Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is well on his way to winning the NBA's Rookie of the Year award. However, the young player is just getting started and should be expected to be even better next season.
Lillard has been unbelievable for the Blazers. Instead of solely being a rebuilding year, Lillard's play allowed the team to compete for a playoff spot for much of the season and has given Portland a vision for the future.
The rookie's play has garnered tons of attention around the league, including from soon-to-be Hall of Famer Gary Payton (via Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin):
I like Damian Lillard because he’s from Oakland, California, and he’s a phenomenal basketball player. He should be the rookie of the year, he’s playing very well right now for Portland and I love his game.
That's big praise from a legend and great point guard.
While Lillard's overall play has been unbelievable during his debut season, he needs to be more consistent next year. Adjusting to the length of the NBA season is tough for any rookie and its difficulties haven't evaded Lillard.
Going from just over 30 to 82 games is a big change by itself, but Lillard is also playing more minutes on a nightly basis.
During his college career at Weber State, Lillard played 32.3 minutes per game. With the Blazers, Lillard is averaging 38.5 minutes per game. At times, he's tried to do too much with the basketball, either forcing shots or struggling to maintain the offense. These instances can mostly be chalked up to fatigue or Lillard letting the game get too big for him.
With a full season under his belt and an offseason of getting more comfortable with this team, Lillard should be able to cut down his turnovers. He's averaging three per game, but those numbers have fluctuated quite a bit from game to game.
The other big area for Lillard to improve next season is on the defensive end. As a team, the Blazers have really struggled, giving up too many good shots and blowing defensive assignments. Lillard himself hasn't been a poor defender, but he's capable of having a bigger impact.
According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, Lillard has some good plans for the summer:
While Payton's praise was reserved for Wall, Lillard's own defense should improve working alongside the pair. With Lillard better understanding defensive concepts and becoming a strong perimeter defender, the Blazers will be able to better mask their defense deficiencies.
A strong offseason by the front office should also help Lillard's game.
Throughout the year, there have been too many times where too much has fallen on Lillard's shoulders. Having a competent bench that can come in and impact games on both ends of the floor should definitely help out all of the Blazers' starting five.
Lillard is well on his way toward stardom. With a full season under his belt, that ascent should be expected to speed up next year as Lillard tries to take his Blazers to the next level.
By improving his consistency and defensive play, Lillard should be able to take them there.