Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard currently touts back-to-back Player of the Week awards after a blistering stretch of dazzling performances. Lillard was passed up for January Player of the Month in favor of LeBron James, but the point guard is still getting his fair share of recognition by the media.
Mike Prada of SB Nation is impressed by how Lillard continues to fool defenders with a dizzying array of moves:
Lillard’s approach resembles IBM’s Deep Blue against a league of Garry Kasparoves. He’s built an inventory of counters to every strategy, all while disguising his intentions with the same stone face and low-to-ground dribble. It takes him a millisecond to read the body weight of a dropping big man before he’s either pulling up for three or surging past them off the dribble. Either way, they’re toast. It’s just a matter of how he roasts them.
Prada likens Lillard to a chess player who thrives on being prepared to counter their opponent:
No matter the defensive coverage, Lillard has the answer. Like a great chess player that has spent countless hours studying every possible board alignment, Lillard has internalized the counter to every counter. None of his moves are his signature one, because they all are. The public sees his long-range shooting and believes that’s the key to his offensive success. In reality, it’s his computational decision-making, combined with a well-rounded game that has no bugs.
Prada’s piece includes a video breakdown of the many ways that Lillard avoids defenders. You can check it out here.
Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight examined Lillard’s penchant for knocking down threes and looked at how the Portland star compares to the injured Steph Curry:
More and more, that ramped-up aggression has come in the form of defenses either trapping or doubling him as he runs his pick-and-roll sequences, a tactic that’s long been used to try to keep Curry’s unbelievable range in check. (But one that was incredibly risky against Golden State because of how many lethal shooters the Warriors could put on the floor at one time.) In fact, foes have tried blitzing Lillard’s screen and rolls six times per game since late January, more than double the number he was seeing prior to his hot streak, per Second Spectrum data.
Lillard’s ability to control the defense with each move has made him an incredible problem for the opposition, Herring writes:
But Dame has put defenders in Catch-22 scenarios all season, really. If you don’t pick him up immediately after half-court, he’ll comfortably fire from 35 feet away. When you send two players at him, he’s finding the open man, and his teammates aren’t missing. If you push too far up on him, he’ll drive past you to draw the foul and get to the line, which he’s doing at a career-high rate this season. And even if you’re in his face — not too far up, or too far back — he’s hit more threes when being guarded tightly this season than any other player in the league.
You can read more from Herring on the impressive numbers Lillard is putting up here.