Portland’s two best players are in the NBA’s top-10 for scoring a little less than a week after the start of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging 25.7 points on 54% shooting, and Damian Lillard is averaging 25.0 points on 47% shooting and 50% from deep.
Aldridge is becoming the leader of the team in fact, rather than just in principle. Sure, he’s been the Blazers’ best player for a while, but what we’re seeing now is superstar-level confidence that, combined with his unquestioned talent, is taking his game to the next level. We all knew he had it in him, but it’s really cool to see him actually push himself forward and blossom before our eyes into an upper-echelon talent.
For Lillard, he had a decision to make about the kind of player he wanted to be in the offseason, and it looks like he’s made it. A while back I wrote asking whether you’d want to see Lillard be a better scorer or passer (most of you gave the cop-out answer of “both,” but “scoring” came in second), and David just wrote an article highlighting Lillard’s ascension, at least thus far, into the NBA’s scoring elite. The early results are clear: Dame wants to be able to take over games by himself. So does Aldridge. Having two weapons like that is valuable, if not necessary, if you want your team to make a legitimate playoff run.
Other notable Blazer stats:
- Aldridge and Lillard are both in the NBA’s top-15 for minutes played per game. This is after so much emphasis was placed on Lillard leading the league in minutes played, and squawking about the importance of paring back his time on the court. Our spiffy new bench was supposed to help with that, wasn’t it? Let’s hope that this is one of many things Stotts has on his radar as the season progresses.
- Lillard is 3rd in the NBA in three point shots attempted per game with 8. This might seem a bit like overkill, but he’s hitting half of them… so who’s complaining? Not me. Fire away, Dame.
- Lillard is 24th in free throws taken, and 35th in free throw percentage (89.5%). Along with his three-point shooting, this will help keep opposing defenses honest, forcing them to respect both his perimeter game and his drives. He shot 84% from the charity stripe last year, which is just fine, but going from “very good” to “automatic” would certainly be a welcome progression.
- Nicolas Batum is averaging career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (6.0). I’m not sure what it says when a 6’8″ swingman is leading your team in both rebounds and assists, but that’s what they’re working with so far. Expect those numbers to settle a bit as the sample size increases.
- Robin Lopez is averaging 2 blocks per game, but just 4.3 rebounds.
Before you draw any firm conclusions from these, let me be the first to say: It’s only been three games, and it’s entirely too early to pass serious judgment or heap too much praise based on 144 minutes’ worth of work. However, at some point, these many dots will become a line, and those lines will become trends that shape how the Blazers fare this year. In that sense, I guess it’s never too early to start paying attention.