The Trail Blazers made a point to collect scorers in the offseason. They signed Mo Williams and Dorell Wright in free agency to go with CJ McCollum in the draft; all excellent scorers off the bench (though McCollum has yet to play as he recovers from a broken foot). Every sign pointed toward Damian Lillard, who led the league in total minutes played last season, playing fewer minutes and sharing the scoring burden with his new teammates.
By this token, many anticipated that his gaudy scoring figures would dip, while his assist numbers would climb to new heights. That, however, has not been the case. In his first 3 games of the 2013-2014 season, Lillard has averaged an impressive 25 points with just over 5 assists per game (compared to his 19 ppg and 6.5 apg last year). Instead of settling into a facilitating role, he has grabbed the scoring reigns more tightly and shown his star potential.
It’s incredibly telling with regard to what kind of player he will be. The Blazers were pleasantly surprised to find a rookie that could score when he had too last season, but the question remained: What if he didn’t have to? Now that Portland’s supporting cast is riddled with help in place of incompetence, Damian Lillard has not only continued looking to score, he’s done so more aggressively with even better results.
Three games is a minuscule sample size compared to a full 82 game season, but the apparent trends look remarkably positive. Damian Lillard is scoring more points in fewer minutes with greater efficiency. His field goal percentage has made an astounding four percent leap (43% to 47%) from last year and his attempted free throws per game have nearly doubled. Getting to the line on a consistent basis, as a point guard, is the unmistakable mark of a scorer.
So, as strange as it seems, having more capable teammates has not led Lillard to relax at all. The presence of more offensive threats on the Blazers’ roster has merely opened up the floor for him to operate in a smoother fashion. So far, his penchant for points has come at the expense of only one fewer assist per game. That’s a trade-off the Blazers can live with if it means that their 2013 Rookie of the Year becomes an all-star caliber player.