Despite reports of Lillard’s success at the USA Basketball mini-camp, Lillard struggled noticeably in last night’s scrimmage. Fortunately, this does not negate his progress, though it does give us pause to reel in our expectations. After all, Lillard is entering his 2nd season, and while many have hopes for immediate stardom, he is still learning at 23 years old.
The starters were separated accordingly:
In 16 minutes and 42 seconds, Lillard shot 4-14, finishing with a mere 9 points. In 18 minutes and 54 seconds, opposing point guard Kyrie Irving shot 6-8, finishing with 23 points (9-10 from the line). While Lillard and Irving seemed to separate themselves from the pack early on in the mini-camp, only one shined in the scrimmage.
However; Lillard was not without his highlights, dunking over Kyrie on the fast break, off of a pass from Gordon Hayward. Not to mention a powerful two-handed slam in the face of Tyler Zeller. His basketball IQ was evident as he made the correct moves most of the time. He only had 3 assists in the game, but in a less facilitating role than usual, that is to be expected. More exciting was the absence of a single turnover.
That 4-14 stings though. 28.6% shooting in an intra-team scrimmage isn’t what you want to see. Blazer fans are used to this kind of night from Lillard on occasion, but not within this context. If anything, Lillard’s offensive efficiency should have climbed in this defensively stunted pseudo Rising Star Challenge.
Interestingly enough, he reversed the timing of his usual misfortune. Generally when Lillard struggles, it is because he can’t get it going in the 1st half and salvages what he can in the 2nd. This time, 7 of his 9 points came in the first quarter alone and then he just went cold. I am choosing to view this performance as anomalous, but cautionary.
Aside from shooting, Lillard had a quiet, but respectable game. He wasn’t much on the glass, nor was he expected to be, but he did play better defense than we are used to seeing. He forced a couple turnovers and had a couple swipes, but 4 personal fouls keep me wary. Ideally, that number will go down in a different environment.
Overall, his performance was good, not great. Since he is expected to be a leading scorer for Portland, I am disappointed with his shooting, as I’m sure he is too, but the rest of his game was pretty smooth. At the very least, that is a good sign, since you can’t always rely on shots dropping, but you can always control how you play without the ball in your hands.