Are Damian Lillard’s swings a problem for the Blazers?


the Portland Trail Blazers The season has come into shifts and starts so far. They benefited from stellar play among their top stars, but overall production was shaky as their record hovers near . 500. Amidst the ups and downs, one Blazer’s Edge reader wonders if a less masculine side of Damian Lillard’s play might be contributing to the conflicts. That’s the theme for today’s Blazer’s Edge mailbag.


I rarely see any talk of Dame’s TOs and his assist turnover ratio versus other point guards. In the [December 19th] The OKC game, especially in the fourth quarter, was in full view for all to see. It didn’t seem to match Dame$’s story so it wasn’t discussed. Can you address if it should be a concern?

My light

The first person we need to compare the lady to is the lady. And you are right. His assist rate for his turnover this year is 2.0. That’s well below the 2.6 average last year in a partial season, or the 2.5 he averaged in 2020-21 while playing 67 games. This number is reminiscent of his rookie season in 2012-13 or the 2015-16 campaign.

But let’s wait a second. What happened in these two years? In 2012, the same lady was new. In 2015, LaMarcus Aldridge departed, leaving Lillard the leader of an entirely new and relatively inexperienced group.

Guess what’s going on so far this season? Lillard adapts to his teammates as they adjust to a new system. He does not have Aldridge’s proven pick-and-pop outlet. He doesn’t have Jusuf Nurkic’s consistent high catch and roll combinations either, because the Blazers don’t run those plays as often as they once did. Instead, you’ll have Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant as the next scorers in line, the two players Lillard usually expects to pick up assists. They still feel their way a bit. They’re also the scorers in isolation, and can’t be expected to turn every Lillard pass into an automated coin.

Despite this, Lillard’s passing is still very high. His per minute numbers rank this as the third best season of his career so far. As you may have noticed, its turnover rate is also high. If extended through next April, his 3.7 turnover rate per 36 minutes would rank as the worst season of his career. It’s just over 3.3 turnovers for every 36 he’s scored in…you guessed it: 2015-16. (His rookie season featured relatively few turnovers, but also the lowest utilization rate of his career. He was simply not given many opportunities to cough up the ball in his senior season.) There is reason to suspect that conditions contribute to Dame’s adjusted turnover as much as Dame’s turnover creates adverse conditions.

Comparing Lillard to the rest of the NBA this year, the numbers aren’t that great. He is the 99th out of 450 player in assist-to-turnover percentage. But we need to look at the asterisks here too.

Only 47 of these high-ranking players are point guards. 18 of these are entrees. That still puts Lillard near the bottom third of the league among rookies, which isn’t a high recommendation. He’s light years behind Mike Conley, who has a 4.9 assist-to-turnover ratio, and Chris Paul with 4.7. But he’s folded close to D’Angelo Russell, Steph Curry and De’Aaron Fox (all 2.2) as well as Ja Morant and forward LeBron James (2.1). If Lillard has a career leading 2.4, he’ll be no worse than 60 in the league, about 14th among starting point guards. That’s the average in a 30-team league — modest for a player of Lillard’s caliber — but how many other point guards also score 28 per game?

Turnovers remain a mild problem for the Blazers as a whole. They are 22nd in the league in turnover-per-possession ratio, and 26th in assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. But that doesn’t destroy them, and like Lillard’s single digits, he’ll likely get better with the delegates. Lillard is part of those low numbers, but he’s not the only reason for them. Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant — the next two important members to turnover by utilization rate — have a 1.9 and 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, respectively.

So yes, this could be a concern. But caveats are important: It’s a transitional year and Lillard’s numbers don’t represent a full season yet. Even if they do, Lillard is somewhat below average among his peers, not terrible, and has plenty of talented company in this statistical neighborhood. Finally, the team as a whole doesn’t thrive in this area, offering few reliable alternatives.

For all these reasons, I’d like another calendar year – extending to January 2024 – to see if this is still an issue for the lady. Until then, well… no harm or foul, but maybe no additional harm? Lillard’s passes and turnovers don’t cause the Blazers to lose games they otherwise would have won.

Thank you for your question! You can always send your stuff to [email protected] and we’ll answer as many as we can!

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