Damian Lillard is having another spectacular year, averaging nearly 26 points per game to go along with six assists and nearly five rebounds. But since the turn of the New Year, he’s struggled shooting the ball - connecting at a 38 percent clip over the Blazers’ last seven games.
Lillard has made up for it in other ways. His shots are down. He’s looked to get his teammates more involved, and his assists have ticked up to more than eight per game over that same stretch. It seems to have rubbed off; the Blazer have had at least 25 assists in each of their last five games. Most importantly, the Blazers are 5-2 in that stretch. Common thinking over the last several years has been “as Lillard goes, so go the Blazers”, but with Jusuf Nurkic playing the best basketball of his career and CJ McCollum possibly starting to break out of his shooting slump, Lillard looking to spread the wealth until he gets his shot back could go a long way toward keeping his teammates engaged as the season rolls along.
Besides, these types of slumps have happened before. Last season, Lillard had a rough stretch in December where he averaged 18 points per game on 40 percent shooting over seven games (with a leg injury toward the end of that stretch). In the 2016-17 season, Lillard limped through 13 games from mid-January to early February only shooting 40 percent (31 percent from the 3-point line) over 13 games.
The bottom line is that Lillard is going to be fine. Whether it’s fatigue, nagging minor injuries, or just plain missing shots - it happens to nearly everyone in the NBA. The schedule is a grind, and players are going to have their ups and downs. It’s not ideal, but nothing to be concerned about. Besides, what did Dame do after the previously mentioned 2016-17 slump? He averaged nearly 30 points per game over the next 17. Blazer fans of course remember his unbelievable, MVP-level scoring run in February of 2017-18.
Dame is a smart player. He knows how to balance the fact that he’s struggling with the old adage that “shooters gotta shoot.” He’ll work the ball around to his teammates, and still look for his shot when it’s there. Over the first 37 games of the season, Lillard averaged 19 and a half shots per game. Over the last seven, he’s shooting a hair fewer than 17 times a night. Those aren’t “I’m panicking and I’m not going to shoot anymore” numbers. But they show that he’s cognizant that he’s off and needs to get others involved.
History shows that his rough spells don’t typically last longer than a few weeks, so the fact that the Blazers are winning games with him playing more as a distributor is good news for the team. Besides, if there’s one thing that Blazer fans know, it’s that when Damian Lillard breaks out of a slump, he does it in a major way.