clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, and the Hypothetical Perfect Shooter

New, comments

The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag is full of Damian Lillard talk, Zach Collins offense, and the magical dream of a 100% marksman.

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have entered the off-season after a short-lived 2020 NBA Playoffs run. The “summer” months (fall and winter this year) are bring the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag into high gear. Today we’re featuring four shorter, more whimsical questions instead of our usual long deep dive. We love that kind of topic too! The first three have been submitted by Joe, who sent them to our Mailbag address, blazersub@gmail.com. Thanks, Joe!

You, too, can do the same. It helps if you put “Mailbag” in the subject line. With that, on to the show!

If the Blazers traded CJ, would Dame more likely want to be traded if we did not have immediate success the following season?

I think Damian Lillard’s desire to be traded or not will depend on him more than the team around him. He is a singular talent and a singular personality. Unless he pairs up with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Seth Curry, whatever team he’s on will revolve around him. So will his decision to stay or go.

If the Blazers won a championship, we might be able to make an argument that Lillard “can’t” leave. But nowadays, even that claim isn’t airtight (cf. Durant). No matter what, the Blazers will revolve around Lillard’s decisions more than he’ll revolve around anything they can do.

I do understand the spirit of the question. Lillard and CJ McCollum have played together for most of their careers. They’re compatible and appear to be friends off the court. That’s great! The Blazers can’t control that factor, though. If Dame and CJ had a falling out, they’d still be expected to be professionals on the court. They’re NBA players either way. The Blazers are also an NBA franchise. They’ll have to make the best decisions possible over the things they do control. If trading McCollum—or even Lillard—sets up the team for success, they’re going to need to do that.

The Blazers can’t mortgage the franchise in an attempt to influence someone else’s decision. Imagine keeping CJ to placate Dame (assuming other options would have been better) and then having Lillard decide to head elsewhere anyway.

The thing is, if that’s what’s best for his career, Lillard would be perfectly justified in doing so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking to play elsewhere once your contract has expired. There’s nothing wrong with staying either. It’s just a choice.

This remains true no matter what players, fans, or team officials say prior to that moment. Milwaukee Bucks fans can get a dopamine hit from Giannis Antetokounmpo saying he wants to win a championship with his current team. If he leaves next summer, that’s still fine. He gets to make his decisions, the Bucks get to make theirs. They should do so knowing that he’s under contract through 2021 and no farther.

Fortunately, the Blazers have more options. Both Lillard and McCollum are under contract through 2024. They’re not up against a wall (at least not that way). They can take their time, debate strategy, and consider offers. If they’re certain one of those offers makes the team better, though, they still need to take it no matter whose name is on the agreement.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see Dame and Curry in the same backcourt during the all star game? How would the other team’s defense space the floor?

I assume you mean Steph Curry? We did get Dame and Seth for a while. That was fun. I miss him.

They don’t generally play defense in the All-Star game, but I’d assume the opposing team would stick a defender on each guard, then play some kind of modified zone in the middle, giving up mid-range shots to forwards and centers, converging for rebounds.

I’m not sure how well Lillard and Steph Curry would fare long-term with one of them needing to play off-ball, but I guarantee 30 out of 30 NBA teams would like to try that experiment. If the chemistry worked, hoo boy, the offense would look great.

Most NBA offenses look for mismatches. Why does Portland put their 7 foot power forward at the 3 point line so much? Does Stotts think back to his success in Dallas, Collins is no Nowitzki from the outside. I think this has really slowed Collins’ scoring and confidence.

Zach Collins plays out there for a couple reasons.

First, his offense is under development either way. Inside or out, he’s going to be shaky. Being outside allows him to catch and release quickly without taking up much possession time. Plus, if he’s on the wing when he catches, he knows he’s the final destination instead of a conduit for the ball. He can forget everything else and take the shot, if open. The decisions are pretty straightforward. That helps him and the team as he’s adjusting.

The second reason is that Jusuf Nurkic and the guards can all use the interior space to greater effect than Collins can right now. The Blazers don’t want to gum up the interior when CJ and Dame can drive through it. If they’re going to run a play to a big in the middle, Nurkic has more experience and is a better passer. They’d also have trouble running guard-center pick-and-rolls if the power forward was camped inside.

It’s in Portland’s interest for Collins to keep working on his inside game and for them to give him a few looks in there per game. Those trial runs will be sufficient until he masters the craft. They can’t yet feature him inside as a key part of the offense.

Dave,

I saw this question on quora and I thought it was curious so I wanted to ask you. Let’s say a normal person with normal height and an average body could hit 100% of their shots past halfcourt. They can still get blocked or stripped but if the shot goes up its a make. This is like you or me with a perfect shot. Could that person make a career in the NBA? What kind?

Mike

Yes they could, but not for the reason you think.

I don’t think our Perfect Schlump would score 30 a night. Once the secret was out, opposing coaches would assign a guard to deny him the ball. NBA players are marvelous athletes. A normal person would have a hard time even catching the ball against them, let alone getting off the shot after.

A player like that would be a huge asset during critical possessions, however. Even if he didn’t take the shot, the threat of his infallible, 100% accuracy rate would bend the defense. The coach could have him check in and stand right by the halfcourt line. If the opponent doesn’t guard him, it’s an automatic three. When they inevitably do, the rest of the team gets to play 4-on-4, which is a natural advantage to the offense.

An offensive player only has to worry about the space right in front of them, followed by wherever they intend to go next. Their destination can switch on a dime depending on what’s open, but either way, they’re still utilizing one spot on the floor that they have control of. Defenders have to try and wrest away that control by covering every potential spot the offensive player might use. Switching directions as a dribbler happens as quick as a thought. It’s far easier than trying to compensate for a whole range of possibilities.

The defense compensates for this disadvantage with manpower. With five athletic players on the court, an NBA team has a reasonable chance to cover most of the floor on a given possession. Some are better at it than others, but five players working together can account for multiple possibilities far better than one.

The more players the defense loses, the less space they can account for. A 1-on-0 fast break is an obvious automatic bucket for the offense. Most NBA scorers will make mincemeat out of 1-on-1 coverage as well. The dribbler makes the defender commit to covering one piece of real estate, then uses whatever floor space he doesn’t account for. On average, a single defender can’t cover enough potential outcomes to stop a good offensive player.

Defenses has more options in a 2-on-2 scenario, even more 3-on-3, and so on. The more players crowd the court, the more power the defense gets. Theoretically you could extrapolate a game with 100 players on each team, crowded into an NBA halfcourt. The offense would never get off a clean shot!

Back to our scenario...even if Mr. Perfect doesn’t take the final shot, holding him out by the halfcourt line removes one defender from the active area of play. That weakens the defense slightly. If I have two more good shooters, I put them on the left and right sides of the court, leaving my point guard and another player running a screen play 2-on-2 in the middle of the floor, That would be an enormous advantage for my offense.

As a coach, I’d take this kind of critical-play potential over a typical 15th man at the end of my bench. Even if Mr. Perfect attempted only two shots all season, he’d still affect more possessions than your standard end-of-bench player.

The off-season is here! You can keep those Mailbag questions rolling to blazersub@gmail.com!

—Dave (blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard / @blazersedge)