After Damian Lillard scored 39 points Tuesday in the Trail Blazers’ season-opening win over Utah, he noted that summer workouts with a special, mystery coach played a role in his performance.
A large part of Lillard’s success Tuesday involved attacking the rim, and 7-foot-1 Utah center Rudy Gobert, who is among the NBA’s premier shot blockers.
Lillard went 7-for-8 at the rim, and he said some of his effectiveness could be traced back to his summer workouts, when the Blazers stationed what Lillard called a “huge” player/coach underneath the basket with the sole intention of blocking his shots.
“That’s my special secret,’’ Lillard said Tuesday night when pressed for the name and background of the coach. “I will tell you guys at a later date.’’
Turns out, the mystery coach might not be much of a mystery to Portlanders.
His name is Brian Barkdoll, a 27-year-old video assistant for the Blazers, who graduated from Central Catholic in 2007 after being named the MVP of the Mt. Hood Conference.
The Blazers would not make Barkdoll available to the media on Wednesday, even as he was among the last to the leave the practice courts after a session with Meyers Leonard.
Barkdoll is 6-foot-10 and about 260 pounds and played for Blazers assistants Dale Osbourne and Nate Tibbetts for the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA Development League during the 2011-2012 season.
Barkdoll, who after Wednesday's practice had a sweat-soaked shirt, was unexpectedly if not mysteriously put into the spotlight Tuesday when Lillard was asked about his aggression in attacking Gobert during his 39-point performance.
“Over the summer, we got a guy working out with me every morning. He is huge,’’ Lillard said, adding that he estimated he was at 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9. “He blocked some of my shots. But the whole summer, I was finishing (at the rim) around him.’’
Over his career, Lillard has never struggled with beating his man off the dribble and getting to the rim. Finishing, however, has been an area he has worked to improve upon. This summer included.
“I walked in the gym one morning and (coaches) were about to grab the stick with the hand on it,’’ Lillard said Tuesday night.
But before they used that traditional method to simulate a big man, they looked at Barkdoll and pushed him into action.
“Me and CJ (McCollum) would do our regular workout, and he would be waiting at the rim,’’ Lillard said. “He didn’t have to guard or anything, he was just waiting there to try and block us. And there were a couple days where it wasn’t our day … he was getting it.’’
Lillard said his daily workouts with Barkdoll improved his body control and his ingenuity in creating shots off the backboard. Also, it helped his timing and how to best use angles.
“Knowing when to attack this way, and cross over the other way to turn his hips, cause when you turn the hips he can’t get off the ground as quick,’’ Lillard said. “Also, laying the ball up ‘off time’ … bigs are great at timing your jump, so instead of me timing it perfect, I would do it off rhythm. Like when I get on the wrong leg, I would get the (ball) in the air.’’
Another skill he worked on was initiating the contact with Barkdoll. Lillard found that if he went into Barkdoll, it helps ground the big man.
All of it was on display Tuesday against one of the best in the NBA, thanks to some summer workouts with the old Central Catholic and Northwest Nazarene standout.
“You have to be crafty to get it around guys like Gobert,’’ Lillard said. “I was able to get to those spots and do it tonight.’’