The Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks were both booted out in the first round. It immediately sent their respective fans to discuss among themselves what needs to be done to get off this playoff rut. As always, their attention drifts to Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic, both of whom were outstanding in their respective series. Amid their scoring outbursts, their teams still failed to win.
Inevitably, this leads to a bigger question: Who needs more help … Damian Lillard with the Blazers or Luka Doncic with the Mavs?
What do the numbers say for Damian Lillard’s Blazers vs. Luka Doncic’s Mavs
In the regular season, the Blazers were last in the league in assists with just 21.3 per game. That alone reveals a ton about the team’s lack of fluidity on offense. To make your eyebrows raise a bit higher, the Blazers ranked first in isolation frequency at 10.2 percent. It’s obvious that Damian Lillard is the front and center of their offense. It’s amazing to see him go off with scoring outbursts and game-winners. However, these stats show that the team might be relying on him too much.
On the flip side, the Mavs ranked 26th in assists with 22.9 per game. However, in terms of isolation frequency, they ranked 11th with 6.2 percent. While fans might be used to seeing Doncic hog the ball for most of the time, the Mavs actually have a much more fluid offense and make it a point to distribute the ball.
In terms of open shots (nearest defender is 4-6 feet away), the Mavs shot at a decent 41.0 percent clip for fifth in the league. This can be attributed to the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson, and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavs have done a great job in honing these players to complement Doncic. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers knocked down 39.7 percent of wide-open shots. While this is 10th in the league, you can argue that this should be way higher considering the attention Lillard and CJ McCollum command.
Just look at the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks, who are the top three in wide-open shots percentage. These teams both have their respective franchise players. Props to them for surrounding them with role players who can knock down shots when presented an opportunity.
We must also consider the defensive end of the court. Lillard and Doncic aren’t exactly strong defenders, and neither team is any good. In fact, Portland was one of the very worst defensive teams in the NBA, while Dallas was just bad. It’s clear both teams need upgrades around their stars on defense.
As for the playoffs, we saw both teams fail their superstars. Most notably, Damian Lillard’s teammates fell apart late in that epic 55-point masterpiece in double-overtime, going 1-of-14 over the two extra frames. Meanwhile, Luka Doncic’s teammates shot 5-of-25 from 3-point range in Game 7.
Both players consistently didn’t get enough help throughout the postseason. The Blazers’ net rating swing when Lillard was on the court to when he was on the bench was around 42 points per 100 possessions, and the Mavs’ with Doncic was nearly 38 points. Doncic (35.7 PPG) and Lillard (34.3 PPG) are the top scorers in the playoffs so far, but it didn’t matter for them.
More than the numbers
More than the statistics, we should also look at the history of each team in the Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard era. Doncic has been in the league for just three years and has made the playoffs twice. Given this reality, we cannot really come up with a solid conclusion if the Mavs are shortchanging the Slovenian. After all, they’ve made some key moves through the acquisition of Porzingis and Hardaway, though there’s a good argument that they should have done more in recent years. This offseason, analysts expect them to make a series of key decisions on how to further fortify their roster with Doncic at the front and center.
There have been doubts about Porzingis’ capabilities to be the team’s second star. Some say that Hardaway may even be overtaking him in this regard. But if you look at it, this is actually a good problem to have if you’re the Mavs. You already have pretty good players on your roster. It’s just a matter of utilizing them to the fullest. And the Mavs have ample time to figure this out.
Under the Lillard era, the Blazers have made the playoffs eight consecutive times. This is an impressive feat in itself considering how difficult it is in the West. However, out of these eight playoff campaigns, they’ve been booted out in the first round five times, twice in the second round, then once in the Western Conference Finals. This is already pretty glaring. When you’ve been a mid-tier team for almost a decade, then the front office clearly seems to be satisfied at just making the playoffs. Or in other words, the Blazers are simply taking Lillard — a generational talent — for granted. It’s no wonder why Lillard is the subject of wild trade rumors almost every season.
If you’re the Blazers, it would be stupid to trade away your franchise player when he loves donning your jersey. To answer the question, it’s pretty obvious that it is Damian Lillard who needs more help. The Mavs are still figuring out things after being gifted with a blessing in Luka Doncic. Meanwhile, the Blazers have had nearly a decade to build on the guard. So far, the team has fallen short, with a history of questionable moves and signings (remember the