Jump Ball A Matty Series PNG

Piggy-backing off of Slim’s (in?)famous “Slim vs. Slim” series of years past, I’m going to be writing a number of articles pitting two players with similar ADPs against one another. The format will be slightly different, but the goal remains the same – provide fantasy owners some food for thought to better inform their decision if faced with these two players come draft day. It’s not a groundbreaking idea across the fantasy sports spectrum, but I’ve always found it to be a good way to help avoid a coin toss scenario once the clock starts ticking. So in lieu of a long-winded introduction, let’s just get down to brass tacks, shall we?

TALE OF THE TAPE

RUSSELL WESTBROOK DAMIAN LILLARD
Oklahoma City Thunder Team Portland Trail Blazers
PG Position (Y! Eligibility) PG
2014 Ranking
10th 9-Cat (Total Value) 6th
7th 9-Cat (Per Game) 16th
67 Games Played 82
34.4 Minutes Per Game 35.7
38.2 (1st) Usage Rate (Rank) 26.3 (21st)

THE CASE FOR RUSSELL WESTBROOK

Think of the Oklahoma City Thunder as a high performance boat with twin outboard motors powering it. When both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy and running clean, there is a ton of horsepower without overtaxing one source – both perform as they should and the results are quite impressive. However, take one of the motors out of commission and demand the same performance from the boat, what happens? A heavy burden falls to the one operational motor, and for a time it can meet the demand in spectacular fashion, but overall it’s an inefficient, unsustainable operation that will begin to wear down.

The 2015 NBA season should, in theory, be Russell Westbrook’s best campaign from an efficiency standpoint. With an embarrassment of riches surrounding him in OKC, Russ shouldn’t feel the need to be a one-man wrecking crew on offense like he did sans-Kevin Durant for much of last season. Pace, spacing, shot selection, and running creative offensive sets will be areas of interest for me when watching Thunder games in 2015/2016. There are five legitimately talented offensive weapons in OKC’s starting lineup. Gone are the Sefoloshas, Perkins, and Adams of the first unit. Enes Kanter is no joke on the offensive end (he might be the best one-liner you’ve ever heard on D though!). Serge Ibaka has shown progression each year with expanding range. And even Neon Dion Waiters (contract year alert!) can get a hot hand from time to time. Simply put – there’s no need for Russell Westbrook to lead the NBA in usage rate again this year. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With so many other legitimate weapons for opposing defenses to concern themselves with, I can see Westbrook’s .426 FG% rising 10-20 points and back into the range we saw from him the four prior years (2010-2013). He should also be able to pick his spots a little better from deep and bump his 3PT FG% back into the .320 range after falling to sub-.300 for the first time since 2009. The overall effect is an arrow that is neither pointing straight up nor straight down, but rather just off of horizontal depending on how new Thunder coach, Billy Donovan, decides to craft his offense.

THE CASE FOR DAMIAN LILLARD

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the new (and improved?) Russell Westbrook. Just about everything that was said above for RW can be turned on its head and applied to Damian Lillard. Points, boards, assists, minutes, usage rate – all should see increases in 2015 out of pure, unadulterated necessity. The tarnished flip side to that shiny coin? Increased defensive attention resulting in a high-volume FG% that will likely set a new career-worst mark (currently sitting at .424 in 2013). TOs? You can bet the farm they’ll rise above 3 per game with a usage rate that, by season’s end, should be top-5 in the league.

Damian Lillard is going to run, run, and then run some more. As I wrote in “Minutes Men” I believe the 25-year old Portland PG will average close to 37 MPG and challenge Jimmy Butler for tops in the Association in that regard. The opportunity is going to be there for Lillard to post some huge numbers as the undisputed lead dog amongst an inexperienced, unproven pack. One of the big questions that won’t be answered until the games go live is whether or not the complimentary Blazers are able to knock down enough shots for Lillard to move up the ranks in the highly coveted assists category. Last year, despite having a bevy of talented offensive weapons around him, Lillard failed to crack the top-10 in total assists, despite playing in all 82 games. In fact, he had fewer assists than non-PGs James Harden, Tyreke Evans, and Lebron James (none of whom played all 82 games). Look for Lillard’s assists to rise closer to the 7.0 APG mark, again, simply as a result of him having the ball in his hands more than he ever has before. On the plus side, the assist-killing isolations to LaMarcus Aldridge on the left block are gone. Those possessions should be replaced by pick-and-roll plays to a driving Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, or pick-and-pops to Meyers Leonard and Al-Farouq Aminu. Whether any of those less than inspiring names can convert on a Lillard dish remains to be seen. But for a Portland team that ranked in the top half of the league in pace last year, volume should (hopefully) offset inefficiency.

