How High is Damian Lillard’s Ceiling?

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Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard

After the best rookie season in Portland since Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers’ point guard Damian Lillard is ready to improve on his award winning season and take the next step forward. As a rookie he quickly established himself as the jewel of the 2012 NBA Draft class winning every single rookie of the month award through the season. He finished 2012-13 with 19.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 3.1 RPG and a league-high 38.6 MPG.

While it’s hard to expect much more from the dynamic playmaker, there’s nothing holding Lillard back from surpassing even the wildest Blazer fans’ dreams.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard

But in order to become one of the NBA’s elite he’ll need to sure up a few aspects of his game. The first one being his three-point shooting. Lillard shot just .368 from deep, connecting on 185-of-503 attempts. At media day, Lillard addressed this issue and said it was something he was working on.

[gn_quote style=”1″]“I want to shoot at least 40 percent from three,” Lillard said. “Field goal percentage should probably be higher than it was last year, so 48 percent, somewhere around there… hopefully.”[/gn_quote]

Finding a consistent deep range threat in Lillard would not only be vital to his own game, but would  do wonders as well for the team. Portland ranked 20th in the NBA last season in three point shooting at .353 and hasn’t been in the top-10 since 2008 when they had that Roy guy.

Roy not only helped with his dominant shooting but also his driving ability, which allowed sharpshooters to knock down shot after shot. While the Blazers don’t have the outside weapons now that they did then, they still have forward Nicolas Batum and shooting guard Wesley Matthews who are underrated threats.

Also, the arrival of lottery pick C.J. McCollum is still an unknown. McCollum has been listed as the Blazers’ backup shooting guard but being a top-10 pick he’ll definitely see serious minutes, especially if he can gel with Lillard. This article by Hoops Habit even projected that the duo could be one of the best in the NBA.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard | (Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

Another area that Lillard will need to improve upon if he’s looking to join teammate LaMarcus Aldridge in the all-star game will be his assist-to-turnover ratio. Lillard’s 2.2 ATR, while not terrible, is hardly that of an elite point guard. Lillard had the 39th best ratio for players of his position last season behind guys nowhere near his skill level.

[gn_quote style=”1″]“I haven’t even thought about the (assist-to-turnover ratio) numbers, but you don’t want to turn the ball over the same amount of times you did the previous season,” Lillard said. “Coming in, my priority is going to take better care of the ball. Hopefully, my assists will be up higher, and my turnovers will be lower.”[/gn_quote]

With how often Lillard has the ball in his hands, it’s no wonder that he’s going to have his fair share of turnovers. With added shooters (McCollum, free agent Dorell Wright) to the team, expect to see Lillard’s efficiency rise dramatically.

Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard | (Bruce Ely/Oregonian)

But being specific, what is the ceiling for Lillard? Is it a reserve all-star appearance? A starting role in the all-star game? An MVP? Has he already hit his peak and this all moot?

This will be another transition year as Lillard and Aldridge continue to build their on-court chemistry. Expecting anything above an all-star appearance is simply ludicrous. Should Lillard vastly improve on his weaknesses, as were discussed above, he could receive an all-star bid. Even that is an extreme stretch. I can easily name 10 guards better than Lillard.

  1. Chris Paul, Clippers
  2. Tony Parker, Spurs
  3. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
  4. Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
  5. Rajon Rondo, Celtics
  6. Stephen Curry, Warriors
  7. James Harden, Rockets
  8. Dwyane Wade, Heat
  9. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
  10. Derrick Rose, Bulls

I list these in no particular order, but firmly believe that each is more proven than Lillard… at this point. That’s the key. At this point.

Who knows how Bryant or Rose will return from injury? Who knows if Harden will implode with a locker room cancer like Dwight Howard? Who knows how Parker will fare with an aging team around him? Will the dinosaur that is Wade move aside and let LeBron James steal the show in Miami completely? How will Rondo do with complete garbage surrounding him?

Lillard has the potential to make the top-5 of this list if all the pieces fall into place perfectly. That is, of course, for this next season. If we’re looking long-term Lillard easily projects to being a top-3 guard by the prime of his career.

Hopefully for Blazers fans all the pieces GM Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts have put in place are still there in a few years. And you know who I’m talking about… Mr. Aldrdige.

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