High Expectations Crashing in Rip City But Lillard Isn’t To Blame

According to George Karl, the reason the Portland Trailblazers have underwhelmed this season is because of Damian Lillard and only because of Damian Lillard. According to Karl and his friends, Lillard is caught up in the MVP chase and is forgetting he is the leader of the team. It is suppressing his performance. But of course, Karl has no analytical data to back up that claim because there is none; it’s all in Karl’s demented mind as he throws out shade and sees what sticks. The best thing about the Blazers is their backcourt and Damian Lillard. The worst thing about the Blazers is everything else.

But let’s look at Lillard’s numbers before drawing conclusions. In 2016-17, Lillard is the 9th most impactful point guard (Real Plus-Minus). Last season he was ranked 15th. Lillard is making more shots this season than he ever has, 8.8 shots, a career high. He is shooting a career high 45.4%. His three point shot isn’t as accurate as last season. It has dipped from 37.5% in 2015-16 to 35.3%. His rebounding is near his career high of 4.6. His assists are slightly down but that’s not his fault entirely. The Blazers aren’t making shots like they did last year. He is turning the ball over less this year, is scoring more, has a higher offensive rating and a career high PER of 24.5.

Lillard is better at long twos this season, better at mid-range shots, better at the rim. He is making 47% of his catch and shoot jumpers and 34% of his pull ups. 37% of the time Lillard takes the court he is going to drop 30+ points. He has three 40+ point games (Dallas, Cleveland and Denver) all on the road. Last year, after 32 games Lillard dropped 30+ points 25% of the time. He had one 40 point game against the Warriors.

So, no. George Karl, Lillard isn’t the problem.

Unless you are talking about defense. Lillard’s defense is the worst of his career as evidenced by his 116 defensive rating and 80th ranking (out 85 point guards), courtesy of Defensive Real Plus-Minus. His defense is worse on the road but his offense is better. He gives up the ball more but is a worse three point shooter on the road and his shooting isn’t as efficient away from the Moda Center.

Because Lillard is the face of the franchise, when the team underperforms he is blamed. That is part of the burden with being the star of the team. But it doesn’t mean it is accurate.

The Blazers overpaid role players who have yet to live up to their contracts. Free agent Evan Turner ($16.3 mil) has been a major catastrophe. 28% from three and 9.2 points per game. Allen Crabbe ($18.5 mil) has a great percentage from three, 42.7%, but he doesn’t get enough shots, only 7.7 per game. Maurice Harkless ($8.9 mil) a virtual financial steal, is having a good year but only takes 9.9 shots. If there is any legitimate Lillard criticism it is that he needs to take about three shots less and distribute it more to emancipate his teammates.

But this remains true. The Blazers have the worst producing front court in the league, 48.4 points. Their power forwards are good for 13.7 points per game as a collective group, abysmal. If Lillard and C.J. McCollum aren’t carrying more than their fair share of the load the Blazers lose. (Last night against the T-Wolves evidence A: McCollum’s 43 points is why the Blazers won. The guards have to be extraordinary every night.) The team is lacking balance and versatility.

The Blazers are the third worst rebounding team. Anyone heard Pat Riley’s no rebounds, no rings? They don’t create steals which means no easy baskets. They give up 111.5 points per game. Teams shoot 46% against them. Their three point defense is just as porous, 38.2%.

That is why the Blazers are here George Karl, not because Damian Lillard is all caught up in the MVP race of which no one has even mentioned Lillard’s name so that is all in the mind of Geroge Karl. It’s the Blazers and their defensive woes that is to blame, not Damian Lillard.

It is Damian Lillard’s blame to absorb because he is the team leader and all eyes are on him. It is the front office’s fault for signing players who have  a low non-glass ceiling. All share blame. All are accountable in a team sport, not just the best player on the team. You’d think George Karl would know that.


photo via llananba