Does Damian Lillard Have Derrick Rose's MVP Ceiling?
Damian Lillard hasn't officially locked up the Rookie of the Year award, but he's already thinking about adding to his hardware collection.
He's already established himself at the peak of his draft class. He leads all rookies in scoring (19.0 points per game), assists (6.5) and minutes played (38.5).
And he needed all of 74 NBA games to put his name in the record books. The first of his three long-range bombs against the Utah Jazz on Monday night gave him 167 on the season, breaking Stephen Curry's previous mark of 166 set in 2009-10 (via Sean Highkin of USA Today).
But Lillard's plans for his career extend beyond a strong rookie season. And well beyond it at that.
“I think I can be a first team All-NBA, I think I can be an All-Star, I think I can be an MVP,” he told Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet.
Clearly he doesn't share the views of those draft analysts that knocked the 6'3" point guard for the inferior competition level he faced during four seasons at Weber State and for a stat line suggesting he was more of a scoring guard (24.5 PPG as a senior) than a natural point (4.0 APG).
Confidence is a key component among all of the league's greats.
But just how realistic are the lofty goals that Lillard has laid out for himself?
If he hopes to join Derrick Rose as just the second point guard to win the MVP award since Steve Nash took home the trophy in 2005 and 2006, he's got some work to do.
For starters he'll need to use his elite-level court vision to elevate the level of his teammates.
Of the 13 MVP winners since 2000, only four have played on teams with a winning percentage of less than .700: LeBron James' Miami Heat in 2011-12 (46-20, .697), Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers in 2007-08 (57-25, .695), Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns in 2005-06 (54-28, .659) and Allen Iverson's Philadelphia 76ers in 2000-01 (.683).
Even if the Portland Trail Blazers win all seven of their remaining games (extremely unlikely considering they're on a six-game skid and haven't won more than four in a row all season), they would still finish the season at just 40-42 (.488).
Luckily for Lillard, though, he's working with a lot more than a barren cupboard.
The Trail Blazers have one of the deepest starting fives in the NBA. All five rank among the league's top 65 scorers with big man J.J. Hickson's 13.0 points per game setting the basement. They also make up the most potent starting group in the NBA, tallying a collective 80.4 points per game (via HoopsStats.com).
But the problem for Portland—one that Lillard will have a tough time affecting—has been the atrocious play from its second team. Blazers reserves have accounted for just 17.7 points per game, nearly 10 points fewer than any other bench (via HoopsStats.com).
Lillard could also do himself wonders with a summer's worth of film study to refocus his offensive game plan.
He might not have Rose's hops, but he has all of the necessary ingredients to become an elite slasher: quickness, handles and strength near the basket.
Yet he's eased the burden placed on his defender with a propensity to hoist shots away from the basket. Over 51 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from at least 20 feet away from the basket (via NBA.com). The degree of difficulty in those perimeter looks has no doubt contributed to his less-than-desirable 43.1 field-goal percentage.
For comparison's sake, in Rose's 2010-11 MVP campaign, he attempted nearly 70 percent of his shots from within 20 feet (via NBA.com). While he wasn't quite as prolific of a long-range shooter as Lillard (37.4 percent) has been this season, he was far from a liability (33.2 percent).
Now some of that blame rests on the shoulders of his frontcourt teammates who do most of their damage away from the post. But Lillard's an elite scorer, one capable of punishing defenders off the dribble even without a true post threat.
For a Portland franchise that has had some of their worst draft day luck (Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, Sam Bowie, etc.), Lillard was an absolute steal as the sixth overall pick in 2012.
The Rookie of the Year nod is a mere formality at this point. Future All-Star game appearances aren't that far off either.
But he has to show the basketball world a lot more for me to comfortably predict First-Team All-NBA honors in his future, let alone an MVP award.
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