Tony Parker & Damian Lillard: NBA Playoff Lessons


May 6, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) is defended by San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) in game one of the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 116-92. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Every player in the NBA, once aspired to base their game off of a player already established in the league. For Tony Parker, it was “The Glove” Gary Payton, the defensive machine, who would pick your pockets and back down to no challenge on the court, no matter how big or small the opponent was. Back in 2002, when Parker was 19 and experiencing his first professional season in the NBA, he was able to match-up against Payton come playoff time, where he outplayed the superstar on multiple occasions. The early experience Parker was able to acquire by matching up on Payton has helped him become the all-around, unheralded star he is today.

Lillard’s fellow Oakland natives were always his basketball heroes, he aspired to be just like Gary Payton, Brian Shaw and Jason Kidd. However, much like Parker, Lillard began to study tape in his senior year of high school on one particular player. That particular player, who Lillard wanted to base his game on, was Parker.

"“Started watching him in 2007-2008. Around that time is when I really started paying serious attention to what he was doing.”-Damian Lillard via Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles"

For the first three games of this series, Parker lit Lillard up. Through Portland’s inability to defend the pick and roll, Parker has been left open from mid-range, doing alot of his damage from this area, and at the rim. Parker’s willingness to distribute the ball to teammates and ability to run the pick and roll effectively should teach a lesson about how to approach that aspect of the offensive game.

The biggest part of Parker’s game that Lillard should study is how he makes his buckets at the rim. Lillard only makes 47% of his attempted shots, while Parker hits on 56% – a significant 9% difference. While Lillard is able to produce some fantastic finishes at the basket, splitting the defense with ease in the process, he fails to make this shot on a consistent basis, leaving him on the outside looking in the elite point guard conversation.

Parker has slowed down in recent years,  but he’s crafty with his body. San Antonio’s bigs leave the lane open, drawing out their defenders in the process, leaving room for Parker to work his magic on unsuspecting defenders.

For Lillard to become as great as Parker is at finishing at the rim, a little bit extra needs to come from him and his teammates. The Blazer bigs need to make a more concerted effort to open up the lane, while Lillard needs to simply practice. Having the IQ of Parker comes with time in the league.

As stated, Parker also shines in the Pick and Roll, a defining factor in why the Spurs currently possess a 3-1 series lead.

"“Their screens hurt. They actually set real screens. They do a great job of setting and holding screens. It wears you down. Chasing Tony Parker is one thing. Getting hit every single time is another thing. It takes a toll on you.”Damian Lillard via Chris Haynes, CSNNW"

Those screens, set on the weak side to open up space in the lane (mainly set by Tim Duncan) give Parker a plethora of open mid-range shots that he has hit on a regular basis. If the shot isn’t there Parker either finds the screener rolling to the rim or runs a two man game involving hand-offs to find the open shot. How good would it be if Lillard and Aldridge got the Pick and Roll going that well? Imagine if Lillard didn’t have to work as hard for his shots. It would be even more effective than Aldridge taking an open mid-range shot.

While outplaying Parker doesn’t look likely at this stage, Lillard can take this experience with him, much like Parker did with Payton, to form the foundations of a successful career. Parker has dominated the point guard position for the last 10 years in the league, and with the leadership and high-IQ game he provides, there isn’t any guard better for Lillard to look up to.

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