Abbott: Are Blazers Better Off Not Playing Damian Lillard "Heroball"?

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One writer wonders whether the Portland Trail Blazers put themselves in the best position to win by putting the ball exclusively in Damian Lillard's hands.

Henry Abbott of TrueHoop contemplates one of his favorite topics -- "Heroball" -- and how it applies to the Portland Trail Blazers after guard Damian Lillard's last-second game-winner against the New Orleans Hornets last night. Abbott prefers a team-based approach to late-game plays rather than isolation shots.

Yes, likely Lillard, Bryant, Anthony et al are the very best in the world at getting halfway decent looks against tenacious defense. They are the elite of talent. But nobody, and certainly not those players, has an awesome rate of completion late in games. All that ice water in all those veins gets you some makes, but not a big long string of them. All those players have so-so completion rates with the game on the line.

The historic record stops just short of totally destroying the idea of "clutch performers" in almost every sport. Oh, there may be some guys who are a little better at it. But even if it does exist -- here the record is clear -- it's poor strategy to count on it.

...

But here, let me tell you how things go back in reality: Lillard makes about 37 percent of his 3s. By the time he retires, I suspect that in crunch time, his 3-point average will be no better than that, and likely worse. It'll be that way for a few reasons: those will be tough covered 3s, many off the dribble like this big shot. Most players (although maybe not Lillard, who loves that shot) find it harder to make buckets consistently off the dribble. Opposing coaches will make sure Lillard faces at least one, if not two or three great defenders. And most importantly -- and here the evidence is clear -- after hitting big shots like that, if Lillard's like most high-scoring NBA players, he will suspend his normal shot selection and take any halfway decent look he can find. Nothing hurts your shooting percentage like stepping into a heavily contested 35-footer.

Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com co-signs the premise.

I've always believed a wide-open shot for a good player is a much better bet than a contested shot for a great player. Yes, there are momentary exceptions to that, but in general, running an effective offense, sharing the ball and moving it to the open player is always the best strategy.

As noted here, Lillard's game-winner came after a string of late-game miscues and missed shots earlier this season. So far, he's 1-for-4 on "heroball" shots for the season.

Also worth noting that the four seconds remaining on the clock dictated the type of shots that were available in last night's situation, especially given Lillard's use as the inbounder with Nicolas Batum identified as the No. 1 option.

Finally, Lillard certainly sounded like he was cut from the Kobe Bryant/Brandon Roy approach to closing after the game.

"I don't think about the first couple that I missed," he told Blazersedge. "I don't think about it at all. When you're playing you're just caught up in the moment. Every time I go up to shoot those last shots, I feel like it's going on. Tonight just happened to be the first one to fall."

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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