Barring a shocking occurrence, Damian Lillard will pass LaMarcus Aldridge as the second-leading scorer in Portland Trail Blazers history tonight. Seven seasons into his career, Lillard is already one of the best Blazers of all time. While Lillard’s never won an MVP, his high standing in the NBA is reflected in league-wide awards and honors. Lillard has made four NBA All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams thus far, with one of those All-NBA selections being for the 1st team. Having already made the All-Star team this season, Dame is well on the way to another All-NBA berth this season. Here’s a statistical look at how Dame compares to other top guards in the NBA who will probably earn at least consideration for an All-NBA team.
The first handful of stats are per game numbers, with the usual points, rebounds, assists, etc. Then come shooting percentages, with True Shooting to represent efficiency, mostly helping guys who take and make a lot of free throws and threes. Then there are four advanced stats: Win Shares/48 minutes and Box Plus Minus, found on basketball reference, RPM, found on ESPN, and PIPM, from BBall Index. The first stat factors in team and teammate performance, the second is a box-score based metric, and the latter two are based on on/off numbers.
Top NBA Guards in 2019
While Dame made the All-NBA first team last season, he almost certainly won’t get that honor this season, barring injury to another contender. James Harden is having one of the best scoring seasons of all time, while Steph Curry is putting together a masterfully efficient campaign for the NBA championship favorite. It’s not a slight at Dame to say he’s not quite at the level of those guys, especially when they’re having career or near-career seasons. Compared to everyone else, however, Lillard stands near the top of the pack.
Dame’s scoring is what sets him apart. He leads the non-Steph/Harden players in scoring at 26 per game (though Beal is close at 25.8), and does so in a similar number of minutes to most of the players on the list. More impressively, he does so while putting up the second-best true shooting behind only Kyrie Irving. Ultimately, scoring the basketball at a good efficiency is the single most important ability to have in the NBA as a lead guard, and Damian Lillard does that better than almost anyone in the league. Even here, compared to the best of the best, Dame is superb.
The advanced stats are similarly favorable. Once again, setting Harden and Curry apart, Dame ranks 2nd in WS/48 (behind Kyrie), 3rd in BPM (behind Kyrie and Russ), 4th in RPM (behind Kyrie, Jrue, and Lowry), and 1st in PIPM. Lillard therefore ranks highly in terms metrics based on box-score numbers, on/off value, and impact compared to league value and teammates. There’s not one stat or number that paints him as anything other than one of the very best guards in the NBA.
When placing All-NBA teams, it’s clear that Steph and Harden will nab first team honors. After that, it’s all up for grabs. Damian Lillard, by the numbers is a clear favorite for one of the two second team spots, probably alongside Kyrie Irving. Russell Westbrook will get some consideration due to his triple-double average and improved defense, but his efficiency is dreadful, and his advanced numbers aren’t quite as good as Dame or Kyrie’s. Still, Russ will get one of the third team positions, probably. From there, I’d rule out Klay (poor advanced numbers, most limited player), Chris Paul (games played), and Ben Simmons (might not even be the 2nd best player on his own team, severe shooting limitations). Ultimately, I’d probably lean towards Brad Beal or Jrue Holiday for the last spot, even though they’re on lottery teams.
Damian Lillard is having yet another outstanding season. With numbers on his side, as well as a strong narrative (Blazers have exceeded expectations and are a solid playoff team), he’s a lock for one of the All-NBA teams, and I think should claim one of the second-team slots. He’s one of the four best guards in the NBA, and the Blazers are blessed to have him.