What if Damian Lillard only shot from 35+ feet?
The results may shock you.
The hiatus of the NBA season due to the COVID-19 pandemic has put sports on hold, and in the case of the Portland Trail Blazers, has put a halt to Damian Lillard’s phenomenal season. Lillard is averaging a career high 28.9 points per game in 2019-20, a career high 7.8 assists per game, and is shooting a career high 39.4% from three point range on the year. He currently ranks 5th in total points with 1,677, despite missing 8 games this season.
Even more incredible, he’s shooting 6-9 from 35-39 feet away from the basket. For someone known for his shooting prowess, lately Dame has seemed to thrive even more than usual the further away from the basket he is. So while we await a return to normalcy, let’s have a little fun with hypotheticals and pose this question: What if – rather than play basketball the intended way – Damian Lillard exclusively shot from between 35-39 feet for every single shot. No acrobatic layups, no powerful dunks, not even any regular old 33-foot stepback treys. What if Dame just pulled up from the logo all the time?
In today's least surprising news, Dame drained a half court shot. pic.twitter.com/iMqUQ68hc4
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) January 24, 2020
I’ve conducted this incredibly unscientific experiment by doing the following: I’ve taken every box score from the 2019-20 season and focused on Damian Lillard’s total field goals attempted. Then, I’ll figure out how many of those shots he’d make based on his 35+ foot shooting percentage. He’s currently shooting 66.67% from that distance this season, but let’s be conservative and say over the course of the season that’ll even out to be about 60%. Then, I’ll multiply the number of shots made by three to get his new point total.
We’re also going to assume that, because Dame won’t be driving into the lane as much, he will likely shoot fewer free throws than typical, so I’m going to cut the number of free throws made in each game by half. In the case of an uneven amount of points, I’ll give Logo Lillard the benefit of the doubt and round all point totals up assuming he lands above .5. Maybe that all sounds a little confusing, so let’s do a little practice.
Game 1 vs. the Denver Nuggets on October 23, 2019. Despite a valiant 32-point effort from Dame, the Blazers fell 100-108. But in this new scenario, Dame shoots 21 times from 35-39 feet, resulting in 38 points (rounded up from 37.8). Add half of his 9 made free throws (4.5) and he finishes with 42, a +10 point difference that gives the Blazers enough to secure a 2 point win on opening night.
Does this make absolutely no logical sense? Yes. Is it fun to think about? 100%. So let’s reimagine the rest of the season with this new formula.
A previous three point loss to the Spurs on October 28 where Dame missed a buzzer beater from the corner turns into a 23 point win thanks to 54 points from Lillard, in a game in which he shoots 17 of 28 from way beyond the arc. Two losses on a back-to-back against the Clippers and Nets in early November turn into two wins as Dame drops 42 in the first game (20 points better than his real life performance) and a career high 66 in a win against the Nets (in reality, Dame dropped 61 in a 4 point loss).
Through the end of the calendar year, the only games in which Dame’s point total doesn’t increase are November 2 against the Sixers, where his new shooting strategy backfires and he only scores 29 (as opposed to the 33 he scored in real life, Portland loses either way). And on November 12, he only shoots 10 times for a paltry 24 points, compared to the 27 he scored in real life. Again, the Blazers would have lost the game either way. In no instance of Dame’s new shooting strategy do the Blazers lose a hypothetical game they won in the real world.
A 12 point loss to the Thunder on December 8 becomes a 7-point win when Dame scores 47. He drops 41 in back to back games against the Pelicans and Jazz during Christmas week, flipping the result of both games. The Blazers were 14-20 at the New Year this season, with Dame only shooting logo threes, they’re 25-8, pending the result of a November 4 game against Golden State that the Blazers originally lost by 9 (by shooting only 35+ foot threes, Dame scores 9 points more than he did in reality, so hypothetically this game goes to overtime.)
In late January, things get bonkers. Dame scores 47 against the Mavericks and flips the result of the game into a 5 point win for Portland. He follows that up with 46 points against the Thunder in a game the Blazers lose by 1. Two nights later, he puts up 37 shots against the Warriors. Dame scored 61 points in this game in real life, but by shooting 60% from deep, he puts up 75 points in the game, scoring the third most points in a game in NBA history. He doesn’t score less than 48 points for the rest of the month, averaging 43.4 points per game in January.
Heading into the All-Star break, he continues to put up gaudy numbers, flipping the results of two games. A 7-point loss in Memphis (the game in which Dame suffered a groin injury) turns into a 9 point win when Lillard scores 36. After returning from injury he flips one more game, the March 7 loss to the Kings, before we arrive at our current state.
Through these 58 games, Lillard scores 2,275 points, which leads the NBA ahead of James Harden’s 2,096. He is averaging 39.2 points per game, which would rank as the third most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 1961-62 (50.3 PPG) and 1962-63 (44.8) seasons. Portland would be 46-19, good for the #2 seed in the West.
To reiterate, this thought experiment has no basis in reality. Lillard would in all likelihood not continue to average 60% shooting from near half court, and teams would surely begin double-teaming him as soon as he crossed the line. But the point still stands: what if Logo Lillard was forever?