Of the NBA draft profiles here on Mid Major Madness, if the name Damian Lillard isn't the player you recognize most, I'm here to help, since he'll be the first mid-major player taken. Here's everything you need to know about the player many are calling the best point guard in the draft:
School: Weber State (Ogden, Utah | Big Sky Conference)
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Weight: 195 lbs
Accolades: 3rd-team All-American, 2x Big Sky MVP
Team Record: 71-31
People around Lillard and Weber State knew he could get to this point. But when a broken foot sidelined the "Fly Guy" after just eight games of his junior year, serious questions lingered. At the least, some thought it might take an extra year to get back to form, a year granted him by the NCAA as a medical hardship.
It turned out he wouldn't need that extra year. While unable to play basketball, Lillard spent five days a week in the weight room and studied every game of the 71 he had played at Weber State to that point, determined to make his game better in any way possible. (Ignore the stuff about Jimmer -- journalists lazily compared Lillard to Jimmer all season, though their games were only somewhat similar.)
The results were noticeable. In his reclaimed junior season, Lillard shot better overall, behind the arc, and at the line; grabbed more rebounds and dished more assists; nabbed more steals and turned the ball over less -- all while playing the most minutes and taking the most shots he had in his career. With high prognostications (and perhaps the lesson of Harold Arceneaux from his own alma mater in his mind), he is forgoing his senior year to enter the draft.
Final Season Averages:
24.5 pts...4.0 asts...5.0 rebs...1.5 steals...2.3 turnovers...34.5 mins...46.7% FG...40.9% 3PT...88.7% FT
While Lillard's points (led the nation in scoring for most of the season, finished 2nd) got all the attention, his ability to run an offense without turnovers and score with efficiency is his real story. Lillard was second in the country in Player Efficiency Rating behind Kentucky superchild Anthony Davis. But while Davis used just 16% of his team's possessions, Lillard was using 28.5%.
Here at Mid Major Madness, we'll be using a stat called HOOPWAR from our own Benjamin Miraski. (Here's Ben's description and explanation of HOOPWAR.) At its core, the final HOOPWAR number is a measurement of how many wins a player is worth.
Lillard: HOOPWAR per 30 games: 12.533; DEF points saved per 100 minutes (lg. pace adj.): 12.46
Davis: HOOPWAR per 30 games: 12.98; DEF points saved per 100 minutes (lg. pace adj.): 67.145 (this is a ridiculous number)
Lillard is about every bit as impactful as Anthony Davis. Davis clearly gets a lot of his value on the defensive side of the ball, but this sheds some light on Lillard's value. Even more awe-inspiring is Lillard's turnover rate.
Lillard committed just 0.12 turnovers per possession -- in other words, he committed a turnover once every 8.3 possessions, one of the highest in the country even when compared against non-PGs and post players. When compared to point guards, this is matched (amongst other major draft prospects) only by Kenny Boynton (Florida) and Dion Waiters (Syracuse), both of whom are projected PGs who mostly played shooting guard in college.
When compared to the point guards considered to be the best draft prospects who played as point guards in college, Lillard compares thusly in "commits a turnover once every __ possessions":
In Lillard, you have one of the nation's best scorers while simultaneously being the most efficient/responsible with the ball. So there's good reason at one point during the season, Ken Pomeroy (CBB stat god) tweeted:
Pretty sure D. Lillard is having the best season by any human that has played basketball in any league, anywhere. 130 ORtg with 32% usage??— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) February 9, 2012
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The numbers speak to it, but again, Lillard is responsible with the ball, doesn't turn it over, and shoots a very high percentage ... Has deep range and a quick release ... Elite level of acceleration, has a next gear to get past people on the drive/break ... moderately-long wingspan causes more deflections than expected ... otherwise a solid defender who at the very least isn't a liability ... gets to the foul line and converts ... good body control on the drive.
A capable-but-not-prolific passer ... also not asked to pass in a volume like he might in the NBA (sample size lacking) ... Can be streaky at times when it comes to finishing at the rim ... At times, too deferential to teammates when needed to take over ... Some concern over long-term impact of foot injury.
Some have stated he isn't a "true point guard" because he scores a lot. In other words, people think because he can score he "looks for his own shot first." I can say that this is false as, for anecdotal factors, I watched Lillard play no less than 20 times this season. He isn't a prolific passer and has room to grow, but he was anything but shoot-first. It sounds crazy to say about someone who scored 25 ppg in college, but there were times watching him when I thought he could shoot more and it wouldn't seem pressing. Many of his points came in sets designed to get him open off-the-ball (meaning an NBA team could use him as a 2-guard in spurts).
Aside from that, if the worst you can say about a guy is that coach gives him a green light because he shoots well (41% 3PT) and draws fouls (8 free throw attempts per game at 89% shooting), then you're getting a good player. In a statistical, style, and body-type comparison, you're getting a more efficient, slightly-less-athletic Russell Westbrook.
Current Prospect Rankings
Teams who seem to have an eye on Lillard are Portland, Phoenix, Houston, possibly Toronto, and Utah, if the Jazz end up with a pick (waiting on draft lottery).
NBA Draft Lottery: Wed, May 30
NBA Combine: June 7-8