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Damian Lillard and the Youngest Blazers Shine

Team Mom found a silver lining to a difficult week: the development of the youngest players and their chance to play alongside Damian Lillard.

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Each week, Team Mom highlights her favorites plays, players and other things that made the Trail Blazers fun to watch. Who is Mom’s Favorite this week? What were your favorite things that happened this week? Let us know in the comments below.

Week 3: November 3 - 9. Golden State Warriors (L), LA Clippers (L), Brooklyn Nets (L)

The loss to Golden State was gross. The loss against the Clippers was disappointing but not as disheartening because they are an excellent team and the Blazers showed signs of life. The Brooklyn game? I am so conflicted, and I wonder if other Blazers fans are as well.

On the one hand, losing after a 60-point performance by Damian Lillard felt inexcusable. When someone works that hard to put the team on their back, you do everything you can to make it worth their effort. On the other hand, once it became clear that Terry Stotts was ready to try anything, we got to see some unexpected and fun lineups. I’m not sure how mad I am about the fact that Damian Lillard, surrounded by Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Skal Labissiere and Gary Trent Jr., couldn’t win against a good team. Seeing what the young guys could do—and we’re talking young, only Labissiere is of legal drinking age—was fun! They hustled, they rebounded, they made mistakes. But they got better. They listened and they learned, taking in instructions from Lillard, Stotts, and the assistant coaches.

After watching the same team for years, I have enjoyed watching something new this season, and watching the future of the franchise take shape. One thing we saw from the Golden State game is what happens when a team doesn’t plan. While they were building their championship roster, they didn’t find players who could come up behind the current stars and carry the team into the future. Golden State’s younger players are a collection of whomever they could find, while the Blazers’ younger players were picked to play alongside Lillard. The silver lining to this whole rotten week is that they got an accelerated course in NBA development, making them that much closer to contributing to the team on a regular basis.

Mom’s Favorite: Damian Lillard

I don’t think my heart could hurt more for the Blazers than it did the other night when I watched Damian Lillard walk off after scoring 60 points in a loss. No group huddle at center court. Lillard gave a quick hug to Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, slapped hands with a few teammates, and then made his quiet exit. 60 points. A loss. Oh Damian, if I could do anything to help, I would.

Over the last three games, Damian has averaged 40 points, four rebounds, five assists, one steal and only two turnovers in 38 minutes per game. He has scored 36% of the teams points (121 of 334) and dished out one-third of the teams total assists (15/45). Here is some context for the accomplishment of a sixty point game from the Washington Post’s Ben Golliver:

If five assists seems low, it is. His teammates are not helping him out by making shots. Compare his last three games to Kyrie Irving’s last three: Lillard recorded 12.7 potential assists but only 5 completed. Kyrie had 11.7 potential assists, with 8.3 completed. Another way to see things are going awry: Lillard is 31st out of all guards in the league in adjusted assists. That’s not okay; Lillard should not be ranked 31st at anything.

One last note on Lillard’s 60 point performance: I have never seen him hunt stats before. Just last season the Blazers blew out the Jazz and he was two assists short of a triple double but he came out of the game. I don’t know exactly how it is significant, but I think it is notable that he took a shot at the buzzer to get himself to 60. A three-pointer at that point was not going to win the game. Perhaps it was his way of doing himself one small favor, to give him one small thing to hang on to as he tries to navigate a difficult start to the season.

In any case, here is his highlight reel from the Brooklyn match-up.

Honorable Mention

Home court debut for Nassir Little. That Terry Stotts rarely gives rookies meaningful minutes is well known in Portland (I’m pretty sure it is taught in schools in the metro area), but he took a chance on Friday night when searching for an answer at power forward. The home crowd gave Little a warm welcome when he took the court with 4:17 to go in the first half. In 18 minutes Little showed mostly sound defensive instincts, scored six points (including 2-2 at the FT line), got one steal, one block, three rebounds and one of the best dunks of the season.

Anfernee Simons I’m pretty sure there are going to be many inches devoted to Anfernee Simons in this column as the season progresses. I’m loving what I’m seeing so far and I believe his first (of many) signature game is coming soon. In the meantime, his minutes are increasing, he’s scored in double digits his last four games, he got to the free throw line at least once a game, and he had no turnovers this week.

Skal Labissiere valiantly filling in at the center. According to Basketball Reference, Labissiere played 73% of his minutes at power forward when he was in Sacramento. This season, 100% of his minutes have been recorded at center. He continues to set screens like a blackberry bush: guys just get stuck on him. And while I find that I hold my breath with every shot, he’s figuring out how to score when he’s not right under the rim. Here he is finishing against the Clippers.

Screen Assists: Look, I’ll admit sometimes I poke through to look for anything the Blazers can hang their hats on, especially after a rough week. Imagine my surprise when I found—me, the queen of despair over the loss of screeners—that the Blazers actually lead the league (tied with Utah) this season in average number of screen assists per game (insert Kool and the Gang, Celebration here). In 30 minutes a night, Hassan Whiteside leads the team with 5.7, and behind him is none other than Skal Labissiere with who is averaging 4.7 screen assists in less than 15 minutes per game. In per-36 minutes terms, Skal crushes everyone else (active players) on the team with 11.5.

Three guard lineup: Stotts has run with a three guard lineup in six games for a total of 45 minutes this season. He increased the amount of time Lillard, McCollum and Simons shared the court throughout the week, from 2.7 minutes against Golden State, 13 minutes against the Clipper and a season-high 22.7 minutes against the Nets.

I don’t know how much of it was a calculated move and how much of it was desperation, but it seems to be working. Against the Clippers, they scored 32 points and were a +2. In the game against Brooklyn, they scored 65 points and had the highest +/- of any other three person combination. Sure, a lot of this is due to Lillard going supernova, but the presence of McCollum and Simons on the floor gives defenses more decisions to make and frees up a little more time and space for Lillard.

Alley-up? Well, I fear that alley-oops basically walked out the door with Jake Layman. I did not expect they would be replaced with the alley-up (shout out to the Twitter user who I can’t find right now who called it this when I asked). Lillard-to-Simons, more of this I guess?

That will do it for this week’s Mom’s Favorites. Was there anything you liked about this week? What plays or player make you excited for the future? Let us know in the comments below.

Xoxo Team Mom | @tcbbiggs