Damian Lillard’s demeanor on the court exemplifies poise. An intelligent ball player with a tactician’s approach to the PG spot, Portland’s rookie guard is taking the Blazers’ offense by the metaphorical horns. Rather than press on with more vague celebrations of his “demeanor”, let’s do some quantifying.
To this point, the Blazers are five games into the new season, this is what Lillard’s stat line looks like: 19.3 ppg, 8 apg, 3.4 rpg, 95% from the free throw line. There are a few chinks to the Weber State product’s armor. Particularly, Lillard has to find a way to be more assertive on offense, as he only gets to line about 2-3 times per game (of note was his game against Dallas, when Lillard took 8 free throws, his highest count so far). Needless to say these improvements will come as the season rolls along. After all, we are only just beginning the new season. Lillard went through something of a baptism-by-fire at the hands of the NBA’s premier floor general, Chris Paul. In the Blazers’ Thursday night matchup with the LA Clippers, Lillard got his first taste of point guard supremacy. From the onset, Paul took it to the rookie, taking either side of the court for his own on offense to post Lillard up. Initially, the 22-year-old native Oregonian stood strong. But, just as quickly as Paul would receive the ball on either block, Lillard would suddenly find himself staring at the back of a jersey he could have sworn was in front of him a second ago. At 6’2”, Lillard had about 2 inches of height on Paul, but it hardly mattered. In the first half, Lillard was doused in a bevy of signature CP3 trickery. From inside out dribbles to pull-ups, Paul seemed to want to throw everything at the young point guard. With that being said, this matchup came down to a couple of things more evident than the Paul/ Lillard matchup (Lillard’s statline of 16 pts, 4 assists, 2-4 from deep was solid). Though Paul was tiring the rookie out with his offense, the Blazers really started to shoot themselves in the foot in the late stages of this game. Nicolas Batum had another great game collecting 23 pts, 9 rebs, and 5 ast. It was Stotts’ decision to put Batum, rather than Lillard, on Paul that allowed the Blazers to cut a 20 point deficit down to single digits by the 4th quarter. Nonetheless, he became part of the problem late in this game. On a switch that ended with the frenchman guarding DeAndre Jordan. Down by single digits, Batum managed to stay with Jordan with just over 4 seconds on the shot clock. The possession ended with Batum bailing the Clippers out with a foul. Jordan was a good 10-12 feet away from the rim, far from his range. LaMarcus Aldridge had a quiet night, putting up 14 points and 4 rebounds, though he did have 5 assists. Aldridge’s 7-17 from the field wasn’t too bad, but he had some trouble getting his normally steady jumper to fall. Part of his struggles were due to some great defense on the part of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers’ front court made getting into a rhythm difficult for the Blazers’ all star power forward. Wesley Matthews was the bearer of the Blazers’ worst stat line last night. Shooting 4-12 from the field (1-4 from deep), Matthews put up a pedestrian 10 points. He also turned the ball over as many times as lillard (3). Of positive note was Matthews’ 4 assists and 3 steals. Nonetheless it was an inefficient showing.Once again, I feel that it’s necessary to reiterate: the Blazers’ season is 5 games old. The NBA season as a whole has only begun to kick into gear. The special quality this game had, in terms of Lillard, was in the rookie’s first test against the peak of his position. It was Lillard’s chance at exposure to the kind of backcourt quality to which he’d like to be considered a comparable (perhaps even superior) peer one day. The Blazers’ first round pick didn’t put up a 20, 9 line, but with just 3 turnovers (Paul himself had a pair of cough-ups) and playing his team into a position to win, we can all agree that Lillard wasn’t too overwhelmed.
Mohamed Abdihakim is a journalism student at Florida Atlantic University. He is a Phoenix Suns fan, who is not prepared for the possibility of Nash winning a title in a Lakers jersey. Mohamed is also a contributor at “Les Snobs”. Interests include International basketball, Mad Men, and blues music. Nearly all stats are credited to Hoopdata or Basketball-Reference.Twitter handle: @Abdi_hakim