Let’s just say it; Damian Lillard is going to be the Rookie of the Year. The real surprise would be a non-unanimous vote. With less than a week left in the regular season, he is head and shoulders above his closest competition, but you already know this. So let’s examine an aspect of Lillard’s game that he can improve upon to reach even greater heights in his sophomore season.
I speak of dealing with the double. As Lillard rose to prominence in headlines and scouting reports alike, more and more teams greeted him with the double-team approach; some as far back as half court. He does a decent enough job keeping possession in these circumstances, but I want to see him do more than that. If he wants to ascend to the next level, he needs to learn to use the double to his advantage.
As it stands, when met with a tricky twosome, Lillard will succumb to the trap and swing the ball to the wing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but at the same time, it rarely improves Portland’s offensive situation. Far too often, when opponents trap him behind the arc he will jab right and immediately become a human trebuchet, slinging the ball across the court with his entire body. The problem here is that the defense has time to adjust while the ball sails to a less capable handler, effectively removing Lillard from the play with no defensive ramifications.
I want to see Damian learn to either split the double, find the cutter, or scope out the hockey-assist. There will always be an opening somewhere when someone draws the extra defender. An all star is born when they can utilize that opening to make their team better. When LaMarcus Aldridge started to receive recognition a few years ago, he joined the ranks of the elite by using the escalated defense in his favor. Aldridge is exceptional at finding the right pass to punish the double. Damian must rise to the occasion as well in order to prevent the offense from stagnating.
In fact, if Lillard can use his double-team in conjunctions with Aldridge’s, the Blazers could get some scary looks. Imagine two players on Damian; He passes to Wesley in the corner, who quickly skips it to LaMarcus at the elbow. Now the defense has had to shift in an out of the double twice in order to stop Aldridge from having his go at them. Damian has space on the kick out, Batum has a mismatch in the backdoor, and Wesley is open for three if Lillard swings off the kick. All made possible by the right pass under pressure. Of course, that’s just one example and it’s easier said than done.
The bottom line is that in order to become the top tier point guard he clearly has potential to be, Damian Lillard needs to adapt. For Portland to succeed, he cannot be removed from the game when it counts anymore. Every team knows he can be a closer, so it’s up to him to boot up his teammates when the defense shuts him down. It won’t be easy, but if he has it in him, he will be that much more dangerous.