Damian Lillard vs Veteran Point Guards
We all know that Portland Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard is the best point guard of the 2012 draft class. And it’s not a stretch to declare Lillard the best first-year player among all positions this year. On Monday, Lillard accomplished another sterling achievement in his introductory season by setting the record for most 3-pointers by an NBA rookie in a single season. Lillard hit 3 of 7 3-pointers against the Utah Jazz and now has 169 on the season, he also added 17 points, five assists and five rebounds. Just another night at the office for the first-year point guard.
Now, with the NBA Rookie of the Year award all but delivered to Portland, it would seem unfair to constantly compare Lillard to his draft class and other standout first-year players through the years. But, it is in that context where the Lillard superlatives belong. Simply because nights like the one in Salt Lake City should remind Blazer fans that the rookie still has a ways to go to compete on the level of a veteran point guard, even a second-tier one like the Jazz’s Mo Williams.
Williams, who once got in through the back door to become an All-Star in 2009, is a skilled guy who has flourished both as a starter and a backup. But Williams is no Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Tony Parker or even Rajon Rondo who from some reason still can’t consistently drain a mid-range jumper but can take over a game (crazy, right?)
So Williams is a second-tier PG (at best) and yet Lillard still has problems slowing him or even staying in front of him.
On Monday night, Williams hit 6-of-7 from 3-point land and finished with 20 points and nine assists. Understand that Williams (12.6 ppg, 6.3 apg season averages) has scored 20-plus points five times this month since his return from thumb surgery – and twice he’s done it against the Blazers with Lillard as his primary defender.
After dropping 28 points in 29 minutes against the Blazers last Friday, Williams came out and did two things well on Monday night: run transition and shoot from distance.
- After forcing up a long two at the end of the shot clock during the Jazz’s first possession of the game, Williams waited until near the end of the quarter to score. Lillard drove inside and missed a layup and momentarily stopped to turn and watch his man take off down court. Williams breezed by Eric Maynor and got his layup attempt goaltended by Meyers Leonard.
- As the Blazers did on Friday night, Lillard switched to Randy Foye while Maynor stuck Williams for a short while in the second quarter. But the defensive switch led Lillard to make another miscue in transition. At the 3:16 mark, Lillard’s man, Foye, grabbed a defensive rebound and Maynor quickly backtracked and closed in on Al Jefferson who was fastbreaking down the right side. However, Lillard, in a jog, simply stretched out his arm towards Williams for someone else to pick him up. When Williams got open beyond the left arc, the closest man to him was Lillard who made a half-hearted attempt to get over there before Williams drilled the wide open shot.
- Within the final 90 seconds of the first half, Lillard returned to his first assignment, Williams. The Jazz only led 47-46 at this point and a stop would have been huge for the Blazers to potentially take their first lead of the game. As the play began, Lillard did a fine job chasing Williams, staying glued to his assignment as he circled from the top of the key, down towards the baseline and back. However, once Lillard cleared the forest and got out into the perimeter, he relaxed. No other way to say it. Lillard eased up as he saw Gordon Hayward drive and dish to Jefferson. When Lillard snapped out of it, Williams had already caught Jefferson’s outlet pass and rose to take yet another 3-pointer. … a good three feet in front of Lillard who was closing in late to contest the shot. Williams’ 3-pointer pulled the Jazz ahead 50-46 and the Blazers never held the lead.
Although Lillard has seemed otherworldly this season, he’s a lot like most first-year players in the sense that his defense needs improvement. Certainly, after collecting his ROY trophy, Lillard could use some time fine-tuning his decision making and defensive aptitude. Take a look at the last six games and how the opposing point guards played against the Blazers. Excluding the off night from Brooklyn Nets PG Deron Williams, note their inflated field-goal shooting percentage:
Mo Williams, UTA (Monday night): 7 of 12 for 20 points, nine assists, 58.3 FG%
Stephen Curry, GSW: 14 of 22 for 39 points, six assists 63.6 FG % (82.1 True Shooting %, which includes field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws)
Williams (last Friday): 10 of 19 for 28 points, five assists, 52.6 FG%
Deron Williams, BRK: 3 of 11 for 6 points, 10 assists, 27.3 FG%
Russell Westbrook, OKC: 9 of 18 for 21 points, nine assists, 50 FG%
Jeff Teague, ATL: 8 of 11 for 21 points, seven assists, 72.7 FG% (82.3 TS%)