By Casey Holdahl - Trail Blazers fans have come to expect a lot from Damian Lillard since he was selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 Draft. After being the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year, making the All-Star team in his second season, competing in all five events at All-Star Weekend, lifting the team to their first playoff series victory in 14 years with his Game 6 buzzer-beater versus the Rockets in 2014 and being named third-team All-NBA, the 6-3 guard out of Weber State has set an incredibly high bar for himself.
Which might be why Lillard’s 2014-15 season, even though he averaged career highs in points, rebounds, steals and field goal percentage, felt like a bit of a down year for some. Perhaps it’s due to shooting 34 percent from three, a career low, after making his name as one of the most deadly shooters from range. And by that same token, Lillard didn’t have the same number of season-defining game-winners in 2014-15 as he did in 2013-14, though he certainly provided his share of memorable moments, the “You Know What Time It Is” three-pointer versus the Thunder in Oklahoma City that sent the game to overtime and eventually a Trail Blazers’ victory being the most obvious.
The varying opinions on Lillard’s 2014-15 campaign might also stem from the feast or famine nature of his shooting this season. After an early season “slump,” Lillard shot 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from three in November, helping the Trail Blazers get the season off to another fast start. His percentages came back to earth in December, possibly due to an injury forcing him to wear splints on two fingers on his shooting hand. Nevertheless, he was still finished the month shooting a very respectable 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from three.
But for whatever reason, Lillard struggled with his shooting for the remainder of the season, with January being the low point. In the first month of the New Year, Lillard shot just 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. And though that would be the low point, he never got back to the level he played at during the first two months of the season. His difficulty shooting would be punctuated in the playoffs, with the Grizzlies holding Lillard to 40 percent shooting from the field and16 percent shooting from three.
As for the other side of the ball, although still a work in progress, Lillard’s defensive rating has improved by almost 5 points per 100 possessions since his rookie season, going from 107.2 in 2013 to 105.1 in 2014 to 102.7 this season (for comparison, defensive-minded point guards Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley finished with almost the same defensive rating as Lillard this season). What's more, according to SportVU tracking data (which is not without its imperfections), opponents shot just one percentage point better than their average when being guarded by Lillard this season. He’s not an elite defender by any means, but he is improving.
But even if it wasn’t the season he or his fans might have been hoping for, Lillard’s 2014-15 campaign still goes down as a success. He once again played all 82 games (he’s yet to miss a game in three seasons), set the record for most three-pointers in a players first three seasons, led the team in Win Shares, VORP and finished second in PER. He’s still got room to grow, but he’s already well on his way to being one of the best point guards in franchise history.