The Sky Is The Limit
For just the fourth time in history, a player was unanimously given ROY honors. Only Blake Griffin, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson had done it before the Portland Trail Blazers’ youngster, and needless to say, those are three excellent players to be compared to at this stage in his career.
But while the 23-year-old has a bright future ahead, the question is: How can he become an even better player during his sophomore season?
Damian Lillard completed 36.8 percent of his shots from downtown, making a reduction in shot attempts tough to justify.
That said, he launched from long range 6.1 times per contest, putting him in a 13-way tie for third-most in the league behind Stephen Curry and Ryan Anderson.
It’s clear at this point that Lillard has the green light to shoot at his discretion, including early in the shot clock. But what the youngster must remember is that the roster is improved in 2013-14, meaning quick shots won’t always be the best choice with scorers by his side.
Further Develop as a Floor General
The word floor general is often used as a synonym for point guard. The problem is that anybody can be a point guard, while it takes a great basketball mind to truly run an offense.
In Lillard’s defense, he did an excellent job creating in his rookie season. It’s clear that he’s the point guard of the future this team has been searching for, and his 6.5 assists per game prove that he’s more than just a scorer at the professional level.
At this point in the process, you can’t knock Lillard for what he did last season—you simply encourage improvement. There were times when he forced passes down low, or took shots before looking for his teammates. If he can find a way to get his teammates involved (who will be much better than last year), he can get his assists up to elite levels in just his sophomore season.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, fewer minutes for Lillard may actually help his production.
By the end of his rookie season, Lillard had played more minutes than any player in the entire NBA. He didn’t miss a single game, and he averaged 38.6 minutes per contest along the way.
As much as people want to claim his minutes helped inflate his stats, the truth is that they also wore him down. He proved on multiple occasions that he can be counted upon in the clutch, but just think about how effective he can be with a fresh pair of legs underneath him.
Defense, Defense, Defense
We’ve heard it a million times, but quite frankly, there’s a reason we keep bringing it up.
If there’s one knock on Lillard’s rookie campaign, it’s that his defense was subpar at best. To his credit, he showed that his quick hands can help disrupt opposing teams’ transition opportunities, but players like Anthony Davis make it clear that a true two-way player can dominate on both sides of the floor.
What Lillard must do to improve defensively is stay in front of his man on the perimeter. He has the tough task of defending today’s ultra-athletic point guards on a nightly basis, but if he wants to prove the doubters wrong (as he says he does), this must be priority No. 1.
If Lillard can improve just one aspect of his game, this is it. He’s already proven to be very (very) good everywhere else, and turning defense into offense is the next step toward greatness.
Lillard has made it clear that he wants to be an All-Star this season, and if he takes his growth as a player seriously, he’ll be headed that direction before he knows it.