Damian Lillard has always been a good penetrator off the dribble, but this year it seems like he’s picked up his efficiency as he continues to prove he’s one of the best point guards in the league.
At this point in his career, we’re not looking for big changes from Lillard, but rather the incremental upticks in percentages or tendencies which allow him to boost his game even further. When you’re really good, it’s hard to get noticeably better and that’s what has made Lillard’s improvements this season so interesting.
Lillard has upped his efficiency as a dribbler in the paint by small percentages, enough to explain much about his improved effectiveness. His points in the paint, free throw rate, field goals at the rim, and percentage at the rim have all gone up. His turnover percentage is down, and he’s also creating better quality shots for his teammates off drives.
There are two changes I’ve seen while studying film that have helped Lillard be a more lethal weapon going to the hoop this year.
The first is a strategic change in the playcalling by Terry Stotts. Portland is playing more 4-out and 5-out sets where they don’t have any offensive players down low in the paint. Naturally, that allows Lillard more room to operate. The non-essential players spread out and defenders are left unsure if they should guard the key.
The other thing I’ve noticed, and this was more of a “feel” thing that film has verified, is that Lillard is just little craftier this year. He’s passing a bit earlier, his body control is just a little better, and he’s done an excellent job using a stronger gather-and-scoop move to hold off defenders.
One thing Lillard seems to be doing more this season is passing in the mid-post off drives, which is the area from around 6-10 feet. In seasons past, when he got a step on defenders and made it to that area of the floor, it was more than likely that a shot was going up. In 2018, he’s passing as a plan from there, and I think it shows trust in his teammates.
It’s telling about his work ethic that Lillard has become better at the thing he’s perhaps best at — attacking the rim — and I’ll be watching to see how that continues to affect his scoring and his teammates as the season goes along.
Watch the full video breakdown to see how Lillard has helped his teammates this season.