Portland Trailblazers' point guard Damian Lillard has been one of the most impressive rookies in this young season. If the Wizards want to get their first win, they will need to take advantage of Lillard on both ends of the court.
Lillard on Offense
Lillard has been very impressive as a pick-and-roll ball handler, ranking 12th in the NBA at 0.94 points per possession, according to MySynergySports.com. A big chunk of Lillard's scoring in the pick-and-roll has come from his ability to hit from beyond the arc when the defense gives him space. Lillard has been punishing teams that go under screens, are slow to recover, or just plain screw up by hitting 47 percent of his pick-and-roll threes.
At first glance this may spell disaster, but it might not be the end of the world for the Wizards. Although they've been working with a motley crew of point guards, Washington is the best team in the NBA at stopping pick-and-roll ball handlers from scoring. They've done an especially solid job of stopping ball handlers from taking threes in these situations, and part of that is because the big men have been aggressive in hedging on-ball screens.
When he's not shooting threes, Lillard doesn't usually get all the way to the basket. Teams have been challenging him to pull up for a midrange jumper, and he has responded quite well.
Lillard would have likely lit up last year's Wizards, with JaVale McGee sagging into the lane on every pick-and-roll. But this year, Nene and the frontcourt will likely force Lillard away from taking in-rhythm jumpers. Making Lillard hit shots in traffic could be the key to slowing him down.
Lillard on Defense
Although Lillard is playing like an All-Star on offense, he still looks like a rookie on defense. A perimeter lineup of Shaun Livingston, Bradley Beal, and Martell Webster may be best equipped to take advantage of Lillard.
A more conventional point guard, John Wall for example, could easily take advantage of Lillard's poor perimeter defense. But since Livingston and A.J. Price don't have the off-the-dribble game to beat Portland, it may be wiser to go to Livingston in the post. Lillard is giving up a point per post-up, so Livingston should find enough success to force a double team or two. And when those double-teams come, he has the vision to hit the open shooter.
If Portland moves Lillard away from Livingston and onto the similarly-sized Beal, Lillard's off-ball defense will be tested. Lillard has displayed a habit of trying to take shortcuts underneath off-ball screens, and he has given up plenty of open looks in the process.
Beal has received a steady diet of off-ball screens this season, but he hasn't been able to hit his shots. If he is guarded by Lillard, we should expect to see Beal get some great looks at the basket if he can anticipate Lillard's gambling defense.
It is important for Martell Webster to be on the floor because he presents himself as a bigger offensive threat than the other options at small forward. If Lillard can't guard Livingston or Beal, the Blazers may try to hide him on an offensive non-entity, such as Trevor Ariza. Webster's size and offensive ability means Lillard can't find an easy matchup on the floor. As long as Lillard is working hard on defense, fatigue can become a factor when he's on offense.
The Wizards may not have a win yet, but their defensive tendencies and unique backcourt makeup may give them a chance against the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.