Damian Lillard’s role in a post-Aldridge world


Following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, it is no surprise that the bulk of the team’s leadership will fall squarely on Damian Lillard’s shoulders. With the influx of fresh talent for the new-look Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard, entering his fourth year, will be one of the longest tenured players on the team, and by far the biggest name remaining.

The most obvious way in which this new responsibility will manifest itself is on the offensive side of the ball. Lillard will be tasked with leading a largely unproven supporting cast, and it will be quite the load to bear. To set the stage, consider that last season Lillard posted a usage rate of 26.9%. Roughly speaking, this means that when he was on the court, Lillard used 27% of the team’s plays.

This was second on the team only to Aldridge, who had a usage rate of 30.2%. For context, last season only five players who played in at least 60 games had a usage rate of at least 30%. Besides Aldridge, the list includes Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade.

Feb 14, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Western Conference forward LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers (12) shoots the basketball during practice at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was apparent that the Trail Blazers utilized Aldridge a lot, but it is stunning to see just how much they relied on him by the numbers. Whenever I watched Houston Rockets games, it seemed as if Harden was almost single-handedly carrying that team, but in reality, the Trail Blazers used Aldridge nearly as much as the Rockets used Harden. I think I simply got used to how much Aldridge was called upon when the team was on offense.

These numbers have some poignant implications for the Trail Blazers’ immediate future. First off, there will be a ton of offensive possessions up for grabs next season, and secondly, when you take a look around the roster, it is clear that Lillard will be soaking up some of those possessions.

Lillard’s last season was already sneakily in rarefied air. He averaged 21.0 points and 6.2 assists per game with the aforementioned 26.9% usage rate, which turns out to be not that common. In the last ten seasons, there have only been 35 single-season performances by guards with at least a 20-point, 6-assist, 25% usage rate stat line.

Among those 35 performances, Lillard’s had the 13th best effective field goal percentage (which gives more weight to three-pointers), and the 16th most Win Shares. While often times it seemed as if Lillard struggled last season, the reality is that when compared with his peers, Lillard’s performance held up just fine.

This all begs the question, “What will Lillard’s output look like next season?” With Aldridge gone, I fully expect to see Lillard’s usage rate climb up to that 30% mark. While nobody will ever say that the Trail Blazers are better without Aldridge, I am excited to see how the offense develops without all of the ISO plays that were run for Aldridge.

More from Blazers News

Since Lillard will often be running the point and is a proficient passer, even a play that starts off with Lillard taking his man one-on-one can quickly transform into a play ending with him hitting an open teammate for an assist. Lillard’s game, and the entire offense as a whole will have to shift, and I’m sure this is what Head Coach Terry Stotts has been working on this off-season.

Assume, for a moment, that Lillard does hit that 30% usage rate in 2015-16, and assume that he at least maintains his numbers from last season; another 20+ points and 6+ assists per game stat line. None of that is a stretch at all. Realize, then, that in the last ten seasons, this has only been accomplished 18 times by a guard. Elite company indeed.

This team is now Lillard’s, and this will never be more apparent than when the Trail Blazers are on offense. Lillard has risen to every challenge thus far, so hopefully the team is in good hands.

More from Rip City Project

Next: Trail Blazers' new frontcourt dynamics