Is Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard Hitting the Rookie Wall?
The Portland Trail Blazers have lost five games in a row and Damian Lillard hasn't been as productive during the stretch. The concern for Blazers fans is whether or not Lillard has hit the "rookie wall" or not.
There is probably some degree of mental and physical fatigue occurring for Lillard, but it wouldn't be fair to fully say he's hit the rookie wall at this point in the season.
His play over the last five games has been all over the place with various types of performances. Against the Orlando Magic he shot a career-worst 1-of-16 from the floor finishing with four points, but did add 12 assists. Against the Miami Heat, he shot 10-of-18 from the field for 33 points.
His inconsistency is largely in part because of what the Blazers are asking from their rookie point guard. He's playing the fifth-most minutes in the league with 38.5 per game. He's running on fumes and it's becoming more clear down the stretch of games.
He doesn't have the same lift on his jumpers nor the quickness in attacking the basket. The Blazers need him on the court to be successful in running their offense and getting buckets.
For Lillard, the focus going forward from the All-Star break needs to be consistency. On a night-by-night basis, he needs to be focused and attack defenses regardless of whether or not his shot is falling.
He also needs to figure out a way to bottle up the energy he plays with against top teams and then unleash it against weaker opponents. This type of adjustment is typical for a rookie. Lillard is trying to figure out this team and what they need from him as well as what works for him at this level.
Against the Miami Heat last week, Lillard came out and controlled the offense. His balance helped the Blazers stay competitive throughout the majority of the game—he was knocking down shots, but he was also driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
Here are Lillard's highlights from that game:
He consistently attacked the basket in addition to nailing his shots. On many of those plays, Lillard had success driving with his quickness and smooth dribble.
If you notice in the highlight video, Lillard had plenty of room during his jumpers because defenders were honoring the drive. At the 1:45 mark in the video at the end of the quarter, look how Norris Cole defended Lillard. He was back-pedaling, afraid to give up the drive and instead gave Lillard tons of room to shoot.
This is the aggression and energy that Lillard needs to figure out how to play with consistently.
Lillard has plenty of room to grow as the Blazers fight for a playoff spot. That said, there will be a ton of pressure on the young point guard. The Blazers' playoff hopes rest on Lillard's ability to improve the balance in his game down the stretch.
At this point, there's no real indication that Lillard has hit a wall with his development. He's a rookie trying to figure out the NBA. There will be off nights in addition to the remarkable nights. It's all part of Lillard's development as a professional.
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