67RIEFNS No. 47: Damian Lillard getting better and overshadowed again
The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.
Damian Lillard deserved to win Rookie of the Year two seasons ago. He started 82 games and led the Trail Blazers – a team with an above-median offense – in points and assists. That’s no small feat for a rookie.
Last year, Lillard was even better. He became more complete and stable and even made the All-Star game.
He also dropped in his draft-class ranking.
As good as Lillard was, Anthony Davis was even better. Andre Drummond might have been, too.
While Lillard was the most NBA-ready, Davis needed a little more time to get healthy and figure out this level, and Drummond was (foolishly) buried on the bench in Detroit. Now, the big men are showing what they can do, and Lillard – through no fault of his own – is falling behind.
Just two Rookies of the Year, using win shares to measure, improved as much to their second season as Lillard while another member of the draft class posted more win shares in year two – Dave Cowens (who fell behind Tiny Archibald) Kevin Durant (Luis Scola).
If you’re wondering how Durant fell behind Scola, yes, that probably speaks to a flaw in win shares, but this was a time people were raising serious questions about the emptiness of Durant’s stats given his horrific plus-minus. Scola, who had considerable professional experience in Spain before joining the NBA, was just a little savvier.
But Cowens and Durant kept working, kept getting better no matter how much attention was pulled away from them. Cowens is in the Hall of Fame and Durant will join him someday.
Lillard could accept his place in the pecking order, but that doesn’t strike me as his style. You don’t reach the NBA from Weber State without a little more attitude than that. There’s no question Lillard is a hard worker, and he has the skills to play even better.
If Davis and Drummond steal some of the spotlight, that should just make Lillard even better.