The Whiteboard: Damian Lillard has never been better

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /

Damian Lillard is quietly in the midst of a career season and his aggressiveness attacking the basket has been the big key.

The Trail Blazers picked up a 12-point win over the Lakers on Monday night, keeping themselves within striking distance of the final spot in the play-in tournament. Their 3-point shooting — 23-of-47, second-most makes in franchise history — was the big story but there’s more to recognize.

Damian Lillard finished with 40 points, 8-of-14 from beyond the arc, pumping up his career-high 31.2 point-per-game scoring average. But he was also 5-of-9 from inside the arc, helping sustain his career-high 58.0 2-point percentage.

For years, Lillard’s offensive game has been defined by his 3-point shooting and his willingness to pull up from essentially anywhere. The 3-point shot makes up a greater share of his field goal attempts this season than at any other point in his career but he’s also been unbelievably efficient attacking the basket as well.

Damian Lillard has never been better inside the arc

This season, Lillard is in the top 10 in drives per game for the first time since 2013-14, when player tracking first made drive stats available. He’s also shooting 58.3 percent on shots off his drives, about the same as Zion Williamson or De’Aaron Fox — players with considerable advantages over Lillard in physical tools and youthful bounce.

The graph below looks at all players who have averaged at least 2013-14 drives per game and you can see how much of an outlier Lillard is this season, both compared to the rest of the field and to his own historical averages.

The upshot of all that is also a career-high 9.2 free-throw attempts per game, by far the most of his career and significantly higher than the 6.2 he averaged last season. Lillard has missed considerable time this season and is only on track to appear in about 65 games. But even at that rate, he’s still on track to make more free throws than he has in any other season.

As most players age and their athleticism declines, they retreat further into their skills. For volume scorers, this usually means more jumpers and less attacking the basket — think Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant becoming post-up, turnaround jumpshot artists, or Blake Griffin moving his game from above the rim to the high post. But Lillard, in the twilight of his career, is moving in the opposite direction.

It may not be enough for the Trail Blazers, who FiveThirtyEight gives just a 17 percent chance of making the playoffs. But it’s still a remarkable season for a remarkable player whose legacy looks more and more like it will be giving everything he has to Portland, results be damned.

Subscribe to The Whiteboard, FanSided’s daily email newsletter on everything basketball. If you like The Whiteboard, share it with someone you love! If you don’t like The Whiteboard, share it with someone you loathe!

Got a basketball question? Send it to us on Twitter or by email and we’ll try to answer it in our Friday mailbag. 

Content from around the FanSided network

Latest NBA buyout news and rumors

With the trade deadline behind us, the buyout market is the last opportunity for teams to really tinker with their rosters. Here’s the latest on who could be available and where they’ll go:

  • Justin Holiday was bought out by the Houston Rockets and plans to sign with the Dallas Mavericks.
  • Will Barton is working on a buyout with the Washington Wizards. No word yet on where he may sign.
  • Terrence Ross may have verbally agreed to sign with the Mavericks before he changed course and signed with the Suns.
  • Goga Bitadze has signed with the Orlando Magic after being waived by the Indiana Pacers.

THE WHITEBOARD. Subscribe to our NBA daily email newsletter. light