Friday, October 4th, 2013 at 3:00 pm  |  63 responses

Top 50: Damian Lillard, no. 28

Lillard’s sophomore season might equal fewer minutes and more wins.

by Branden J. Peters / @brandenlsk

When Damian Lillard dropped nearly 30 ppg on his way to earning back-to-back all Oakland Athletic League honors his junior and senior years in high school, he was overlooked and rated a two-star prospect. When he dominated the Big Sky conference at Weber State, he was still slept on. Even after he killed in Summer League after being drafted by the Trail Blazers, there were still doubters. All of these instances contributed to Lillard playing with a chip on his shoulder, which subsequently helped him to beast his way to Rookie of the Year honors last season and, according to us, one of the Top 50 players in the NBA.

Judging from his mentions in comments section of previous Top 50 player’s posts, Lillard is no longer under the radar or slept on. To paraphrase the great Tupac Shakur, All Eyez are now on Him.

Portland ended last season with a 13-game losing streak, which put an end to what would have been an unlikely playoff appearance for the team. During that stretch Lillard was extremely sporadic. Games littered with low shooting percentages (.214 vs OKC) and turnovers (8 of them in a nine-point loss to Denver) were the norm. Conventional wisdom says that Lillard most likely hit that invisible but oh so real rookie wall.

Clearly Portland’s slide wasn’t all on Lillard—the bench was marginal at best—but even as a rookie, he took on the responsibility of a leader and with that responsibility comes criticism.

Dame doesn’t shy away from that role but he knows he can do better:

“I’ve improved individually, but I think this year as the point guard and leader of the team, I could be more assertive in that role. Whether it’s speaking up more or taking over control of certain situations, I think I could have done a better job of that last season. Now that I got that first season under my belt, I think I’ll be more comfortable doing it. I’ll be better as a player and as a leader.”

Lillard’s 19 ppg and 6.5 apg are super solid stats that got him the ROY award. But keep digging and you also see that he averaged 3 turnovers per game and shot a paltry .429 FG% and .368 from beyond the arch. Kind of ugly right? Lillard’s quickness (that pull-up jumper is mean) and willingness to take contact are innate abilities that also helped him get to the line for about 3.5 ppg.

Enough of last year’s stats, this list isn’t about legacy or what has already happened, it is about what the SLAM team believes these players will contribute to their team in the upcoming season. So let’s break that down.

The additions of CJ McCollum and Mo Williams (and holdover Earl Watson) not only gives the Blazers extreme depth at the guard spot it also gives Lillard more of an opportunity to play off the ball. Both McCollum and Williams can run point and shoot, which should translate into open (read: better) shots for Lillard and less turnovers, if he doesn’t have to always handle the rock.

Lillard tied for second in the League with Kobe Bryant for most minutes played per game at 38.6 (remember that rookie wall thing?) largely because the Blazers relied too heavily on him. This year he’ll most likely play less minutes with the depth the team has. This will probably decrease his PPG and APG but he’ll be less fatigued down the stretches of games and that should contribute to better decisions and more wins.

There will be a lot of naysayers for placing him so high but there is no debating that Lillard is already arguably a top-10 point guard in the League. There are guys who shoot better, dunk more and have fancier passes, but Lillard brings that solid, tough, night-in-and-night-out game that many of his contemporaries lack.

Coming into his second season, Lillard says his goals are to make the All-Star team, Team USA and make the Playoffs (he predicts 46 wins). But ending the season on a bad note immediately put the sophomore slump conversation into play. That banter is yet another chip Lillard can add to his already crowded shoulders. Given his history of proving doubters wrong, I wouldn’t bet against him on any of those goals.


Where should Damian Lillard rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8
37 Rudy Gay Raptors SF 8
36 Paul Pierce Nets SF 7
35 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 11
34 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 7
33 Al Horford Hawks C 8
32 Andre Iguodala Warriors SF 6
31 Brook Lopez Nets C 7
30 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 6
29 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 6
28 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 10

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.

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  • MGM

    And just when I thought SLAM really messed up the Top 50, I saw this…

  • LakeShow


    I like him, but ya’ll are trying to make me not like him.

