It’s been a rocky start for the Portland Trail Blazers who are currently 3-4. As much of a roller coaster ride as the team has been on, star point guard Damian Lillard has been on his own ride. Lillard has not played to the level fans are used to, although even in a “slump” he’s playing a high level of basketball. His struggles led to speculation that he might be injured, and Lillard did apparently reaggravate a known abdominal issue in the loss against the Cavaliers.
But still, the question is, should he just push through, or make changes to his game?
Henry Abbott of TrueHoop addressed this topic in an article this week. He compared the slump to a time in actor Tom Hanks career shortly after his big break with the movie “Splash” in 1984 where he filmed several movies that most people wouldn't recognize. Then he posed the questions:
Think of anyone who fits in your mind as the most habitually successful in their field. They have all had slumps. The question is when you are missing … should you change your approach? Or stick with it?
It’s an interesting conversation for Blazers fans. Lillard started his season similarly last year, seemingly struggling near the beginning, while CJ McCollum stepped up and took over. It didn’t take Lillard long to be right back to the Dame Time we all know and love.
According to the True Hoop article, and Lillard himself, it doesn’t seem that there’s any urgency for Dame to make big changes.
Lillard is, I’m sure, hearing from all kinds of people with ideas about how to get himself on track. He said he agrees with his coach about staying calm and “doing nothing crazy to search for a solution.” Lillard says that he understands others, who weren’t in the gym as he prepared, might think he needs to change things. But he knows how he worked, how well it has worked in the past.
“I did the same offseason work,” he says. “Trained a lot. I played during the summer, I played in the Olympics. When I think back on my honeymoon I was training. I actually came into this season in better shape than last season. It’s not a physical thing, I was ready physically and mentally.”
“I practice and show up, go through my routine, do everything to take care of my body, get my shots up, you know. I’m sharp with everything that I do,” Lillard says.
Abbott goes on to make a very valid point about another of Lillard’s previous slumps that eventually led to quite a playoff run.
This is not Lillard’s first shooting slump. One of the worst shooting months of Lillard’s life was January 2019. He went 17 games without ever making 5 3s. There were multiple games in which he made just two of ten 3s, another against the Spurs when he missed all seven. Over an eight-game stretch he shot similarly to now, making 15 of 57 3s.
A few months later, Lillard hit one of the most famous 3s in NBA history to eliminate the Thunder, on a night he finished 10 of 18 from behind the arc. The Blazers were on the playoff run of Lillard’s career-to-date, making it all the way to the Western Conference finals. In other words, things can turn around.
Abbott points out that Lillard is currently in the unique position of being fully committed to Portland, but also really wanting to win a championship with a team that is an underdog to do so. He offers a few explanations as to Dame’s slow start — the changes to the way the game is being called, and the ball. Yes, the basketball.
Regardless of an apparent slump to start the season, Damian Lillard is a class act and a skilled player, and we are fortunate to have him in Portland. You can read the whole article, including an excerpt from basketball coach and ESPN analyst, David Thorpe, here.