Each week, Team Mom highlights her favorite 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.
Mom’s Favorite: Damian Lillard from Mars
I don’t think I need to convince anyone how great Damian Lillard’s play is right now. That Zach Lowe couldn’t think of more to say than Lillard has some Kobe in him should indicate that Lillard is fully on the national radar.
In a week that has been rough for those of us who love the NBA, I’ve been cheering myself up by obsessively refreshing Lillard’s shot charts.
If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will:
Remember 22 months ago when Lillard and the Blazers were getting blitzed and shredded by the Pelicans (the Pelicans!) in the first round of the playoffs? Since fighting off those double teams that locked him up and rendered him nearly ineffective, Lillard has expanded his arsenal by extending the range of his 3 point shot. Opponents are now forced to double team him so far away from the basket that, if he can slip by them, he’s got a wide open sprint to the basket or he can just take a few more steps back and drain a three from 30 or more feet away.
Remember Lillard’s workouts in 2018? Seems like this really helped extend his three-point range.
When you don’t post your workouts that means they never happened ♂️ ... so here’s what y’all love to see pic.twitter.com/wOhsy2irNN— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) September 15, 2018
During the 2019 regular season, Damian Lillard took 50 shots from 30 feet or more, a rate of .63 per game. He made 16 of them, or 32 percent.
He carried this into the run to the Western Conference Finals. As many will remember, Damian Lillard opened the playoffs last season with a shot from the “O” in Moda Center. He would go on to shoot a total of 29 shots from 30+ feet in 16 games on the way to the Western Conference finals, hitting a total of 12 (41.3 percent).
This season, Lillard is taking 1.75 shots from 30 or more feet and making them at a rate of 44 percent. This week, he’s taken it to an absolutely ridiculous level, attempting four shots per game from beyond 30 feet, making a mind-melting (or Zach Lowe computer-melting) 56.3 percent.
Damian Lillard is on a hot streak, but one which he planned and trained for and which we get to sit back and enjoy (while opponents tie themselves in knots to try and figure out how to counteract it).
Trevor Ariza’s shot chart. Trevor Ariza has played five games in a Trail Blazer uniform. He’s playing 34.3 minutes and contributing 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists. What I like most about his fit with the team so far is how much his shot charts compliment Damian Lillard’s. Portland has been missing a reliable shooter from the corner, and look what Ariza brings to the table. Here is the heat map that shows his preferred spots.
And here is Lillard’s:
Pink Shoe Shift
Nassir Little’s pink shoes stand out on the court and he and his cohort are starting to shine as well. The Pink Shoe Shift—whenever Nas Little, Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. are in the lineup—continues to be one of my favorite parts of the game.
As these players are on smaller, controlled contracts there is a good chance they will be around for a few years. With injuries to Collins and Hood, as well as letting Seth Curry leave in the offseason, they have been getting more playing time that we might normally expect. How they have improved, especially alongside Damian Lillard, is indicative to me that the future is bright.
The Pink Shoe Shift has played 116 minutes together this season, 35 minutes (almost one third) in the last four games. Half of their time they play with Damian Lillard, and this week the unit shared the floor with Lillard 27 of 35 minutes.
With the way that he has been playing, pretty much any lineup that includes Damian Lillard has seen a scoring increase. But watch the Pink Shoe Shift to see how much they have improved at running plays this season.
Anfernee curling around a screen set by Trent to into a handoff with Lillard. Very McCollum-like. Or Little cutting to the hoop along the baseline to finish an alley-oop (Jake Layman anyone?) or acting as a release valve when Lillard is double teamed (a reminder of that dear pointy-elbowed jumper by Chief). Here are Nas Little’s buckets against Utah:
These Nas Little shots (3/3) look like old familiar plays that we used to see from Jake Layman (cutting baseline to dunk) and Aminu (release-valve at the top of the key for a double-teamed Damian Lillard)https://t.co/KtbjHXRG8w— Team Mom (@tcbbiggs) February 2, 2020
The Net Rating for the Pink Shoe Shift has improved from -14.1 for the season to 3.9 over the last four games. Their scoring average per game is 11.8 for the season. It has improved to 24.5 points the last four games.
Now, we all know Lillard has gone nuclear this past week (and month) but I also think his life is getting at least a bit easier as his team mates, especially these younger guys, figure things out.
I like it when Nassir Little dunks because they always seem to come at a time when the Blazers need a boost. Here he is dunking against Houston on Wednesday. This dunk at the end of the quarter would bring them within six.
I also love Little’s dunks (and everything else he does, really) and because they are called “Little dunks” in the play-by-play.
Whiteside’s dunk-y week. When Whiteside joined the team, I was expecting a dunk fest. Until this week he was on a fairly tepid (for him) pace of 72 dunks in 42 games. He turned that up this week, dunking 14 times in just four games including five glorious dunks against the Lakers.
Wenyen Gabriel’s first play as a Blazer. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that Wenyen Gabriel’s debut as a Blazer would have him in the starting lineup, facing off against LeBron James? Who would have thought his first play as a Blazer would be a block on JaVale McGee? Just one more oddity in a week we never could have predicted.
Wenyen Gabriel's first play as a Blazer, a block on JaVale McGee. https://t.co/Bin1NCO3mI— Team Mom (@tcbbiggs) February 2, 2020
This play. With four minutes to go in the third, Lillard, guarded by Austin Rivers, bobbles the ball and Ben McLemore dives to the floor. Carmelo Anthony—35 year old Carmelo Anthony who people said all kinds of things about his effort and what he had left in the tank before he joined the team—goes to the floor and grabs the ball, passing it out through McLemore, James Harden and Austin Rivers to Trevor Ariza. Anthony, instead of jumping up, lies back on the ground with his hands up signaling a three resulting in this photo by Trail Blazers photographer Bruce Ely.
Ariza hits, utterly demoralizing the Rockets.
Rodney Hood back with the team. We missed you Rodney!
Good to see you, Hoodie ❤️ pic.twitter.com/XekCy5ku2i— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) February 1, 2020
Brotherly love. I love this Twitter exchange between Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum so much. In a week capped by a 51 point game, McCollum was just as excited for Lillard as those of us in the stands. For years there has been a narrative about the close friendship between these two, but as new players join the team, as they have become adults with families of their own, these stories are not as frequent. As they support each other, it is clear that their brotherhood is still going strong.
That will do it for this week’s Mom’s Favorites. What did you like about this week? What plays or player make you excited for the future? Let us know in the comments below.
Xoxo Team Mom | @tcbbiggs