I wrote about Damian Lillard’s shooting struggles on the afternoon of December 17th, right before the Trail Blazers played the Cavaliers. Since that time, Lillard has been doing his best to make me eat my words, as he has gone an absolute tear.
In the six games after I penned the article, Lillard has put up 26.7 points per game on 50.5% shooting –47% on two-pointers and a mind-blowing 53.6% on three-pointers. I am most interested in that two-point field goal percentage, which sat at a paltry 38.1% when I wrote the original article. While six games is a small sample size, it is enough to make me wonder if Lillard has started to find his rhythm again, especially because he shot 47% on two-pointers over the entirety of last season.
The assumption was always that Lillard would pick it up, but as the season dragged on and on, with little signs of improvement, I started to grow worried that something else was going on. And, to be fair, much of his struggles were certainly due to defenses keying in on him and preventing him from getting a clean look at a three. As I also wrote earlier, his lack of explosive athleticism hinders his ability to finish around the rim, which was likely another cause of his struggles.
While we can’t say for certain that Lillard is definitively out of his slump, these signs are more than encouraging. He has scored at least 29 points in four of these last six games. The longer I stare at that sentence, the more ridiculous it becomes. That doesn’t just happen in the NBA – 29 points against the best defenses in the world do not come easy, and Lillard is doing it all as a second-year player. The difficulty is even compounded in his case, because unlike a wing player who scores a lot, a point guard must expend energy to run his team’s offense and set up teammates.
For comparison, consider that during his second year in the NBA, Russell Westbrook scored 29 points only five times, while Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry each did it nine times during their second years. Through only 31 games, Lillard has already reached that mark six times. The odds are that it probably will not happen, but to give an idea of how prolific that is, that would translate to 16 such games for Lillard in a full 82-game season. Despite my doubts, with his recent hot-streak, it may very well still come to pass.
The other day, I spoke with David (Rip City Project EIC) about a player’s ability to take over a game. Everyone knows the nights I’m talking about – when a Kobe, a LeBron, or a Durant catch absolute fire and dominate the whole game. Depending on how you want to count the frail shell of potential that was Brandon Roy, the Blazers have not really had a player like that for some time.
Aldridge is doing an admirable job this season, but I would classify his contributions as steady, rather than explosive (which is still a huge benefit for the team). He’ll have monster games, but I’m not sure if he has or has shown the ability to truly take over a game. I am by no means ready to confer this ability onto Lillard, but I think we are starting to see flashes of his potential to do so. If that is the case, Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers will be making noise for years to come.