With the 2017-18 season winding to a close, voting for All-NBA teams is just around the corner. Nominees will be broken into three teams, 1st through 3rd, with a loose guideline of two guards, two forwards, and one center comprising each tier. As the Portland Trail Blazers have soared through the latter part of the season, the national profile of point guard Damian Lillard has risen correspondingly. An improved record and a 26.6 ppg scoring average argue for Lillard’s inclusion on the All-NBA roster. The big question: where?
Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report has compiled a list of All-NBA candidates using statistical metrics. In his analysis, he argues for Lillard on the 2nd team ahead of fellow point guards Chis Paul and Kyle Lowry, behind MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Fromal’s procedure incorporates a quartet of generalized metrics as explained here:
For all 333 players who have logged at least 500 minutes this season, we pulled scores in four different overarching metrics: NBA Math’s total points added (TPA), ESPN.com’s real plus/minus wins (RPM Wins), player efficiency rating (PER) and win shares (WS). The first two look at volume/efficiency combinations, while the third focuses on per-possession effectiveness and favors offensive production. The last element rewards those whose individual merits lead to more victories. Volume and time on the court matter more than they might in other evaluations.
Though the method isn’t foolproof, few would argue the worthiness of any of Fromal’s candidates. Of Lillard specifically, Fromal says:
Damian Lillard has improved everywhere.
Thanks to his increased accuracy on ridiculous volume from beyond the arc and his prowess at the free-throw stripe, he’s having the most efficient shooting season of his career while averaging 26.7 points per game. He’s more involved than ever as a passer, making the most of the Portland Trail Blazers’ flow offense and keeping his teammates involved until he takes over down the stretch of tight games. He’s no longer treating screens like brick walls and has become a somewhat decent defender for Rip City.
And the numbers may still sell him short, given the difficulty of the shots he attempts.
Only 41.3 percent of his triples have been assisted this season, which is rather easily the lowest mark of his career. Among the 78 players in 2017-18 who have drilled at least 100 treys, only Chris Paul (24.8 percent assisted), James Harden (28.6) and LeBron James (36.6) have been more self-sufficient from beyond the arc.
Lillard has become an offensive genius with nearly unmatched shot-making prowess. And lest you think he should be dinged for taking so many contested jumpers off the bounce, remember that the Portland offense needs someone who can fill that role.
Lillard’s backcourt mate on Fromal’s All-Metrics 2nd Team is Stephen Curry.