Let’s take a look at how these two players should stack up head-to-head for fantasy owners in 2015 looking to roster an elite point guard with their first round pick (* denotes my projected category winner):

RUSSELL WESTBROOK DAMIAN LILLARD
POINTS *
* REBOUNDS
* ASSISTS
BLOCKS *
* STEALS
* FG%
FT% *
TO *
3PM *
4 CATEGORIES WON 5

JUMP BALL

Damian Lillard steals this one by the narrowest of margins based on one very important factor that you won’t find in the chart above: durability. Dame hasn’t missed a game in his career – he’s 246 of 246. Russell Westbrook of former “hasn’t missed a game dating back to high school!” fame? He has only managed to suit up for 113 of a possible 164 regular season contests over the past two years (I’ve still never forgiven Patrick Beverley for starting that snowball a few years back). Though he’s only 26 years old, Russ has seven seasons of ultra-aggressive NBA basketball under his belt and his medical chart is starting to reflect it.

The chart above might as well be a dead heat as the blocks category (currently in Lillard’s favor) is a negligible difference. The popcorn stats that once favored RW should move much closer to one another as Lillard’s rise and Westbrook’s fall. Prior to last season’s one-man band performance, Russ was scoring in the 22/23 PPG range because of the presence of Kevin Durant and I would expect him to return to that range. Lillard should blow that number out of the water this year and could very well pace all non-“Splash Brothers” in 3PM. And while Damian likely won’t ever threaten to dethrone Westy as PG steals king, he did show improvement in that category going from 0.8 in 2013 to 1.2 last year.

It’s extremely close, but I’ll bank on a career year from Damian Lillard and a predictable regression for Russell Westbrook. I’m pulling the trigger on Lillard in 9-category leagues any time after the 5th pick of the first round – I’m that high on him for 2015.

 

Agree/disagree? Who is your choice when you’re on the clock? Feedback is always welcome, so please share your thoughts in the comments section below or come find me in the Twitterverse at @moneyballmatty. Cheers!

 

Once again, H/T to the following sources for providing the stats & info that help build the foundation of this article: Basketball Reference, Basketball Monster, ESPN (Hollinger’s Stats)

  1. Thunder from Down Under says:
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    Great article Matty. Enjoyed Minute Men as well! In a 8 cat league with no TO would you go Westbrook or still stick with Lillard?

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @Thunder from Down Under: Thanks, Thunder. Love knowing the content is being well received by the Razzball community.

      Great question. 8-cat can be a different animal when it comes to valuation of certain players. Last year Russ (5th) actually outranked Dame (6th) in 8-cat TOTAL value, despite playing 15 fewer games! But with predicted regression in RW’s elite usage-related stats (mostly points & assists) and a rise for DL in those same cats, I’m liking them to flip-flop ranking spots this season. With TOs inconsequential, one of the main drawbacks of Lillard seeing a spike in usage and defensive attention is removed. As mentioned above, FG% will likely favor Westy but not so much that it’ll counteract a 4-5 PPG drop.

      So I’m still taking Lillard over Westbrook in 8-cat with a projected total value finish for Lillard right around the 4th or 5th spot (I think he’ll leapfrog Chris Paul as well). I can’t see Russ falling out of the top-8 if he can play 70+ games though, so they’re still quite close.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, brother. Cheers.

