Copyright: xMartyxJean-Louisx

Instant Reaction and Evaluation of the Damian Lillard Trade

First and foremost, WHOA!!!

After 11 campaigns in a Blazers uniform, Damian Lillard has a new home, Jrue Holiday just said he wanted to sign an extension and is now in Portland, and Deandre Ayton is out of Phoenix after multiple reports over the past season-plus of discontent.

There’s a lot to break down, much that still needs to sink in, and follow-up moves reportedly around Holiday are on the horizon.


I absolutely love this move from the Bucks, an all-in push to the center of the table to rework their roster after an off-season that didn’t see much change outside of the coaching staff. Regardless of whether or not this was spurred on by recent public comments from Giannis Antetokounmpo about his future, this is the move you make to both compete now, and work to make Milwaukee Giannis’ longterm home.

The first lens to look at without even factoring in the actual on-court fit is the sheer level of talent; Dame and Giannis are the most talented teammates one another has played with, hands down.

LaMarcus Aldridge oscillated around a Top 20 player in his prime with Portland, finishing All-NBA second team his final year in the PNW during 2014-15. Giannis has never had a teammate make an All-NBA team. It certainly hurts to see Jrue Holiday on his way out, but the Bucks made one of the best possible upgrades feasible.

Milwaukee had the 13th ranked halfcourt offense (1.002 points per possession) last season according to Synergy Sports. They finished 28th in the league in isolation efficiency (including passes) and were a fairly average transition team with respect to volume and effectiveness.

Damian Lillard ranked 3rd in pick and roll efficiency last season amongst players who ran at least 200 last year (measuring for high volume), with Jrue Holiday not much further below him. It’s worth noting and remembering that the Bucks excelled as a pick and roll based offense last season; where they struggled was when teams felt comfortable switching and forcing the Bucks into creating in tighter spaces.

Amongst 76 players who had 100 isolation possessions or more last season, Lillard ranked 5th in efficiency (including passes made out of isolation), averaging 1.13 points per possession; Giannis ranked 45th (.934) and Holiday 71st (.806).

Synergy numbers do not paint the whole picture, but it presents and reinforces the idea; the Bucks could not score well when play bogged down, a significant factor in their early postseason exit. Lillard solves that problem while opening up even more options offensively. The Milwaukee Bucks need Giannis to return to the form he held as a shooter/finisher during the 2021-22 season where he shot 40+ percent from outside the restricted area to just inside the three point line after shooting ~35.5% from the same area last season.

With Lillard in the fold, a new coaching staff, and all the money on the table, the Milwaukee Bucks appear a likely frontrunner for the 2023-24 season out of the Eastern Conference.


Simultaneously, this is a better and worse trade package than it looks on paper.

On one hand, Deandre Ayton is certainly the most talented player in Phoenix’s side of the deal. On the other hand, that frankly doesn’t matter much considering his drop in play since the Suns’ run to the Finals.

Ayton is still a really enticing young player with upside, one of the most skilled and fluid centers in the game. When he’s engaged and fully active, he’s a mobile defender with great feet and hands at his size, capable of anchoring a good defense and providing enough versatility to not worry about him being run off the floor.

Point blank, he was rarely that player for the Suns this past season. His effort defensively was inconsistent, he took the least shots at the rim of his career, and the “will they, wont they” push-pull of a looming Ayton deal hung over the Suns.

That is not to denigrate who Ayton is as a player or person, but rather to point out that this is not just some one off because of talent. Jusuf Nurkic is not a better player than Ayton, but can he fill in that same sort of role; screen, cut, duck in when available, attack the glass, and play a few coverages defensively.

Nurkic is not the rim protector or mover that Ayton is at his best, but bought in, in a new environment, and with the players around him that are in Phoenix, I think there’s a world where healthy Nurkic does a pretty darn solid job.

I’m curious to see if it gets leaned into, but Nurkic has a little more in his bag as a passer, in exchange for the general efficiency that Ayton brought.

So much of what the Suns have built is based on versatility, being able to flex multiple lineups, and having options; Nurkic gives them a ~25 minute a game on average center who can do some good things in the right setting. They also bring in a trio of wings, with Grayson Allen and Nassir Little as likely rotation players.

Allen is a capable movement shooter who can fit in as a fourth or fifth option. Health has eluded Little, last season the first he played 50 games or more. But, he’s steadily gotten a little more effective as a shooter. He’s still a bit of a mystery when he does draw closeouts, as that’s the next growth stage of his game, but the potential of another player who can spread the floor and defend bigger frontcourt players is there.

Some of the concerns that existed about depth don’t feel quite as pressing now, and could perhaps even become a strength if things hit right for Frank Vogel.


As previously mentioned, Holiday is expected to be re-routed to another team and contender soon, understandable given where the Blazers are currently at as a franchise. Keeping Holiday in the fold and attempting to make the play-in after Dame’s exodus feels unlikely and would be an odd move.

What Holiday returns Portland will be key in fully understanding and evaluating this trade.

This is, at present, a pretty underwhelming and disappointing trade when factoring in the caliber of player that Lillard is. Considering that he is 33 and has the next three season guaranteed, followed by a player option for just north of $63 million, I would imagine that played a significant factor in negotiations and possible return. Dame is still a phenomenal player, arguably just having the best season of his career, but that’s a lot of years and money.

Holiday has a player option in 2024 (1 year plus potentially one more) and should be in high demand with more flexibility from other teams to take him on.

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