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Damian Lillard just keeps getting better each and every year. It's hard to pick out things to criticize the Portland Trail Blazers star on, particularly after his defensive renaissance in the playoffs this year. Indeed, most of Portland’s failings around him involve the rest of the roster.
But Lillard isn't perfect, and over the course of this season, there was one thing that he kept doing that really stuck out to me that I think was his worst habit.
So what was it?
The most inexplicable part of Lillard’s game this year was how much he would jump into the air without having a plan on what to do with the ball.
Time and time again this happened when Lillard didn’t have any options on drives as defenses collapsed upon him. It was very obvious when opponents had scouted his favorite tendencies.
This was exacerbated in the playoffs when Lillard teams were not only trapping the Portland guard, but anticipating how he'd react to the trap.
So what can Lillard do to curb this bad habit, and come back better next year? Watch the full video breakdown above.
A report coming from Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes indicates that Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum has withdrawn his name from Team USA Basketball's events this summer.
“ hot boy summer “ for the win https://t.co/9d39lSoiZZ— CJ McCollum (@CJMcCollum) July 20, 2019
Team USA starts training camp in Las Vegas on August 5th and those selected have a full August filled with practices and games and eventually the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Team USA, led by Coach Popovich, has just five all-stars remaining in their pool of players to select from. Of course, this doesn't count talented players like McCollum who were not All-Stars but certainly could have helped Team USA in international play. The five remaining All-Stars under consideration are:
- Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
- Kemba Walker (Charlotte Hornets)
- Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks)
- Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors)
More to come from Team USA's events this summer as Dwight Jaynes heads to Las Vegas in August to follow Damian Lillard through their first training camp.
Jamie Hudson and Chris Burkhardt have a full recap of Summer League and the latest on the Blazers offseason in the newest edition of The Scoop livestream brought you by Toyota of Portland.
The Scoop duo took to Facebook to answer questions from Blazers fans on Wednesday evening. It’s apparent that Rip City is eager for the season to get underway!
Here’s a quick rundown of Wednesday’s show:
The Scoop livestream has always been about fans driving the conversation on Facebook and this week’s Scoop became just that -- between talking about the Blazers summer squad in Vegas to how Damian Lillard feels Anfernee Simons and Zach Collins will both make a big impact this season.
Other Scoop topics include:
-Collins’ big offseason
-Jaylen Hoard impresses at SL
-CJ McCollum’s basketball camp is around the corner
-Lillard and McCollum set to attend Team USA training camp next month in Vegas
-How will Hassan Whiteside fit in?
That and so much more.
Watch the FULL EPISODE right here:
Damian Lillard held his annual basketball camp in Beaverton this weekend, and Sports Business Radio was able to catch up with him for a special edition of their podcast. Lillard was able to talk about how he goes the extra mile to make an impact on the community, this relationship with Adidas, dropping his third studio album, and the evolution of Dame Time.
In case you missed it you can take a listen below. But make sure you listen to the whole thing, because the best part happens at the end. "What can I say. That was for Seattle." Take a listen and you'll get what we mean.
We know how well Damian Lillard played on defense in the 2019 postseason. It was as if the Portland Trail Blazers guard flipped a switch, with opposing guards unable to dribble without Lillard poking at the ball. He nipped at them incessantly. He became a hassle.
This was a change for Portland, who will be able to add a defensive presence at the guard position without needing to actually make an acquisition should Lillard's postseason bleed into next year. Lillard’s a wholly-formed offensive player, but his defense was always lacking. Forget adding additional range or new dribble moves in the offseason — defense is what we want to see from Lillard as an offseason addition.
But what about CJ McCollum?
The long-standing knock against the Trail Blazers — and against the roster construction theory that Neil Olshey has put in place — is that they cannot survive with both Lillard and McCollum on defense. They aren't big enough, and their offensive impact is too similar and not great enough to outpace what issues seem to always form in the postseason.
And frankly, this stands in staunch defiance of the numbers surrounding McCollum's defense… in the regular season. For his position, McCollum defended the pick-and-roll, spot-up, and hand-off play types well, according to Synergy. In fact, the only real area where McCollum struggled of any consequence was in isolation as opponents drove toward his left.
