A closer look at Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard
PORTLAND, Ore. — This wasn’t a good season for the Blazers. The team didn’t live up to expectations and the majority of the players on the team came up short in that department as well.
The Blazers, however, finished the regular season with 41 wins, the picture of mediocrity. The team played much better after the All-Star break with an 18-8 record, fourth-best in the NBA. The Blazers were especially lifted by their performance in March, when Portland won 13 of 16 games. But even though the Blazers finished the regular season strong and made the playoffs, the season was a disappointment overall.
Some of the grades for the Blazers for this season won’t be pretty. They reflect the reality of what happened all season, not just in March.
The good news is the book has closed on the 2016-17 season. The players can work this summer to improve their games. The front office can make smart moves to improve the roster. Everyone gets a fresh slate, a blank report card, when training camp begins next October.
GRAPHIC INSTRUCTIONS: Take a stroll around the court and check out the player cards for the nine rotation members of the 2016-17 Portland Trail Blazers. Click on each card to open a larger version. Click on the card again to flip it over and see the back. To close the card you’re looking at, click it one more time. Mobile users, rotate your phone to see the full graphic.
- Starting point guard
- Player impact estimate score: 15.9
- Grade: B+
Lillard had the best statistical season of his career in 2017. He set career highs in points (27.0), rebounds (4.9), field-goal (44.4) and free-throw percentage (89.5). He was even better after the All-Star break, averaging 29.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while increasing his shooting from the field and 3-point line (46.7 and 41.3, respectively).
At the All-Star break, when many were calling for the Blazers to tank, Lillard told the media that he was going to “man up.” Boy, did he follow through. He was Western Conference Player of the Month in March, when he led the Blazers to a 13-3 record while averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 48.3 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from the 3-point line and 87.7 at the free-throw stripe.
Lillard’s defense continues to be an issue. He allowed 0.9 points per possession in isolation plays, which ranked in the 48th percentile of the league. And the Blazers allowed 109 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor, the worst mark of his career.
LILLARD’S DEFENSIVE RATING
- 2016-17: 108.9
- 2015-16: 107.3
- 2014-15: 102.7
- 2013-14: 105.1
- 2012-13: 107.2
There is good news. In March, when the Blazers played their best basketball of the season, Lillard’s defensive rating was 104.3, which would be the second-best mark of his career. Once Lillard had a legitimate defensive presence like Jusuf Nurkic patrolling the paint, his defense suddenly wasn’t as much of an issue.
When the Blazers’ “big three” — Lillard, CJ McCollum and Nurkic — were on the court together, the Blazers offense and defense were both elite. In 419 combined minutes over 20 games (during which the Blazers were 14-6), the Blazers scored 114.3 points per 100 possessions on offense and allowed 103.0 per 100 possessions on defense.
That offensive rating would have ranked No. 1 in the NBA. The defensive rating would have ranked fifth. It’s a small sample size, but it gives some credence to the thought that Lillard’s defensive struggles aren’t entirely of his own creation, but more a byproduct of not having the right players around him. After all, his best defensive season was in 2014-15, when he was surrounded by complementary defensive players (LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum, Wes Matthews, Robin Lopez).
Defense is Lillard’s only weakness. To reach elite status (and stop coaches from leaving him off the All-Star team), Lillard must improve his performance on that end of the court through internal progress and a better-equipped roster.
Blazers report cards
Note: Report cards weren’t made for Ed Davis, Pat Connaughton, Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier or Tim Quarterman, because they played too few games and minutes for an accurate assessment of their value.
How we determined each player's grade
These grades reflect where each player fits within the hierarchy of the league, as judged by statistical data. The NBA statistic “Player Impact Estimate” (PIE) was the data point used to calculate each grade.
According to NBA.com, PIE “measures a player’s overall statistical contribution” while they’re on the court. It is a comparable stat to Player Efficiency Rating (PER).
The formula to compute the statistic incorporates points, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, personal fouls and turnovers.
For context, Russell Westbrook had the highest PIE in the NBA with a score of 23, followed by Anthony Davis with a score of 19.2. An average player in the NBA, according to the PIE statistic, had a score between 10 and 11 and included players like Otto Porter Jr. and Marcin Gortat.
19 PIE and up — A+
17.7-18.9 — A
16.4-17.6 — A-
15.1-16.3 — B+
13.8-15.0 — B
12.5-13.7 — B-
11.2-12.4 — C+
9.9-11.1 — C
8.6-9.8 — C-
7.3-8.5 — D+
6-7.2 — D
4.7-5.9 — D-
3.4-4.6 — F+
2.1-3.3 — F
0-2.0 — F-
Jared Cowley is a digital producer at KGW. Follow him on Twitter here.