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Examining Damian Lillard’s Signature Shot

The All-Star guard has many moves, but one or two make him truly special.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Denver Nuggets Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Remember signature shots and moves? The Dream-Shake. The Sky-Hook. The Allen Iverson or the Tim Hardaway crossover. Moves so good and so pure, they were feared around the league- and for good reason. While they haven’t disappeared, they’ve been pushed to the periphery in favor of the all-around game. That isn’t to say that players don’t have go-to moves, quite the contrary in fact- player profiles exist based on go-to moves and spots on the floor. Entire offenses are built on players’ abilities to get to those spots and score in efficient manners- they just don’t seem to have the same attention drawn to them anymore.

For the next couple of weeks, I’m aiming to change that even in the smallest of ways by highlighting some go-to moves for various Trail Blazers. They may not be the most utilized or the flashiest, but something that pops off the tape as quite different from the rest of their arsenal, something they go to when the offense needs a spark or when the team really needs a bucket. With that, it should come as no surprise that the first player I’m tapping here is none other than Damian Lillard.

Now “Logo Lillard” became a thing during the All-Star Weekend in Charlotte this past week- however, we’re not profiling his ability to knock down the long three. While that’s nice, I don’t think that’s the shot that Dame can own. Lillard may have a claim to it, but let’s be honest here- that’s the house that Steph Curry built. Instead, there’s something I’ve noticed over the past few months that Lillard goes to in times of need and it’s one of the most incredibly difficult shots I’ve ever seen a player take consistently.

If you’ve listened to the Blazer’s Edge podcast or watched Blazers Outsiders this year- inevitably you’ve heard me discuss different types of athleticism. In particular, one thing that often gets glossed over- the ability to DECELERATE. Look at Lillard in these clips, stopping on a dime, changing direction stepping back and then fading away. Each move is made without chopping his feet, but instead planting, cutting, power back and then up - each step more difficult than the next.

As you can see in each clip though, it looks the same- EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. That’s the reward of probably hundreds on hours, maybe more, spent on just this one particular move. A tendency breaker for all of his rim runs, pull up threes and hesi-blow bys.

Want to have a bit of fun? Try replicating this shot by yourself at the gym or in the backyard at quarter speed. If you’re able to pull that off and be effective with the shot, bump it up a notch- but I have a feeling that most mortals will fall substantially short at just that pace. I tried it probably 200 hundred times over the past week and well...not surprisingly, it wasn’t pretty.

What makes this shot so incredible is how simple Lillard makes it look. He can do it coming off a dribble hand-off, in the pick and roll, in transition and an impromptu move in traffic to create space like a jazz musician in a bar on Beale Street. Lillard shows he can go to the step-back off either foot, going either direction. While Lillard tends to favor the right side of the floor, he’s capable and willing to go left as well.

Keep in mind that Lillard listed at 6’3” (that’s a stretch) so in order for him to clear space he has to fade and lean way back while stepping back to create enough room to clear defenders who are more often than not longer and with a longer reach- yet Lillard is able to do so quite simply and effectively. Going through clip-by-clip I was able to track these baseline step back fade-aways and he’s hitting 42 percent of them. That’s absurd.

So the next time you see Lillard flying off a DHO towards the baseline and think it’s not a good shot, remember that he’s developed this into what is becoming a signature shot. Something that Portland hasn’t had since LaMarcus Aldridge grew roots on the left block and shot that un-blockable, right shoulder turn and fade on the baseline. The one thing left here is...what do we name this shot?