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How Countless Hours In the Gym Has Helped Damian Lillard Earn the Blazers’ Faith

Because of the time Damian Lillard puts into his craft as a shooter, he’s been able to redefine what a “bad shot” is in NBA vernacular.

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Dallas Mavericks v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

For Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, the average day includes pull-ups beyond 30-feet, contested shots over long limbs — only five guards league wide have attempted more “contested” shots per — and tons of “How did he make that?” questions from the opposition. But as USA Today columnist Mark Medina notes, those around Lillard don’t doubt him, largely for one reason: countless hours in the gym working on his craft.

The beef of Medina’s story focuses on the competitive-but-friendly relationship between Lillard and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, the game’s premier long-range assassins and the evolution of how their work ethic has made the 30-to-40 foot jumper a not so bad shot. But before the six-time All-Star had the chance to display his range on the national scale, he had to first showcase it in Blazers practices to assure his coach.

“Lillard observed that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts also considers his long-distance heaves as quality shots, adding that “he’s always given me a certain amount of freedom and a long, long leash.” But Lillard also noticed Stotts’ comfort level has grown in recent years. Stotts has not pulled on that leash because he remains aware that Lillard’s ability to make highlight reels rests on both a proven resume and long hours in the gym.

“One of the more difficult things as a coach is to say what is a good and a bad shot for great players,” Stotts said. “Great players make great shots. Great players make tough shots. That’s one of the reasons they are great players. It really hasn’t changed my philosophy. Dame’s worked on it, old school. If you work on a shot in practice, you can take it on a game. He works on those shots, and obviously he’s shown he can make those shots.”

Of course, there was mention of Lillard’s rigorous workouts with his longtime trainer Phil Beckner. The two of them worked to not only prepare to deal with more complex defensive coverages, but also to extend the scope of Lillard’s range after the Pelicans series. Along the way, Lillard’s tough shot making has helped him earn the trust of all around him, including future Hall of Fame forward Carmelo Anthony.

“I always believe in any shot that he takes. I’m with him every single day and I see the work that he’s put in,” Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “It happens so much that it’s just being in awe out there after every great shot, after every great game or after every moment. This is what he does.”

For those interested, the rest of the story is here. There’s some statistical insight on how accurate Lillard is at certain segments within the shot clock, his statistics different marks on the floor, and a focus into what he’s done in 2020-21 alone.