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Lillard and Ten Years of Rookie NBA Point Guards

I looked at basketball-reference.com for stats on rookie NBA point guards for the past ten years to get a handle on what we might expect from Damian Lillard ("Demon Lizard") in his rookie season. I searched for rookies since 2002-3 with more than 5 assists per 36 minutes who played more than 24 minutes per game. I limited this to players 6'7" or shorter (the LeBron filter).

24 players showed up (in rookie year PER descending order): Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Tyreke Evans, Isaiah Thomas, Darren Collison, Stephen Curry, Ramon Sessions, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Jennings, Raymond Felton, Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Jonny Flynn, Mike Conley, Deron Williams, Jrue Holiday, Jay Williams, TJ Ford, Shaun Livingston, and Chris Duhon. This list has some rookies of the year, MVPs, some all-NBA players, some all-stars, and some also-ran starters, but all seem to be definitely starter quality PGs.

Looking at this list, I think most Blazer fans expect that Lillard will be in the upper half, and that it would be fantastic if he was top 5.

I then did some analysis of these statistics. My main conclusion is the players with the best PERs also had the best Total Shot %. All of the top eight players by PER had TS% above average, while only four of the remaining sixteen were above average. There appear to be three strategies for getting a high TS%, with most of the top players rating high in at least two categories. Everything is normalized to per-36 minutes, to eliminate any differences in playing time.

First, be a good finisher. This means shooting a good percentage on 2-pointers. Seven of the top eight players by PER were in the top third of players in terms of 2P%. Lillard is considered to be both good at getting to the basket and a good finisher.

Second, shoot often and well from deep. Three of the top seven players by PER shot 40% or more on threes, and these good shooters took more 3s than average. Lillard is a willing long range shooter who shoots with good accuracy at the college level.

Third, take lots of free throws. Surprisingly to me, FT% was the least variable factor I studied. So the trick is to get to the line often. Lillard gets to the line a lot, and hits a high percent of his free throws.

This table summarizes the analysis of these twenty-four players. I sorted each if the statistics, and selected the data for each of three categories: middle of the pack (as represented by the stat put up by the twelfth best player in that statistical category), top one-third (eight best player's stat), and top 20% (5th best player's stat). Then I multiplied the attempts times the percentage to get a points-per-36. I know that these statistics may be interdependent, but I am just trying to bracket what Lillard might do, based upon a statistical analysis of recent quality point guards.

Statistic

Middle of Pack (12th Best)

Top 1/3

(8th Best)

Top 20%

(5th Best)

2P Attempts

9.4

11.2

11.8

2P%

43.0%

45.9%

48.6%

2P Points

8.1

10.3

11.5

3P Attempts

4.5

4.2

3.4

3P%

35.8%

37.9%

39.9%

3P Points

3.7

4.8

5.4

FT Attempts

2.4

3.4

4.5

FT%

78.9%

81.6%

83.2%

FT Points

1.9

2.8

3.7

Total Points

13.7

17.9

20.6

Assists

6.4

6.7

7.8

Turnovers

2.9

2.4

2.3

Rebounds

3.9

4.4

4.6

Let's now look at what this data tells us we might expect from Lillard. In addition to his scoring mentioned above, he has been a shoot first PG with a number of turnovers in college. All names listed below as comparables refer to the player' rookie year.

If he is middle of the pack in his scoring (attempts and shooting percentages for 2-pointers, 3-pointers, and free throws), ball handling (assists and turnovers), and rebounds, he would average 13.7 points, 6.4 assists, 2.9 turnovers, and 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes. The closest analog is Deron Williams' rookie year.

If he is on the top-third boundary on all stats, he would average 17.9 points, 6.7 assists, 2.4 turnovers, and 4.4 rebounds. This is Stephen Curry in total points, with John Wall's 2-point attempts, Kyrie Irving's 3-point attempts, and Kemba Walker's FT attempts. And close to Derrick Rose's assists and turnovers. Derrick Rose put up numbers not quite this good and was Rookie of the Year.

If he is on the top 20% boundary on all stats, he would average 20.6 points, 7.8 assists, 2.3 turnovers, and 4.6 rebounds. This would be Kyrie Irving scoring with Chris Paul assists and turnovers. That would be fantastic. These are all-star level numbers, or close to it.

My dream is that he ends up somewhere between the latter two categories. If he plays 36 minutes, that would be 19 points, 7 assists, 2.5 turnovers, and 4.5 rebounds.

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