Paired with some of McCollum’s more efficient defensive tendencies (like his propensity to shy away from fouling) the Lehigh product isn’t a statistical slouch on D.
But his real problem came in the postseason. This year, his excellent marks against both the spot-up and pick-and-roll play type took a huge nosedive as the playoffs began. Teams ran McCollum around screens, and he wound up guarding spot-up shooters more often than any other action. Where before McCollum ranked in the 77th percentile vs. spot-ups in the regular season, in the 2019 NBA playoffs the Blazers star dipped to the 49th percentile.
Even worse was how he performed in the pick-and-roll, which accounted for 24% of the plays McCollum defended. Opponents in the postseason abused McCollum, and he finished the postseason ranked in the bottom fifth of defenders against the PNR with regard to points per possession.
Accounting for this is straightforward. First, The competition in the playoffs is by its very nature more difficult. Portland sees the best teams night in and night out in the postseason, and so McCollum ultimate ability laid bare. His regular season numbers had the benefit of him producing excellent nights against the entire NBA, which included lower quality opponents.
Second, the rotations McCollum faced in the postseason shortened. Teams go from nine or 10-man benches to seven or eight-man rotations. That meant that McCollum not only couldn't get away from higher-quality opponents, but he had to face them more often over the course of the game. It also meant that there was less of a chance McCollum would face 20 or 30 percent of his minutes each night against a team's backup shooting guard. That’s doubly true given Terry Stotts shortened his rotation as well, and both McCollum and Lillard were more handcuffed to each other than ever.
Many times in the postseason, it was starters vs. starters, and McCollum suffered because of it.
Now McCollum appears to be in the same situation Lillard found himself up until this year. Portland's second-biggest star will face harsher criticism now that Lillard appears to be moving in the right direction.
But that still doesn't answer our original question: Do the Blazers need McCollum to be better defensively?
This depends on what the roster looks like at the start of the regular season next year. Olshey is looking to upgrade the wing both on defense and in terms of shooting. Fans may think that it’s the big men who back up the guards in the NBA, but in reality, wings help each other out rotationally with digs and stunts. A fresh new crop of defensive-minded swingmen could help McCollum out, particularly in the 2020 playoffs.
Still, the problem with Portland is still The Problem With Portland. McCollum is a smart guy, and one who fought to adapt to the new offensive rotation Stotts put upon him this year. He’s now a certified star. McCollum has the wherewithal to get better on defense in the postseason — he’s an athlete, he’s quick, and he’s smart. He can spend time with coaches and learn the same little tricks that Lillard has implemented. But will he?
There are no dire circumstances that require McCollum to be Tony Allen by October. But much like with Lillard, if the Blazers were suddenly able to add a defensive presence at guard without making a roster addition, it would make the idea of Portland returning to the Western Conference Finals all that more real.
Now that we have all had time to stop and smell the roses in the Rose City this summer, Damian Lillard has had time to digest the Trail Blazers’ offseason moves.
For Portland, Rodney Hood returns, Al-Farouq Aminu is gone, and there’s a new forward headed to Rip City, Mario Hezonja. And, that all happened in the first day of NBA free agency 2019.
Yes, the Blazers had a lot of roster turnover. Along with the new additions of Hezonja, Kent Bazemore, and Hassan Whiteside, Portland will also be looking to their young guys to step up and make an impact this season.
Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons are two such guys that Lillard feels could help the team make a huge leap this upcoming season.
“I’m excited about Zach. Zach and Ant, I think these guys have a huge summer in front of them,” Lillard told the media at his annual kids basketball camp on Tuesday. “I think if they can have big summers and come back they can really have impact on our team. They can really be what can make us take that next step especially with what’ve added… I’m excited about it.”
Overall, the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard believes this offseason has been a success.
Lillard discussed how he feels “pretty good” about what went down in free agency, and that keeping the core of himself, CJ McCollum and eventually a healthy Jusuf Nurkic along with bringing back Hood are some key ingredients to the Blazers success this season.
After celebrating his 29th birthday this week, Lillard has his eyes on the prize.
