Damian Lillard is unquestionably the heart of the Portland Trail Blazers, the face of the franchise. The former 6th overall pick has improved his scoring average each of his five seasons and led Portland to the playoffs each of past four years. But is everything rosy with Portland’s all-star-caliber point guard?
CBS Sports’ Matt Moore published a feature on Lillard Wednesday afternoon, looking at some of the things Dame does well, then exploring areas where improvement might be needed.
According to Moore, the main area where Lillard excels involve “Anything he does on his own” on offense:
Lillard gets buckets. All kinds of buckets. At the rim, from deep, all over. Lillard's scoring ability is second to almost none in the NBA...
In isolation, Lillard finished in the 91st percentile shooting off the dribble, and in the 81st percentile coming off a ball screen. If you go under against him, or lose connection for a heartbeat, you are ruined.
Moore provides video illustrating various ways Lillard gets his shot off. He points out that Dame posted a career high in points, field goal percentage, True Shooting Percentage, rebounds, and offensive win shares last season, but notes that it didn’t feel like his overall impact was commensurate.
Part of Moore’s explanation: “He has the wrong teammates.” He cites the Blazers’ lack of good screeners:
No one can do anything as a screener. They have absolutely no pick-and-pop weapons, and no one who can effectively roll. This includes phenom Jusuf Nurkic who inspired "Nurkic Fever" after being traded from Denver. The Blazers' offensive and defensive ratings soared with the addition of Nurkic, but Nurkic himself was actually only in the 12th percentile in points per possession rolling to the rim with Portland, shooting just 47 percent on such attempts.
Moore also mentions that Portland doesn’t have good cutters, specifically calling out Noah Vonleh finishing in the 10th percentile on cut scoring last season. He adds that the addition of Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan could help the Blazers improve in these areas if the rookies can get regular playing time.
Unsurprisingly, the main area where Moore sees room for improvement for Lillard is defense. He argues Lillard’s defensive deficiency is due to two main factors: size and aversion to contact. According to Moore, Lillard’s size specifically hurts him when contesting shots:
Lillard wasn't terrible in isolation defense (48th percentile) but given that he's routinely hidden on lesser weapons to try and save his energy, it's not great…
Most of the spot-up shots Lillard surrendered last season weren't him completely losing his man, but being unable to effectively contest.
The aversion to contact shows up primarily when working through screens:
Running through screens requires precision, strength, coordination, and anticipation. Even then, it's difficult and often painful. It is an inherently difficult thing, which is why so many NBA players struggle with it: it's hard.
That said, Lillard tends to go out of his way to avoid contact and is looking to remain completely clear most of the time.
There's an interesting wrinkle in this. Lillard tends to foul in those situations, and he can't afford foul trouble. So if he's aggressive trying to slam through, he picks up a cheap foul, if he tries to avoid it, guys are roaming free.
Moore points out that the presence of Jusuf Nurkic in the middle helped improve Dame’s defensive rating and notes that “while stars always need to keep improving, it's more about putting the right pieces around him on both sides of the floor, than fixing anything with him.”
Moore’s piece was far more extensive than we can encapsulate in a single post. Check out the entire article here.