Damian Lillard’s three-point slump: Causes and effects


As has been well-documented this past season, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard struggled quite noticeably. While these struggles manifested themselves in a myriad of ways, one of the most noticeable was his drop-off in terms of three-point shooting.

In the 2013-14 season, Lillard shot 39.4% from three on 6.8 attempts per game. In the 2014-15 season, his shooting percentage from three plummeted down to 34.3%, a shocking drop. Despite shooting worse this year, Lillard shot more threes – up to 7.0 attempts per game.

That 34.3% 3PT mark ranked 24th in the league among qualifying point guards, which is a tough pill to swallow, as Lillard’s seven attempts a game were the second most among point guards. Low efficiency on high volume is always a dicey proposition, and you have to start wondering how much his shooting struggles impacted the team’s offense as a whole.

Jan 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) heads down court after a three point basket in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Trailblazers won 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Shooting 34% from three isn’t bad enough to make defenses ignore or truly sag off of Lillard, but maybe they started staying a half step further away. That starts to restrict Lillard’s options, whether it makes it more difficult for him to pass or to receive a pass, or makes it harder for him to drive.

A huge part of Lillard’s success throughout his entire career has been centered around the three, and to see it so noticeably take a dip this year is somewhat concerning. In an ideal world, it was just a one year slump that happened for one reason or another, and Lillard will shake it off and get back to where he was before. If not, it may have some lasting implications for how Lillard’s offensive game will have to develop.

That is the worst-case scenario, and in Lillard’s defense, he has produced two full seasons of completely satisfactory production from three. Given this, there is likely no reason to panic yet.

It’s a well-known fact that Lillard doesn’t miss games, and I wonder if an accumulation of injuries and/or simply fatigue played a role. On the injuries front, I think we need to keep in mind December 4th’s game against the Indiana Pacers, when Lillard sprained two fingers.

That was the 19th game of the season, and in the first 18 games, Lillard actually shot 41.5% from three, while for the remainder of the season he only shot 32.4%. Now, 18 games isn’t a huge sample size out of an 82 game season, and the drop-off as the season progressed could also be chalked up to gradual fatigue, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

Trying to shoot with sprained fingers can be extremely difficult, and the lingering injury could have affected Lillard’s shot for a long time afterwards. Even if the fingers eventually did heal, while they were injured they forced Lillard to adjust his shooting stroke, which may also have had lasting ramifications.

Whatever the cause was for Lillard’s struggles, a strong bounce back for his shooting will go a long way toward smoothing some of the difficulties he experienced this season. Simply getting the ball to drop in the basket cures a lot of ailments, and if Lillard can do so, he can continue on with his rapidly burgeoning career.

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