Damian Lillard is the worst defense of his career, and he may cost more than just the Bucks

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The second the Milwaukee Bucks traded Jrue Holiday for Damian Lillard, their bet was on the table: We believe a one-way superstar has more viability than a two-way All-Star. It’s a bet with implications that could go beyond Milwaukee.

Could Lillard be playing for Trae Young’s future archetype merit?

You might say that this archetype has already proven that competition with the likes of Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving is possible. To that I would argue that Curry, in addition to being a really good defender, is one of a kind; no one has ever been like him, and there is a good chance that no one will ever be. And Irving won his title along with the dominant LeBron James. Another example of the rule.

Besides, those sensational point guards who can’t keep a lie won’t win or even play for titles. Come take a look. You won’t find one guy, not even the great James Harden, who made it to the NBA Finals in this century, and before that they didn’t really exist.

I haven’t heard many people talk about Lillard’s responsibility to an entire genre of players who look to him, whether they realize it or not, as proof of their concept, but think about it: If Lillard, on. this team, with this lots of firepower and this many theoretical defensive coverage, I can’t win a title, how can anyone claim that Trae Young can?

We always knew, of course, that Lillard was a bad defender. But in Portland, where he long basked in the honeymoon glow of small-market devotion, and where he benefited from the abundance of excuses given to him (Niall Olshey didn’t help him!), he was never responsible for the significant role his defense, or lack thereof, played in that team without being a true contender.

It will be different in Milwaukee, where early returns have been extremely poor. The Bucks, even with two DPOY-caliber defenders in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez, are the league’s worst defense on a point-per-possession basis, according to Synergy, and second-worst according to Cleaning the Glass, which filters out wasted time.

Now that I think about it, maybe CTG should disregard the Bucks defensive possession entirely because the whole thing has been a waste. That’s not all on Lillard. Not even close.

Adrian Griffin has installed a defense that doesn’t mess with his personnel, one that is in typical scramble mode trying to generate chaos, that worked if you want a turnover complete; Last year the Bucks defense only committed 11.8 turnovers per game, which was dead last. This season that number is up to 16.8, good enough for eighth league.

But that’s also why the Bucks are constantly circulating, giving up open 3s and free lanes to the rim because, with the exception of Giannis, they aren’t fast or athletic enough to to play that style. Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis and Malik Beasley, and certainly Lillard, can’t be relied upon to run into a double — which is necessary when you’re too willing to swing into an imbalance — and then race back to shooters with no exposed numbers. of methods. If Griffin thinks he’s still coaching the Raptors long, wide guys, there could be a lot more trouble for him and the Bucks.

But the issues that could be more acute with Griffin’s defensive system, and how inappropriate the Bucks want to use it, is another story. No system works if the best players aren’t committed, and right now, to suggest that Lillard isn’t committed to playing defense would be an understatement. In reality, the man is playing some of the laziest, worst defense of his career, and that’s really saying something for a guy who’s always been a pretty decent defender. It has been embarrassing at times.

After watching every Bucks defensive possession, I can tell you that finding Lillard’s clip was good, fully functional for an entire possession, almost like finding gold on the street. It wasn’t that hard to find a half-hearted man, let’s say.

I ended up cutting about 30 clips showing all kinds of abuse, including but not limited to Dame getting hunted, and properly cooked, by the likes of Tyler Herro , Dennis Schroder and Dejounte Murray, dying on ball screens, missing shooters off the ball, denying scoring opportunities, fouling in the backcourt only to open up a lane for a transition offense, and ‘ provide no disruption as a pick-and-roll defender. The latter, I guess, can’t be held too much against a 6-foot-2 boy.

But the hardest thing is the effort stuff. Even if Lillard is physically limited as a defender, and even if Griffin’s system is a mess, he needs to work harder than what I’m about to show you if he wants to compete for competition rather than just talking about wanting and deserving. the opportunity.

First: Lillard is beaten down on the court by Schroder even though he starts ahead of him, and proceeds to lazily kiss and reach for the ball until Schroder goes around him. Lucky for him, as Schroder’s pass is botched and some chaos ensues—all Lillard decides to do is stand there and watch instead of finding the shot wide corner behind. The closeout is far too late, a foul at the end just worthless as Pascal Siakam sinks what is essentially an open corner 3.

If you don’t think that’s so bad, I don’t agree when we talk about a team and a player with real title aspirations. But if you need it worse, let’s keep it moving. Here’s Lillard, after blowing a layup, offering some pointless, half-hearted denial deep in the backcourt that allows Schroder to race past him. Lillard is so worried about this, that he moves, almost, behind Schroder the whole court, which makes Lopez stop him, which leaves Jakob Poetl free for a layup.

Keeping up with the pointless back-and-forth moves that include a gain transition possession, here’s Lillard lazily making a foul for a steal he has no chance of getting (Malachi Flynn already has the ball before Lillard will be moved around him), thus prompting a break he sent. the Bucks a man down and an open corner 3, but again, the result.

Broken record warning! Here’s Dame, after turning, deciding to do some kind of jumping jack in front of Bogdan Bogdanovic rather than get back on defense. It leads to another benefit running out, but it means, first, to be a loss. Maybe Lillard and the Bucks will get lucky? No. As the ball bounces around, Dejounte Murray is open for a second shot because you know who, after maybe tying his shoe or something after the jumper, pulls in to the screen at quarter speed in just enough time to have some good fun. view of Murray’s scoring.

One of the sins of today’s defenses is giving up corner 3s, especially short corner 3s. Here’s Lillard, for whatever reason, just kind of standing behind Thomas Bryant, who wouldn’t take affect what he would get. the pass at least, at the cost of simply disrespecting Kyle Lowry in the corner. The pass, of course, goes to Lowry, at which point Lillard closes out with the control of a high school senior, launching into the air and flying past Lowry as he ‘ easily steps in and delivers a pass back to Bryant. Easy bucket.

This last one is a real gem. Keep your eye on Lillard, who stands out above the 3-point line with a flat foot asking for a kick-out pass, which instead goes to Malik Beasley. Watch Lillard as Beasley’s shot goes up. Also watch Jimmy Butler, who defies the odds and keeps going. Lillard, as the tallest man and therefore the first, and only line of defense against this type of run, doesn’t even move. Lowry throws a basketball pass to Butler, who goes down as Lillard is just getting in on a leisurely walk across half court.

This is a disgraceful attempt, and I assure you there are plenty of other places where this came from. It’s not too different from the defense he played most of his time in Portland; what is different in the situation he asked. He wanted to play for higher stakes. That comes with more research. This stuff won’t get an excuse attached to it when the Bucks burn out of the playoffs because Lillard can’t guard anyone.

As bad as Dame has been defensively, he’s also been terrible offensively, shooting under 30% from 3 and 40% overall. He had six points in a loss to the Hawks. He took just nine shots in Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors. But the offense will come. Or, if he doesn’t, the defense won’t matter anyway.

But assuming the superstar version of Lillard’s offense eventually emerges (can we have more Dame/Giannis pick-and-rolls, please?), one of two must thing happen, as to Dame and his defender, if so. the Bucks are going to be a big threat for a title: he has to get better, which starts with trying, or the theory that small, bad defenders can be covered enough in context real competition, so the Trae Youngs of the world will have more viability in the future than they might if Dame and the Bucks fall flat.

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