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Is Damian Lillard Off to a Slow Start?

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Is Portland's favorite point guard off to a slow start this season or are we all just overreacting?

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard isn’t off to the awe-inspiring start we expected this season and it has me wondering a few things:

1. After last season’s enormous success (All-Star, Playoffs, All-NBA Third Team), I think it’s fair to say we were expecting a monster season from Lillard in 2014-15.

2. Did he make an adjustment to his game, or come into this season with a different mindset? Evolving from less of a scorer to more of a distributor? His points are down, his shots attempts are down, and his three-point percentage is way down. All that’s up are his assists, and only slightly.

3. Did I jinx him this year by drafting him in my College Friends Fantasy Basketball League? And don’t take this lightly – my fantasy football jinx abilities have reached all new levels this year.

I attended the Nuggets vs. Blazers game last night with a few friends, and about half-way through my Cha Cha Cha nachos and the third quarter, I looked up and saw Lillard with only four points on three shots. I asked my resident  Blazer friend "what’s going on with Damian?" and his only response was a simple shrug.

Unfortunately, that shrug may be the only answer right now to Lillard’s uncharacteristically slow start. Through seven games, Lillard is averaging 17.4 points on 40.5% shooting from the field and 35.6% from three.

Here’s a comparison between Lillard’s first seven games this year and last year.

Season

Games

PPG

FGA

FG%

3PA

3P%

13-14

7

21.4

110

38.6%

55

44.8%

14-15

7

17.4

90

40.5%

51

35.6%

Just to be clear, I am fully aware that seven games is less than 12% of the regular season and Lillard simply having a slow start to his season could negate this entire article. But guess what -- overreacting to a ridiculously small sample size is way more fun so I’m going to stick with that.

Now where was I? Ahhhhhheemmmm.

Looking at the season-to-season comparison, I think the first item that jumps out is the difference in shot attempts. Lillard has attempted 20 fewer shots through his first seven games than he did last season, a fairly significant number.

What’s even more interesting is that while his total number of shots has decreased by almost 18%, he’s attempting nearly the same number of three-pointers per game.

Lillard is shooting less overall, but still maintaining his three-point attempts. So where is he taking less shots from? At first glance, it seems to be at the rim.

Gillard Shot Chart

Through seven games, Lillard has taken 24 shots at the rim. To give you an idea of where he’s at in comparison to last season - at the end of November 2013, or through 14 games, Lillard had attempted 64 shots at the rim.

This season, Lillard is on pace to finish the month of November with roughly 54 shots at the rim. What's even more interesting is that the Blazers will finish November having played 17 total games. So even with an additional three games, Lillard is still on pace to take 10 fewer shots at the rim than he did last season.

By attacking the basket less, it makes sense that Lillard is attempting a larger percentage of his shots from three-point range. Through seven games, Lillard has attempted 90 field goals – 51 from three. Which means over half of Lillard’s shots this season (56.7%) have been three-pointers.

More three’s aren’t necessarily a bad thing, just ask the Houston Rockets and the entire Sabermetrics community. But what is a bit troubling is that he may be settling for these shots, rather than coming off the pick-and-roll (or whatever the play) and putting pressure on the defense by attacking the rim and either scoring/drawing a foul/assisting on a basket.

With 20 fewer shots attempted through seven games, has Lillard become more of a distributor? This was my initial thought when looking at the numbers. But when you compare his assist averages through the first seven games, his numbers have only increased slightly: 2013-14: 5.4, 2014-15: 5.7.

So with fewer shots being taken, and only a slight increase in assists, is it safe to say Lillard has started off the 2014-15 season playing a little less aggressive?

Before we make that statement, let’s look at one final comparison – Usage Rates. A usage rate is the number of possessions a player "uses". In other words, if your usage rate was 34.3, that means that 34.3% of the possessions either end with you shooting, getting to the foul-line, or turning the ball over.

(Note: On average, a player will have a usage rate of 20.0. This season, Kobe Bryant is leading the NBA is usage rate at 35.8. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.)

Last season, Lillard, through his first seven games, had a usage rate of 24.1. This season, through seven games, Lillard comes it at 21.7. Three percentage points lower than last season.

Like I said earlier, this entire article could be negated by Lillard simply having a slow start to his year, but it’s way more fun to freak out and overact and overanalyze a ridiculously small sample size of games over the span of two seasons. NBA writers everyone!

So what’s going on with Damian Lillard this season?

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