Well that sure was insane, wasn’t it? In a series that carried out like a UFC slugfest, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trailblazers took turns swinging on each other for five must-watch contests. Last night Damian Lillard decided he had enough and delivered a historic performance to lift his Blazers passed the first round of the Playoffs for the first time in three years. His game-winning shot will go down in history as one of the greatest ever, but more importantly, his shot was a prime example of where the League is headed for the foreseeable future.
“It was a bad shot,” according to Paul George. The 37-foot power-dribbled fader that Lillard sunk to send the Thunder home early was, to the casual NBA fan, a miracle. But for Lillard- who used the shot to complete his 50-point evening- the shot wasn’t bad, or even lucky. Lillard had been flawless from the logo against OKC dropping 5 of 5 bombs that hit their target from 30 feet or more. And it’s not even like Dame just had a good series, the dude shot 39% on the season from 30 feet or further. Compare that to his resident trash-talking brodie Russell Westbrook, who shot a paltry 29% this season from 3-point range, you can see that this is more than just a random coincidence this shot went in. No, this my friends is a weapon.
This isn’t a total shocker, right? I mean we’ve seen Steph Curry change the modus operandi of the NBA with his dazzling shooting and unlimited range in such a way that it was just a matter of time till other players caught up. Lillard may be an elite example, but players around the League are trending towards deeper and deeper shots to stretch the defense out. While this shift has definitely hurt your local YMCA pick-up games, pros like Lillard, James Harden, Buddy Hield, and Trae Young have turned deep threes into a seemingly normal piece in their arsenal. Shots that would have gotten you immediately benched 5 years ago are now shots that many coaches encourage if the player is open.
This means a shift away from skill sets like Westbrook’s, whose inability to show consistency from the 3-point line (let alone from deeper than that) is slowly proving to be a factor in his lack of postseason success. The former MVP and 8-time All-Star has never been considered a three-point shooter, but the Playoffs have a way of truly showing your greatest flaws and Brodie is no exception. Of the 34 3-point shots that Russ attempted, 29 of them were with a defender at least 4 feet away from him. The industry term for this is “wide f-ing open”. On these shots Westbrook shot 9–29, allowing Portland to have an extra guy down low rebounding, double-teaming another player, or running out for a fast break. The message is simple and clear in the Playoffs: if you can’t shoot, we’ll sure as hell let you try.
The League has seen this trend coming, and some of the better teams have gotten ahead of the shooting boom and now looked poised to make a deep Playoff run (I’m looking at you Denver and Milwaukee). Guys who can shoot are now at a premium meaning they’re getting paid more, getting played more, and getting scouted even quicker in high school and college. Lottery teams drool over the potential of the Trae Young’s and Darius Garland’s of the world. Dude’s like Carsen Edwards can now play themselves into an NBA position on the merits of their shooting alone.
Lillard’s game-winner wasn’t a bad shot. It is simply further proof that shooting is now the most crucial skill in the NBA, and without it winning at the highest level may be a mountain too high to climb. Don’t take my word for it, take a look around the League at who’s left in the Playoffs.
If your team doesn’t have guard shooting you really don’t stand a whole lot of chances of making it past the first round.
Looking at the landscape of the League, it's mindboggling to imagine what this could all become. The shooting boom is still something that every team is trying to figure out and keep ahead of the curve on, and yet we’ve already seen that shooting is the most important skill in today’s NBA. All across the world kids are wearing Curry jerseys and watching Damian Lillard drill what could quite possibly become the most iconic shot in NBA history. Thousand’s of kids are in their driveway or local court practicing long-range shots as we speak.
It wasn't a bad shot. It is only the beginning.