Lillard, at the crossroads

Last June Damian Lillard shook the foundations of the NBA. The different star, the one who seemed impossible to seduce by the advantages of the big markets, the player faithful to the colors, a One man club as they say in football, he was letting a change of scenery fall for the first time in his career. He did not ask for the transfer, but he did notice a tiredness by the results and the game of his team that sounded like a warning: Either we change now or I’m leaving. The franchise moved fast. Terry Stotts, who had been coaching the team from the moment Lillard arrived (2012), was leaving his position for Chauncey Billups, a track legend with no more experience on the bench than one season last year as an assistant. of Tyron Lue on the Clippers. But The most important thing, more than all possible experience, is that Billups liked Lillard.

That was the question to be resolved in summer, the continuity of the star that was going to start charging your last renewal: 4 years and 177 million dollars, starting with the more than 39 that he takes this year and that places him as the eighth highest paid in the league. So, with a new coach to your liking and a contract that gives you the millions and years of necessary peace of mind, the logical thing was to think that the problem was over … Or not? The NBA has had something for years that, depending on how you look at it, can be either very good or very bad. But it is like this: transfers, team changes, rumors, the instability of the projects due to the continuous movement of players, especially the stars, are the order of the day. For anyone to talk about a possible future for Lillard away from Portland, it would have required a perfect start to the season for the Blazers and the point guard. And neither one thing nor the other is happening.

Lillard is playing worse than ever. Anyone can tell by watching the games, but the statistics are unforgiving. Putting everything fallow, since he has only played seven games, averages fewer points than ever (18.6), less even than in his rookie season. He had never stolen so few balls (0.4); so far his worst year was his second at 0.8, double that of now. And perhaps the most worrying thing in a player like him: the shooting percentages, both two and three, are being very bad. Out of two he averages 49.6%, matching his worst mark in his debut year, while three is at a horrible 23.1%. A player who in his career scores 37.3% of the triples he tries and who has never finished a season below 34%.

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Summer hangover

Causes can be found in the alleged abdominal injury suffered during the Olympic Games dispute and that has prevented him from arriving in top form at the beginning of the course. Or to change of system in attack that is implementing Billups, who is moving away from promoting blocks so that Lillard shoots after bounce in advantageous positions (a situation where the point guard is lethal), to focus on more movement of the ball that involves more players. “Yes, it may have something to do with that,” confessed the coach when they asked him about his star’s shooting problems. Lillard, however, doesn’t want to make excuses. Rather, see this situation as an opportunity:

I always see these losing streaks as an opportunity to show my true character. When things are going well there are many compliments. Many people give you credit, they speak highly of you on social media, on television. “Oh Dame hit 60, Dame hit 50”. They speak highly of you. But I think that It says more about you when you are going through something bad, when you are struggling and nothing comes out and everyone has something to say. For me, real players can go ahead and find a way to do their job. So personally I accept it. It is not fun. It is not easy, but it is part of my DNA. This is how I got to where I am now. I am not angry, I am frustrated. I see it as a challenge and it is one that I accept and I know that I’ll go out in style like I always do “.

All of this was said after posting a 7/20 shooting and a 2/9 triples in the Blazers’ loss on Monday night to the Sixers without Simmons (obviously), without Embiid, without Tobias Harris and, from of the third quarter, without Danny Green. Between chants of “We want Lillard” from the Philadelphia bleachers. “No wonder, we love him too,” said Billups. In Portland they are 3-4, tenth in a West more uncertain than ever. The team tries to adapt to a new coach and Lillard tries to find his point of form and play that will put him back in the elite of the league. But meanwhile the rumors do not disappear and anything that is to prolong this situation threatens to make them grow. And Lillard, the once One man club of the NBA, has already shown symptoms that the wick of patience has been shortened.

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