“The ultimate goal is to win it all, to win a championship, as a team, as an individual you want to be MVP… I haven’t been either one of those, a champion or an MVP, so there’s a lot that I still got to play for, a lot that keeps me going,” Lillard said.
The ultimate goal is obviously no easy feat.
There have been several fans and national media members all across the NBA landscape saying that the West is now wide open with the Warriors going down with injuries.
But, Lillard has a different outlook on the future of the Western Conference. He made his point known about the West, saying, “everybody sees it as wide open, but it’s definitely not.”
“The West is still super competitive,” Lillard said. “Everybody has fire power. At first it was like, everybody was calling the Clippers a tough team and they play hard and now they got Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. And now, Anthony Davis plays for the Lakers and New Orleans has all this young talent that’s going to be able to compete. I don’t think people are giving them enough credit.”
“And then, Utah picked up all these guys, so it might look more balanced. But it probably got tougher to win in the West because every team is good now. Sacramento is a year older. Phoenix is a year older. All these teams, they coming.”
Lillard, McCollum, and the rest of the Trail Blazers are coming as well. With the Trail Blazers Vegas wins total set at 44.5, Portland will look to beat their wins total for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
Right from the start of his time in Portland, Meyers Leonard was misunderstood in Portland.
“A seven-footer out there at the three-point line launching bombs?"
“Why isn’t he inside at the post?"
“Why isn’t he in the paint where he belongs?"
Leonard was ahead of his time, of course. Big guys are shooting threes routinely these days and traditional low-post centers are not as common as they used to be. The NBA is all about threes, nowdays, like it or not.
Leonard’s playing time went up and down through his time as a Trail Blazer, even in his seventh and best season in a Portland uniform. The backup center shot 54.5 percent from the floor last year, 45 percent from three-point range and 84.3 percent from the free-throw line but still played in only 61 games and averaged just 14.4 minutes per game. Even in the playoffs, when he would show his value as a scorer, he did not play in five of the team’s 16 postseason games.
Throughout that final season as a Trail Blazer, though, Leonard seemed to finally win over the fans. They noticed his athletic ability, dunking skills and confidence in clutch situations. And they probably also took note of his sideline demeanor – even when he wasn’t playing, he was the first man off the bench to congratulate teammates and cheer good plays.
When he exploded in the final game of the conference finals against Golden State, it was a vindication of sorts for those who believed all along he deserved playing time on a team that so often struggled to find floor spacing and outside shooting. Those people who never understood how he could have been playing behind the likes of Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland.
Leonard played 40 minutes and 17 seconds in his finale in a Portland uniform. He made 12 of his 16 shots from the floor while missing just three of his eight three-point attempts. He had 25 points by halftime and 30 for the game, while grabbing 12 rebounds and dishing three assists with just two turnovers.
More than that, he gave the team what it had been lacking the entire series – somebody with the gravity to keep the floor spread for his guards to operate.
That game proved to be a fond farewell for a player the Portland fans were slow to take into their hearts. The fans chanted his name, cheered his every move and he just continued to do what he’d always done – shoot threes and play as hard as anyone on the court.
“The Hammer” as he was called, nailed it in his final game. And it was obvious how much that meant to him – not only how well he played but how he was embraced by the Trail Blazer fans.
But listen to him talk about it in the accompanying video feature as he reflects on growing up in Portland. See the emotion on his face and hear it in his voice – and understand how much this team and this city meant to Meyers Leonard.
The Trail Blazers failed to repeat as summer league champions last week, finishing with a 2-3 record as the MGM Resorts Summer League. Of the 14 players on the summer league roster, only four were actually under contract with Portland: Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., Nassir Little, and Jaylen Hoard (two-way contract).
How did those four do? Let's grade them!
Anfernee Simons - Grade: B
Simons had a great summer league showing, but it was unfortunately cut short by an ankle injury. Simons played in just three games, averaging 22 points in those games. His performance in Las Vegas earned him All-NBA Summer League Second-Team honors. However, I don't know if Simons showed the true jump we all wanted him to. Sure, he lit up the scoreboard, but we knew he could do that. Blazers fans really wanted to see how he ran the offense. In that regard, he still has a little work to do. He averaged just 1.7 assists, which is far lower than you want from your point guard. Once his vision and control catch up to his scoring prowess, Simons will be a force. His biggest weakness is still on the defensive side of the ball, and Summer League showed he has a lot of work to do. All-in-all, it was a great three games for Simons, but he still has some holes to fill.
