Why Damian Lillard Is a First-Round Pick in Fantasy Basketball
After getting decimated by the free agent market, the Portland Trailblazers did the only thing they could to give themselves a shot in the rebuilding process. Portland gave Damian Lillard a max contract this past offseason, and now as the clear number one option for the Blazers, Lillard might be set for another breakout year.
It’s hard to believe Lillard has only been in the league for three seasons coming into 2015-2016, but in those three years he has done almost everything except get his team past the second round. One of his biggest attributes that go overlooked about is that he has never missed a game. He has played all 82 in each of his first three seasons, and he has played in every playoff game.
While his ability to stay healthy is probably the trait that the Blazers are most excited about, both the Blazers and fantasy owners are going to be very happy with Lillard this season. Here at numberFire, we have Lillard as our seventh-best fantasy player, and with his usage and shot attempts about to skyrocket, it’s hard not to foresee Lillard as anything other than a top-10 pick in your drafts.
Lillard’s Elite Fantasy Value in Seasonal Fantasy Leagues
If you’re playing in a category league and looking to draft Lillard in the first round, he will likely be an elite fantasy option in five categories: points, assists, three-pointers, free throw percentage and rebounds. His rebounds are a unique distinction from most point guards, because among the guards ranked ahead of Lillard in total assists last season, only three of them had more rebounds than Lillard.
Assuming his field goal percentage doesn’t drop too far from his career average, he won’t hurt you in either the steals or shooting percentage area, which makes turnovers his only real weakness. Lillard ranked inside the top 25 in turnovers last season with 2.7 per game, but if you look closely at his game log, a majority of Portland’s games he had two or fewer giveaways. If you can stomach the occasional five-turnover game from Lillard this season, his numbers elsewhere warrant a first round selection.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk thinks that Lillard could lead the league in field goal attempts this season, and our projections allot him 1,414 field goal attempts this year, fifth-most in our projections. With that will come an obvious spike in his point output.
With Lillard, that means both getting to the line and shooting the three, which is where most of his value will come from. Lillard was 4th last season in three-point attempts at 7 per game and 16th in field goal attempts.
However, given that high volume, his raw field goal percentage numbers don’t tell the entire story. Among the seven guards who were ahead of him in field goal attempts, only three of them had better Effective Field Goal Percentages.
Lillard also got to the line nearly 400 times last season with a Usage Percentage of 27 percent. If his usage spikes to over 30 percent this season, he will almost certainly lead the league in field goal attempts, three point attempts and free throws.
Lillard in Daily Fantasy Formats
Early on last season when he was still underpriced, Lillard was both a cash game and tournament value. In his first 20 games of 2014-15, Lillard had 10 games where he scored 40 or more FanDuel points. Even after his price finally caught up to his play, he rarely failed to reach at least four times value, making him an extremely consistent option at the point guard position.
As long as his turnovers don’t spike this season because of his assumed bump in usage, he will often make for a safe play because of his usage alone. Additionally, Lillard might be under-owned or overlooked at the beginning of the season because he plays in a small market and because the team is expected to be a non-contender (they are 20th in our power rankings and own a 32.4% chance to make the playoffs).
Last year, Lillard flashed 50- and even 60-point upside. Now as the main man in Portland, he should have a few nights like that in store this season.