    He’s around 40-50 imo.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk


  • Junior Taylor

    Even though I’m not a huge Lopez fan (due to his inability as a 7-footer to grab more than 7 boards), how in the h*ll is Lillard ahead of a guy many consider to be the best center in the League?

  • spit hot fiyah

    i know a certain writer might have to write about a player being in a spot that the writer himself does not agree with. but come on, a little more effort in justifying the rankings would be nice.

    “The additions of CJ McCollum and Mo Williams (and
    holdover Earl Watson) not only gives the Blazers extreme depth at the
    guard spot it also gives Lillard more of an opportunity to play off the

    that was the only real argument that lillard will be better this year while playing less minutes and having his stats decrease, so not really that convincing.
    and very free use of the term extreme depth

  • Joseph

    I agree, this is the worst write up, and i’m not just saying that because i’m a fan of Lillard

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Actually, it doesn’t even do that.

    It ignores that adding guards takes away PLAYING TIME, you know, the only reason he was so productive last year….he led the league in minutes.

  • Joseph

    Haters gonna hate!

  • TR

    Lillard is my guy, his efficiency will definitely go up and the team will be better this year, but uhhh….hes at least 5-10 spaces too high.

  • Caboose

    Two different types of laugh. Yeah, this ranking sucks.

  • Caboose

    Who considers Brook the best C in the L?

  • Caboose

    Anyone else think Dirk is going way too high here?

  • Ant

    Why is Rubio in the top 50 but kemba walker isn’t? Doesn’t make much sense does it?

  • Eastside BP

    Clearly someone is scanning and not reading:

    “Lillard tied for second in the League with Kobe Bryant for most minutes played per game at 38.6 (remember that rookie wall thing?) largely because the Blazers relied too heavily on him. This year he’ll most likely play less minutes with the depth the team has. This will probably decrease his PPG and APG but he’ll be less fatigued down the stretches of games and that should contribute to better decisions and more wins.”

  • Caboose

    “This year he’ll most likely play less minutes with the depth the team has. This will probably decrease his PPG and APG but he’ll be less fatigued down the stretches of games and that should contribute to better decisions and more wins.”

    That’s the only thing Lillard has going for him right now…

  • Caboose

    Defense. Yes it does.

  • Dundler

    Did wonder this yday

  • Dundler


  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    SO, the argument is that he does more for his team by giving up responsibilities……..
    the added depth to the team, is going to give Lillard more of the credit for the teams ability to win games?
    he’s going to play less minutes, put up less points, less assists, take up less possessions but he will be more efficient, so his value will go up…….got it.

  • noob

    yea he should have been ranked alongside Lopez,

  • Caboose

    Honestly, why is Dirk considered better than Lopez? People get onto Brook for being a 7 footer who can’t rebound but Dirk’s hasn’t posted more than 7.0 rebounds a game since 2009-10. Lopez also scores at a more efficient clip, so I just don’t get it. Will Dirk magically return to his 2008/09 form at age 35?

    And I haven’t even brought up defense.

  • LakeShow

    I think he should be next, otherwise, yeah.

    He’s still one of the most lethal scorers in the L.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    i still don’t understand how these people are better than Al Horford….

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    A LOT of people.

  • LakeShow

    Really?? Damn, they are dumb.

  • Caboose

    That’s not fair to say. Two seasons of under 22ppg kinda disqualifies you from that title. Especially when you’re well past your prime.

  • Caboose


  • Evan Boland

    I think he was unfairly rated because of his injury. Expect him a lot higher next year.

  • LakeShow

    You may be right.
    Expecting a resurgent season.
    Around 22ppg 8 boards on 50%fg’s.

  • Caboose

    Why 8 boards? He hasn’t done that since he was 30. That’s 5 years ago.

  • LakeShow

    He was at 8 boards per 36 mins last year and I think he’ll be around 35mpg and therefore snatching 7.8-8.2 boards a game with no Tyson/Kaman/Brand there and Sammy D not exactly controlling the boards.

