP, Rondo 240GP and Rose 198GP. And its two less than Parker. He kept turning his ankle a few years ago because of the condensed season. But a lot of players got hurt that year because of that. Besides that season, he has always played in at least 74 games. And Lilly had a better rookie season because he had a green light. You can even make a argument that Curry had the better rookie season with everything considered. Curry had been playing with Monta Ellis for his entire career outside of this past season and it just so happened to be the best of his career. He still managed to put up very good numbers with the black hole that is Monta Ellis so you can’t really compare. Lilly has never had to share the ball with someone like that. The offense has been his from the jump. This is the first season Curry has had the keys to the ship. I’m not trying to say Lilly isn’t a great player because he is, but Curry has proven himself. Especially in the playoffs. Lilly had a good rookie season, lets see if he can sustain it. Remember, Tyreke has a great rookie season as well and was in the same class as Curry. Look where he is now.

        • David MacKay

          You make some very good points, though it is not that cut and dry for some of them. Ankle injuries (especially Curry’s in the case of torn ligaments) never really heal to 100%. Functionality may return, but he will carry those sprains and tears throughout his career, each one increasing the odds and severity of the next. It’s the very reason Golden State hesitated so long to give him his contract extension. Games played also does not account for the troubles he faced in the offseason, missing pre-season exhibition games in multiple years due to re-injury. Curry also played many injury riddled games that will not show as DNPs in the old box scores. As he ages, things will only get worse, and frequently troublesome surgically repaired ankles are a longterm death sentence for his style of play. Though, for now, Curry is an absolute monster. As for Tyreke, I understand the example, but don’t see that as a fitting comparison. I will, however, concede that playing with Monta may have stunted his production in earlier seasons.