Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard’s deep shooting influence being seen around the NBA

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Last season, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard took his game to a new level by hitting an NBA-record 54 “deep” 3-pointers. This year, it appears his influence is being felt around the league.

If you spent Christmas Day watching the NBA, chances are, you remember this moment from the Heat-Pelicans game: Miami found itself trying to catch the Pelicans’ defense on its heels in transition. On that fast break, Andre Iguodala swiveled a pass to former Blazers big Meyers Leonard about two steps inside the Heat logo.

Out of sheer respect for Leonard’s ability to shoot, Steven Adams stepped up almost to the line to contest the 3-point attempt. The only problem? The space between Adams and Leonard was enough to put another Steven Adams between them — all six feet and 11 inches of him.

According to tracking, it was a 31-foot shot. It certainly looked and felt much further.

For a player like Damian Lillard, a shot attempt of that magnitude wouldn’t have batted an eye. But for a 7-foot center without a documented history of pulling up from that far out, it was an interesting course of action. Which prompted a thought.

The NBA world views Lillard as a lot of different things. The ultimate underdog story; the player you would feel most comfortable with in a late-game situation; a future Hall of Famer.

But an influential on-court figure? A full-on game changer on a wider, potentially generational scale?This would be a relatively new one, right?

A few days before the season tipoff, Lillard and fellow trendsetter Stephen Curry entertained the thought of putting up from around halfcourt, and continuing to test the ambits and “limits” on the floor. The rest of the NBA appears to be in on the challenge, too.

Over the first five days of the season, players have gone 12-of-32 on shots ranging from 30-feet and beyond this season.

That stipulation adjusts for heaves, and shots at the ends of shot clocks and play clocks; we’re talking purely “in-rhythm” shots in the flow of an offense.

And in following the mold of Lillard and Curry, we’re seeing more players use it as an ambush shot in late-game situations — set defenses don’t anticipate a player willingly launching from 35 feet away.

Kyrie Irving has been, arguably, the NBA’s most interesting sample in that regard. After making just one 3-pointer beyond 30-feet in all of last season alone, he’s already 3-of-3 in 2020-21.

Irving has always had this in his bag, but it never came with the volume that we’ve seen through these two games thus far. Here’s a bit of a theory: given the time he’s missed in recent years, could one say that he was influenced by his peers at his position?

It’s likely too premature to be categorizing him among that Lillard, Curry, Trae Young mold as a feared commodity the second he crosses half court. He isn’t necessarily that type of player. But it is a breath of fresh air that opens the pathways for new conversations.

Instead of the age-old “best point guard in the NBA” debate, why not appreciate how these guards are changing the game?

One year after a record-breaking season in which Damian Lillard was 54-of-129 from beyond 30-feet, the Portland Trail Blazers superstar is seeing some of the trends to follow in this young season.

In regards to him specifically, he’s a mere 1-of-4 on such shots, and remains a nightly threat to hit a handful and alter a game. Here’s his deepest of the season.

Roughly a half decade ago, Curry opened the floodgates for such a shot to even be taken without hesitation, and as injuries ravaged him, Lillard’s production kept that mindset in the public eye. Now, the idea is wide open — literally and figuratively — across the league, with players like Thomas Bryant, Davis Bertans, and even Marc Gasol stretching their range to attempt them as well.

The fact that players aren’t fearful about taking them with the game hanging in the balance, to me, leads to interesting thoughts about where the game could be headed.

In any case, one thing’s for certain: if Paul George thought he saw a bad shot in 2019, he’d better be ready to change that definition a bit in 2021.

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