Gary Trent - Grade: B+
Trent Jr. gets a slightly higher grade than Simons simply because of expectations. We already knew what we had with Simons. He showed it in the final game of the regular season against the Kings. With Trent Jr., we really wanted to see that second-year jump. Trent was a force for the Blazers in five games in Las Vegas. He averaged 20.6 points per game and led the team in rebounds, assists, and steals per game at 6.4, 2.6, and 1.4 respectively. He shot just 41% from the floor, which is far lower than the team wants from him, but boy his he a gunner. He has no fear and no hesitation when it comes to taking a shot. Give him the smallest of windows and he will jack it up. Like Simons, he needs to improve on the defensive end, but again, it was a pretty strong performance all-around.
Nassir Little - Grade: D
Let's start off by first saying that the ceiling is very high for Little. He is an explosive athlete with the potential to change the game on both ends. However, right now he is as raw as they come. He averaged just 3.3 points in four games, which was the fifth-lowest PPG average on the team, and shot a poor 33% from the floor. Of players that averaged 15 or more minutes per game, he had the lowest PPG average. He often looked a step behind on both ends of the floor, struggling to get in the proper spots. For a player that was a projected lottery pick, you would have hoped to have seen better. However, when he did make the right play, it was electric. The kid has bounce and showed it off numerous times with some monster jams. What keeps this from being an F grade is his ability to push the tempo. What I really liked about his game was when he would grab the defensive rebound and quickly push the ball up the floor. It was Draymond Green-esque in that regard. If he can develop quickly and excel in this aspect, he could really change the offensive approach for the Blazers. Just imagine Little pushing the ball, playing point-forward, and finding McCollum and Lillard on the break! The future is still bright with Little, but his summer league was gloomy.
Jaylen Hoard - Grade: C+
Hoard was the Blazer I was most impressed by in Las Vegas. He wasn't the best player on the floor, but for an undrafted rookie he looked solid. He had a good feel for the game, was in the right place at the right time, and never really forced the issue. He seemed to have a pretty good mind for the game. He is on a two-way contract and outperformed Little, the Blazers' first-round pick. He averaged 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in five games.
He didn't do anything exceptionally great, but he didn't do anything exceptionally poor either. While I don't think his ceiling is as high as Little's, he is much more polished as it stands right now. As a two-way player, I find him to be very intriguing. The Blazers have two roster spots open right now. If the Blazers feel they need help as SF/PF as the season progresses and can't find a guy on the open market, Hoard could be a candidate to get the full-time call-up. He still has learning to do, but the foundation is there. He reminds me a lot of Al-Farouq Aminu, but with better ball-handling skills. I'll take that on a rookie contract all day long.
Space Jam 2 is scheduled to be released in movie theaters summer of 2021.
Filming for the much-anticipated sequel has already began.
In mid-June, it was first reported that Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard would be joining LeBron James, along with Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, and other NBA and WNBA players to star in the new film.
The remake of the Michael Jordan Space Jam has had NBA fans buzzing and Rip City is excited to see Lillard play a part in the movie.
On Tuesday at his annual basketball camp, Lillard told the media that he spent a week in Hollywood for filming.
Lillard said shooting the movie was “different.”
He also quickly found out the movie directors and producers didn’t want him to have any facial hair for the movie.
"You all know I've always had a baby face, so this season I grew a beard out, it took me like six months to grow it,” Lillard said. “I show up on the set, they make me shave it off for the animation. That's why I look like this now. It was bare faced for the animation, 15-hour days… It was long."
Lillard added that he might have to "go back one more time" to film more, but it sounds like the bulk of Lillard’s shooting is done.
When asked what we can expect from Lillard in the movie, he wouldn't give much away, but he did speak on his role with a smile, saying, "it's significant, it's not a cameo."
Lillard was just six years old when the first Space Jam was originally released in 1996.