As we count down the days until the NBA season officially kicks itself into gear, some players around the league have a lot to play for this year. These players have a lot to prove to themselves, their teams, and ultimately their legacy and reputation. Guys have been given passes for a long time or even flew under the radar, but now the lights are brighter than ever.
Damian Lillard ( 25.8 ppg, 6.9 asg, 4.6 rpg)
Lillard doesn’t have to prove anything as far as his stats are concerned, but it is more about how successful he can be in taking he Trailblazers to new heights. Year after year we see the Blazers appearing as the 3 or 4 seed in a very tough western conference, but they seem to never go anywhere.
With Lillard getting a huge payday and his allegiance being well known league-wide to Portland, it is time that he elevates his game in more ways than just statistical categories. Some things that can be improved upon are:
– Shot IQ
Lillard has average passing vision. This is because his primary objective on the court is to score. What will separate him from the rest of the guards in the league is if he can get his assist average up to at least 8.5 per game. The difference being is if he can get more of his teammates involved. If Lillard can become an elite play-maker, the Trail Blazers can be one of the scariest teams in the NBA. Lillard’s RPM sits at 5.08, which places him third in the league as of last year. This isn’t bad at all, but from a team perspective getting guys like McCollum, Whiteside, and Hood more touches is essential to the team’s success.
As for Lillard’s shot IQ, it fluctuates from game to game. Shooting at a 43% clip, Lillard puts up anywhere from 6 to 16 shots a game. A lot of the time his shots come from leaning off the dribble or trying to get a bucket as the shot clock winds down. Now most of that has to do with how the Portland Trail Blazers are set up as a whole. The other half of it is simply giving up a shot for a better shot. Most of the time players of his caliber get a pass on the type of shots he takes but when the playoffs come around, it starts to matter more and more of what types of shots he consistently gets up. With new pieces such as Whiteside and Bazemore, that ultimately gives him more options to pass to. If Lillard can make that extra pass the Blazers could make a push for a title.
It almost feels like DeJavu in how we always say that this season is the most important for the Dame. Everything adds up statistically on his resume to be considered one of the top guards in the league, but when it comes to down crunch time in the postseason, your resume can only get you so far.
Kemba Walker (25.6 ppg, 5.9 asg, 4.4 rpg)
Wasting nearly a fourth of his career on a Charlotte Hornets team that wasn’t getting anywhere with our without him, Walker is getting something that most players have dreamed about; a chance to create their legacy. At 29 with one all star appearance he is now on a team with rather high expectations. Boston is a city known for their winning pedigree and when the fans stated that they would rather have Walker over Irving, that has to speak volumes to an individuals personality and physicality.
One thing that worries me with Walker is if he can actually run a secure offense behind Brad Stevens. If you thought he would be averaging 25 a game this season think again. His stats will drastically change and his IQ will be tested on a team full of guys who go out and get buckets. More importantly the organization is looking up to him and expecting him to instantly come out and make an impact. He hasn’t had these kind of expectations on him at all on his career and it worries me.
Another part of me thinks that this is the perfect fit for Walker as he needs a little more discipline in his game. In Charlotte he had the freedom to just do anything with the basketball and shooting 36% from 3 last season just tells me that he was forcing a lot of shots to try to keep his team in the game.
He’s another guy who needs to get his assist totals up and really focus on getting his team the ball. There’s no excuse now with surrounding talents such as Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown along with a pick n roll threat in Enes Kanter.
If the Celtics aren’t a 3-5 seed when the season ends then securing Walker might not even of been worth it. As of right now it seems like an upgrade but if he goes back to his old ways in Charlotte it could potentially get very ugly for the Celtics.