Damian Lillard's loyalty has long shielded him from criticism, but he's at the core of Blazers' problem

I am, and long have actually been, amongst the most diehard Damian Lillard fans. I am the person who, at the start of 2021, tweeted that Lillard had actually ended up being what Stephen Curry utilized to be. It was a ridiculous take for which I was deservedly roasted, however what can I state? In my home, it was Dame Time all the time. I trumpeted him as an MVP gamer prior to such a position ended up being typical, and I would still, even provided his battles to begin this season, take Dame over any point player worldwide not called Curry. He is a stone-cold star, and he is worthy of a genuine chance at a title. 

He’s likewise a huge part of the issue in Portland. 

Last June, now-former Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey infamously scapegoated ex-Blazers coach Terry Stotts for Portland’s 29th-ranked defense in 2020-21. Things would be various, Olshey intimated, with Chauncey Billups, his valued hire, on the sideline. He was right. Under Billups, the Blazers are no longer the 29th-ranked defense in the league. Entering use Monday, they’re 30th. Dead last. 

Turns out, this is a lineup issue, loathe as Olshey was to take on even a shred of blame. And the lineup begins with Lillard, who throughout of his profession has actually been an apathetic protector at finest, and primarily an actively damaging one. Should Olshey have revealed a higher commitment to constructing a lineup matched to make up for Lillard’s protective drawbacks? I believe we can all concur the response is yes, and maybe it ought to’ve begun with trading CJ McCollum instead of extending him a max agreement that has actually made him distinctly less tradable. 

Olshey and the Blazers did apparently go over the structure of a trade to obtain Ben Simmons, who Lillard wishes to have fun with, per Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic. Ultimately, Olshey’s deal — which did consist of McCollum and a first-rounder — was inadequate to obtain the dissatisfied 76ers star, and because he believed in the lineup he put together in Portland, he declined Philadelphia’s counteroffer.

But that does not exonerate Lillard, who sets the tone for this whole franchise. And for too long, that tone has actually been deaf to defense. Stephen Curry has the exact same physical restrictions as a protector that Lillard does, perhaps much more, however Curry has actually turned himself into a legally practical protector. He attempts, most importantly. He’s usually in the ideal area. He has active hands. Yes, the Warriors have actually surrounded Curry with plus-defenders, however he does his part. He has actually handled that difficulty with genuine pride. 

Lillard has not. He is a protective doormat, plain and basic, and it has actually never ever appeared to trouble him enough to do anything about it. He does not include penetration. He does not remain focused for complete belongings. He does not regularly contest or through screens. He’s frequently out of position, even if it’s simply an action or more, someplace in between over-helping and not-helping at all. He does not run back in shift. 

These are things for which other stars who have actually regularly lost get eliminated. James Harden, a long-running protective joke, got the blame in Houston and he’ll be at the top of the list for comparable slander if Brooklyn craps out this season. Chris Paul has actually been encumbered the loser label for the last years. Russell Westbrook is constantly buffooned. Meanwhile. the love of Lillard’s commitment to Portland has practically totally protected him from criticism. 

When Lillard loses, it’s constantly a group issue. He gets the credit when the Blazers win, however shares in no blame when they lose. I guarantee you, it is not a mishap that Portland challengers are shooting 39.3 percent from 3 this season, per Cleaning the Glass, which signs up as the worst protective mark in the league, or that they give up a higher portion of corner threes than all however 3 other groups. 

Lillard heads a backcourt that is continuously beat at the point of attack, putting everybody else in scramble mode to assist down on the penetration while still covering out shooters. It’s a suicide objective. A couple passes, and offenses can get any shot they desire versus the Blazers, who are beginning every belongings in an 0-2 hole, thanks to Lillard and McCollum. 

That does not indicate they ought to get all the blame. Jusuf Nurkic isn’t an especially excellent pick-and-roll protector, and Billups asking him to dip into the level of screens isn’t precisely putting him in position to prosper. Robert Covington is not a great on-ball protector. Norman Powell attempts and has long arms, however he’s frequently undersized in his matches too. You can’t blame Lillard for the 145 points Portland quit to the Celtics on Saturday. He didn’t play.   

Again, Olshey created a lineup totally based on scoring, however I will in fact concur with him that the Blazers ought to not be the worst defense in the league. Covington is more than helpful. Larry Nance and Nassir Little are plus-defenders. Nurkic has minutes. Should the Blazers be a top-15 or perhaps top-20 defense? Perhaps not. If Lillard were even a satisfactory protector, even with McCollum being as bad as he is, they would not be dead-last. 

And at the end of the day, we need to hold Lillard to a greater requirement than McCollum. This is Dame’s franchise. We can’t continue to laud Lillard’s management when night after night, every year, he’s setting a half-hearted example. Even if he is restricted as a protector personally, his effort would drip down. When function gamers see their super star providing optimum effort, taking notice of the information, when they see him contending for stops the exact same method he completes for pails, they tend to do the same. And vice versa. 

At completion of the day, Lillard is terrific sufficient to just try out one end of the court and still win. His group does not have that high-end. And those are the personnel words: His group. For much better or even worse, who and what the Blazers are starts and ends with Damian Lillard. He has yet to be held to that level of responsibility. 

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