Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on his shooting range: ‘I can do that as deep as anybody’

Even before the long-distance heave eventually dropped into the basket, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry waved his hand.

This time, Curry did not call his own 3-point shot preemptively as he often has during his 12-year NBA career. Instead, Curry did it for Damian Lillard just as he pulled up past half court. Seconds later, Lillard’s 40-foot shot dropped into the net.

Lillard then pointed to the imaginary watch on his left wrist to signal “Dame Time,” the phrase those on the Portland Trail Blazers use to signify when Lillard launches long-distance shots at the end of games. Not only did Lillard’s shot help “Team LeBron” win this year’s All-Star game, it signified how Lillard’s range has increasingly grown in recent years.

“Steph’s the best shooter ever,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports. “But when it comes to shooting from deep range, I feel like I can do that as deep as anybody.”.

The numbers back that up.

Lillard ranks second for most 3-pointers made this season (166) behind Curry (178). He has also led the league in crunch-time 3-pointers (46). Hence, the “Dame Time” nickname. As for his range, Lillard (166) ranks second behind Curry (182) on shots from 24 feet and beyond.

Lillard has taken most of his 3-pointers from 25 to 29 feet (298), and has made 40.6% of them. But Lillard has also shot well from 30 to 34 feet (33.3%). Ironically, Lillard has shot better from 25 to 29 feet than he does from 20 to 24 feet (35%). No wonder he has also earned the “Logo Lillard” nickname. That name was said with more frequency after he made shots in this year’s All-Star game from 42 and 40 feet, including the game winner.

Afterwards, Lillard and Curry said they felt inspired to keep going deep because of each other’s encouraging words and dramatic shots. Not that it should be surprising. Before the season started, Lillard said he may attempt a half-court shot in a game. But even if he puts up video-game type numbers, Lillard stressed he does not play basketball as if it were an actual video game.

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“I didn’t say I was going to make it a normal thing,” Lillard said. “I just think I was going to take one. That would be crazy to be doing that.”.

So far, Lillard has not tried shooting from halfcourt in a regular-season game. Contrary to what Paul George said nearly two years ago, Lillard knows the difference between a good and a bad shot. In what marked George’s final game in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform, Lillard drilled a 37-foot game-winner over George in Portland’s first-round closeout against the Thunder. After Lillard gave the Thunder a waving goodbye following his game winner, George described Lillard’s contested 37-footer as “a bad shot, but he made it.”.

After this year’s All-Star game, George described Lillard’s heave both against OKC and his All-Star game winner as “a good shot.” George’s shift in commentary captures a league-wide sentiment in which the perception between a good and bad shot has changed because of Curry and Lillard.

“If it was just one time where it randomly happened, then maybe [it’s a bad shot],” Lillard said. But when you’re doing it consistently? You see Steph pulling up from range off the dribble, in traffic, contested and getting fouled and making these shots. And I’m doing the same thing. At some point, I think you just have to accept the fact that this is a quality shot for us.”.

Lillard observed that Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts also considers his long-distance heaves as quality shots, adding that “he’s always given me a certain amount of freedom and a long, long leash.” But Lillard also noticed Stotts’ comfort level has grown in recent years. Stotts has not pulled on that leash because he remains aware that Lillard’s ability to make highlight reels rests on both a proven resume and long hours in the gym.

“One of the more difficult things as a coach is to say what is a good and a bad shot for great players,” Stotts said. “Great players make great shots. Great players make tough shots. That’s one of the reasons they are great players. It really hasn’t changed my philosophy. Dame’s worked on it, old school. If you work on a shot in practice, you can take it on a game. He works on those shots, and obviously he’s shown he can make those shots.”.

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Lillard maintained he has “always been a confident shooter.” But during his junior year at Weber State, Lillard said he “started to take my training seriously and watching film seriously.” He worked with Weber State assistant coach Phil Beckner, whom Lillard likened to “a drill sergeant.” During their time together, Lillard said he and Beckner worked on various nuances that would allow him to make more difficult shots. Some basic examples included various drills to improve his ball handling, how to move off of screens and how to navigate various defensive coverages.

So once the Trail Blazers selected Lillard with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Lillard hired Beckner as his personal trainer. By Lillard’s fifth NBA season, the Trail Blazers’ star faced increasingly difficult defensive coverages. So Lillard had Beckner train him both during the offseason and occasional times during the season. Plenty of NBA players devote most of their workouts to the offseason to maximize recovery time. But Lillard wanted to keep his habits sharp. So Lillard would have Beckner stay in Portland periodically in weekly increments that entailed evening workouts in between any games.

“I always believe in any shot that he takes. I’m with him every single day and I see the work that he’s put in,” Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony said. “It happens so much that it’s just being in awe out there after every great shot, after every great game or after every moment. This is what he does.”.

Lillard has done that even with the Trail Blazers nursing significant injuries this season to Zach Collins (39 games and counting; fractured left ankle), Jusuf Nurkic (28 games and counting; fractured right wrist) and C.J. McCollum (25 games, sprained left foot). Yet, Portland (23-16) still rank sixth in the Western Conference with Lillard on pace to average career-highs in points (30.5) and assists (8.0). He helped Portland overcome a 17-point deficit against New Orleans on Wednesday by logging his third 50-point, 10-assist game of his career. He has scored at least 30 points in nine of the past 14 games. And with suffocating defenses chasing him, Lillard has thrived with his range regardless of the circumstances.

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According to NBA.Com’s tracking data, Lillard takes 3-pointers after holding onto the ball for at least six seconds 24.7% of the time and after having the ball less than two seconds 15% of the time. Lillard has become reliable from 3-point range in both of those instances when he holds the ball for less than two seconds (47.9%) and for at least six seconds (36.%). Lillard has shot well from deep in catch-and-shoot situations (47.7%) and on pull-ups (36.2%). He has thrived with 22 to 18 seconds left on the shot clock (38.1%), 15 to seven seconds left (41.3%), seven to four seconds remaining (48%) or just before the buzzer sounded (42.1%).

“It’s certainly his best season to this point,” Stotts said. “But it’s more in the context of what he has had to do for our team.”.

To fulfill that job description, Lillard has stayed in the gym to ensure he can hit shots from anywhere on the court regardless of the opponent and scheme that he faces.

“I’ve been getting better over time and improving each year, looking in the mirror and figure out ways that I can improve on my body, watching film and tightening up my game,” Lillard said. “I’m understanding the things that I can do better to help the team win. I feel like I’ve been doing the best job of that this season.”.

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