  • Caboose

    You know Sammy was at like 13rpg per 36 last year right?

  • Joseph

    I think the reason Kemba Walker isn’t in the top 50 is because he isn’t a top 50 player, just my observation

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    The thing is, around here, idk who was higher on Lillard going into his rookie season then I was (not tryna pull an i told you so, have some patience). I called him the darkhorse for rookie of the year, which he obviously won.

    Do we know why he won? of course we do, it’s because he led the league in minutes. Just to put things in perspective……

    – If you adjust his production per minute and put it up against Anthony Davis, it looks like a route…..http://www.basketball-reference.com/play-index/pcm_finder.cgi?request=1&sum=1&p1=lillada01&y1=2013&p2=davisan02&y2=2013….if you look at their advanced stats, it looks like a route…..even win shares, without adjusting for minutes are in Davis’ favor … (um, the guys team won 6 less games) … he played 1,321 ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE LESS MINUTES, yet he still finished with more win shares.
    and the one thing that we still haven’t even covered, that nobody seems to even mention……
    Defense, which is a lot a product of the uber demand being put on him on offense, but it’s also just him being a putrid and terrible defensive player. Even if he improves, it’s like improving from worst, to whatever is between that and bad. It’s just not conceivable that you can go from a bottom 5 defensive PG to something better than bad in a span of one season just because you are playing 6 less minutes a game.

  • Hum


  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    he was the best offensive Center in the league for most of last season. and the defense in Brooklyn was worse without him. He just doesn’t rebound particularly well (…he was playing next to Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries though, look at his rebounding numbers before those 2 were his teammate). i mean, the argument for Lopez holds some water.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    WAY WAY too high considering who is already behind him.

    not really, i have him at 30

  • LakeShow

    That’s nice, but who is going to play closer to 36 mins? Sam or Dirk?
    Sammy has played less than 26 mins the last 5+ years and only 16mpg last year, I have no idea what he will bring to the table.

  • LakeShow

    I agree that an argument can be made, but… no lol.

    Gasol, and Dwight before him with-out doubt imo.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    well yeah, we already know how i feel. i’ve posted my top 50 a whole bunch of times……might as well make it one more, http://scribbless.com/lists/list/169446

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    that’s like admitting, “we only paid attention to the box score, we didn’t actually watch him for the last 40+ games last season”

  • danpowers

    im pretty high on wright. if the mavs are smart they let him off the leash. he was very productive / efficient last season (for his standards) and should have a little more upside left. at least he’d give them more offensive capability while being almost as good as sammy at protecting the rim. but his rebounding is inferior to dalembert’s which could lead to slightly increased rebounding numbers for dirk.

  • zengarden

    i think its a perfect spot for lillard .. ..by next year he will be about 10 more spots closer to the top 10 …but yall should know by now not to doubt the dude…

  • Caboose

    Which I think might be a touch high

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Ehh, I’m looking at my list and I’m not really seeing it. Especially with the load he’s expected to carry

  • AddingVelocityDontTellMe

    How do you think cj McCollum will do? Compared to lil lard rookie year

  • KipSmithers


  • russian guy

    Am I crazy to think that Andre Drummond in 20 MPG was still alot better than Lillard? I think not. Compare Drummonds stats to Anthony Davis and you could still say Drummond was the better player.Sorry for going off-topic here,though.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Let’s just put it like this, Lillard was really good. And a lot of that is that he played so many minutes and was still that good (which is what this write up should’ve been about), even if Drummond was a lot better per minute, he would have had to have been twice as good to make up for the difference in minutes.

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  • Interdico Scriptor

    I’m back to not liking u again. lol. It is nearly season time & we are enemies, so let the LAL hating begin!

  • Interdico Scriptor

    It is Napoleon Dynamite’s bro v Waylan Smithers resurrected

  • Interdico Scriptor

    I thought u never inhaled?

  • Interdico Scriptor

    Rubio is white G & we gotta cater for whitey he pays the bills yo

  • Interdico Scriptor

    crack is cheap yo

  • KipSmithers

    Not related to Waylan.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    i’m not Bill Clinton

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