  2. CTMN says:
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    I think Westbrook definitely has FG%, like you said. Lillard’s is gonna drop on a higher volume.
    Lillard is probably gonna have higher Ft% on at least as high, if not higher volume.
    Lillard takes points, Westbrook takes rebounds like you said.
    I think Lillard might actually take asts just barely, or at least a tie.
    Westbrook takes steals by a lot.
    Blocks won’t really matter ultimately, too low and about equal.
    I think Lillard will win turnovers slightly.
    Lillard easily wins 3s made, I agree with that.

    So it’s basically equal, if this is more or less right.I have to agree with you, I’m probably taking Lillard because of the security, knowing how he’s never missed a game. The Blazers are so bad that they can tank even with him in the lineup. Also, I like my best guys to be the best on their team usually, it just assures you that you’re getting the #1 guy every night. He’ll always give you some big help.

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @CTMN: Sounds like we’re in agreement pretty much across the board! I think the three big factors that could shift this to one side or the other are:

      1) KD’s health – if he’s back to 100% and hell bent on making a run at a ring in OKC, Westbrook’s regression is all but certain.
      2) Billy Donovan – how does his offensive philosophy translate to the pros? Is it a “sharing is caring” ball movement offense or is he going to run everything through one guy? If it’s the latter – is that guy Russ or KD?
      3) Blazers role players – can they step up to keep defenses even slightly honest or is Lillard running into a five-man brick wall every time down the court?

      We’ll get some glimpses in preseason, but we’re not going to get those questions answered until the games actually matter. It’s going to be fun to watch though. (Thank goodness for NBA LeaguePass!)

      • CTMN says:
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        @Matty: I think Donovan will have a bit more of a team oriented offense than Brooks iso ball, but it might not hurt. KD and Russell should still get theirs either way.
        Lillard might be carrying the worst starters since Iverson back in Philly before Iguodala was drafted! Wow that will be interesting…
        Good job on the article and go raptors!

  3. CTMN says:
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    So what would be your final rank between Lillard/Westbrook/CP3/Wall, from 1 to 4? I might lean towards CP3/Wall for the assists but what do you think?

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @CTMN: As of right now I have it Lillard, Westbrook, Paul, Wall. There’s not a whole lot separating them and it depends just how much of a premium you place on assists. Obviously Paul & Wall get the bump if you are concerned about chasing that cat later in the draft. But if you plan on pulling the trigger on a Bledsoe in round 2 or a Teague/Lowry/Dragic/Reggie in 3/4 then I think you have to lean Dame/Russ for their upside.

      CP3 shocked the fantasy world last year by playing all 82 games for the first time in his career (he hadn’t played more than 70 in the previous three seasons). That obviously helped propel him into a top-3 total value finish. You’re a braver man than I if you bet on it happening again…but it very well could. And if he does, he’d be the odds on favorite to lead this pack in 9-cat value.

      I don’t dislike any of the four options and I’d be comfortable building a competitive team around any one of those guys. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but I think based on durability and sheer (projected) volume, Lillard is the guy I’m hitching my wagon to.

      • CTMN says:
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        @Matty: Interesting thoughts…I think I might go the same way after seeing that, I forgot how many injuries CP3 has had. I’m also kind of a Clipper hater so I definitely don’t mind pusjing CP3 down. I’m a big Wall fan though, and I think his numbers will go up without Pierce. Definitely agreed that all 4 are good options, wouldn’t object to having any of those guys in the first.
        Thanks for the input!

  4. dan-o1 says:
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    good stuff, matty, both articles are top shelf imo. i hope your thoughts prove correct with illard,he’s my favorite player and love the way he plays the game. i gotta go cp3,dame,westbrook in 9cat. as of now.
    please keep up the solid work,homie

    • Matty

      Matty says:
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      @dan-o1: Thanks for the kind words, dan-o1! Much appreciated.

      I hope I’m right too – I have a feeling I’m going to own more than a few Lillard shares this year, so it’d be a bad time for him to miss his first games as a pro.

      I can’t argue with you too hard about ranking CP3 above both DL & RW. There’s a pretty strong case to be made for all three and I think it’s worth trying out some mock drafts building teams around each of the options to see which you like best. It should give you an idea of which guy’s deficiencies are the most difficult to compensate for later in the draft.

      Look for another “Jump Ball” article early this coming week.

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