Made to look ridiculous
Why do teams keep playing a coverage Damian Lillard consistently torches?
Back in the day, I wrote a story that was given the headline, “The Definition of Insanity.” It was about teams continuing to hire retreat coaches over and over, and for some reason expecting the results to be different for them than they’d been for other teams. My opinion on this practice has changed slightly over the years, and one of the coaches who helped change it was Terry Stotts.
In two-season stints with Atlanta and Milwaukee, Stotts went just 115-168, good for a 0.406 winning percentage. When he landed in Portland, I was skeptical of his chances for success. He won 33 games his first year, but has taken the team to the playoffs in every season since. Of course, it helps that the Blazers landed Damian Lillard by fleecing the Nets in a trade the year before Stotts arrived.
Lillard has been excellent for his entire career, but hit another level entirely over the past few years. And he has gone up yet another level in the bubble: 37 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game, with a 49-41-89 shooting line. He went for 51 in a three-point win over the Sixers, then followed it up with sixty-one in a three-point win over the Mavs yesterday.
All of this, obviously, is wildly impressive. What is not at all impressive is the kind of defense teams are playing against him. And it reminds me of, “The Definition of Insanity.” Why do teams keep playing soft pick and roll coverage against Lillard and expecting him not to torch them all night?
According to Second Spectrum, there are 40 players who have run at least 500 pick and rolls against soft coverage this season. Damian Lillard ranks FIRST in points per possession on those plays, with the Blazers scoring 1.256 points per trip when the defense plays soft on a Dame ball screen. That’s like 10 points per 100 possessions than this season’s Mavs offense, which is the most efficient offense in NBA history. And it’s not like this is new. Last season, Dame created 1.219 points per possession against soft coverage, second-best behind only Steph Curry.
And yet teams keep doing it. Philly and Dallas played soft coverage on 48 of Lillard’s 100 pick and rolls in the past two games, and the Blazers score 1.512 points per possession on those plays. That’s disgusting. When you drop the big against Damian Lillard, you are dropping the ball. It’s really that simple.
On pick and rolls against the Blazers, you basically have one job: get the ball out of Dame Lillard’s hands and make literally anyone else beat you. If Gary Trent and Melo shoot 800 percent from three, oh well, tip your cap and call it a day. At least you didn’t let the team’s best player do the one thing he is best at, over and over, until he dropped 61 on your head and made you look ridiculous. Like Jack Woltz. Don’t be made to look ridiculous.