You’re the starting point guard of an NBA team that’s about to play the Portland Trail Blazers, and you have to defend Damian Lillard. The scouting report packet you read before the game includes:
- Explosive first step.
- Can attack with right or left.
- In-the-gym range.
- Tendency to pull up right around a high screen, occasionally looks to draw foul on overzealous defender.
- Dangerous step-back three-pointer, favors going left to right.
Additionally, your coach outlines a couple ways to force Lillard off the three-point line. The entire defense is keying in on him, so don’t worry if he gets by you. The help defense will stall him long enough for you to recover.
The game begins. Predictably, Hassan Whiteside sets a high screen. The screen is 27 feet from the hoop, so you prepare to step under it. Instead of using the screen, Lillard simply pulls from 30 feet and swishes it.
You decide to pressure him the moment he crosses half court to prevent that from happening again. He’s shooting 28/70 (40%) from 30-34 feet: that make wasn’t a lucky coincidence.
On the next high screen, you commit to stepping over the screen, plus your teammate defending the screener steps out to keep a perpetual hand in Lillard’s face. Help defense will catch the screener if he begins rolling to the hoop. Right now, hindering a Lillard triple is the primary focus.
Lillard is feeling it, so he pulls up even with a big man contesting his 12 o’clock and you contesting his 3 o’clock. Swish. Three more points for the Blazers without going within the arc.
No more messing around. You full court press Lillard to force CJ McCollum to take the ball up. You catch your breath and watch the other eight players shuffle around. Lillard stands 28 feet from the hoop, so you stay at the three-point line to be available for help defense or to close out on Lillard should he receive a pass.
Oops. Another mistake. The ball swings to Lillard and he drains the 28-foot jumper. His release was too quick, and you failed to close out well enough. Three more for Portland.
Coach tells you to back off on the full court pressure; you need to conserve some energy for the offensive end if the game becomes a shootout. Lillard returns to bringing the ball up the floor, and this time the initial screen comes on the wing. You prepare to go over the pick and your teammate steps up for help.
Lillard recognizes your shift and denies the screen. You scramble back into position and cut off his attempt to drive. He stops on a dime, hops back, and drills the off-balance three. Another failure.
As you grapple with the idea that there’s no way to stop him from hitting triples, your teammate misses a jumper. Carmelo Anthony screams, “GET OUT OF HERE I GOT IT!” to Whiteside. He secures the rebound and fires an outlet pass to Lillard, who runs directly at you with a full head of steam.
You slowly back up expecting him to drive, but he stutter steps and pulls up for three. You recover well and get a hand in his face and think, “No way he hits this.”
Swish. He’s shooting 39.8% on pull up threes this season, second best among 25 players attempting three or more per game. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to you.
The final buzzer saves you from any more embarrassment. You look up at the Moda Center’s jumbotron and see that Lillard scored 50 points. You become the latest January victim of Lillard.
And that’s how he averaged 52.7 points per game last week and 33.1 points so far in the month of January.
There’s simply no way to stop Damian Lillard right now, especially from three. He just scored 158 points over three games and set two franchise records with 61 points in a game and 11 made threes.
The Blazers aren’t performing to the standard they expected before the season, but Lillard is playing arguably the best offense of his career. He’s in full destruction mode and is ready to drag this injury-ridden roster to the playoffs.