The rumors are true: In addition to competing in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge (also known as the Rookie-Sophomore Game) Friday night of All-Star Weekend and his first All-Star Game Sunday night, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will defend his Taco Bell Skills Challenge title, compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and finish up his Saturday night in New Orleans by being one of the six participants in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.
“I think, because I’m capable of doing them all and I was probably going to be shooting and doing Skills, once I got invited to the All-Star Game it was obviously an opportunity to have somebody do all of them,” said Lillard. “It wasn’t something that I reached out for and I don’t think the NBA kind of wanted me to do it from the jump either. I just think that, with me being in the All-Star Game and being a second-year player, so I have to play in the Rookie/Sophomore Game and winning Skills and wanting to shoot, it only makes sense to do them all.”
Lillard will be the first player in NBA All-Star history to compete in five events, which is one of the motivating factors in his decision.
“That was a big part of it,” said Lillard. “Because that’s obviously an opportunity for me to put my name on All-Star Weekend and be the first person to do something like that. Especially on that Saturday night. Because that’s a big part of it. The dunk contest, the Three-Point Shootout, Skills, just the fact that I could be all over that, that was a big thing for me.”
Lillard is the first Trail Blazer since Rudy Fernandez at All-Star Weekend 2009 in Phoenix to be invited to compete in the Dunk Contest. It’s been a much longer drought for Blazers in the Three-Point shootout, with Cliff Robinson being the last player to represent Rip City in that even during the 1996 All-Star Weekend in San Antonio. No Trail Blazer has ever won either event.
“It’s kind of like, I’m expanding as a brand, kind of opening more eyes to who I am,” said Lillard. “Also, for the Trail Blazers. It’ll always come back to my team. I think that’s an opportunity for our team. It’ll be more focused on our team.”
Though he’s not really known as a dunker (according to NBA.com/stats, Lillard has just eight dunks this season), Lillard is excited for the challenge of competing against some of the highest-flyers in the NBA.
“Only eight dunks, that means my legs are fresh,” joked Lillard. “I can get a lot more dunking in … The contest will be short. I’ve got to go out there and show some of the tricks that I do.”
“I know I can dunk and do a lot more dunks than people probably think I can,” said Lillard. “So it’s going to be fun to have that on my side. ”
The Sprite Slam Dunk contest field includes Indiana Pacer swingman Paul George, Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross, Washington Wizard’s point guard John Wall, Golden State’s Harris Barnes and Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore in the field. Of this year’s participants, only George and Wall are also playing in Sunday night’s All-Star Game. Ross, a Portland native, won the contest last year during All-Star Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, albeit in a field featuring much lower profile players than this year’s lineup.
Also at issue is the timing of the Dunk Contest, which is the final event on All-Star Saturday. While neither the Skills Challenge nor Three-Point Contest are particularly demanding, both events do require exertion, particularly in the lower body. And that’s to say nothing of the adrenaline expended while being the focal point of an arena full of fans. Considering that Lillard’s vertical leap isn’t that of some of his opponents, he might have to find other ways to impress or figure out adjustments if he’s at all fatigued from the first two events, though he said he’s confident he’ll be up to the task.
“In the Skills you’re going through a course and making passes,” said Lillard. “It’s pretty light. It’s not heavy at all. We warmup before games like that. The Three-Point Shootout is spot-up three-pointers so it’s not like I’m going to worry about having energy. It’ll be a big crowd and I’m sure that adrenaline and just being in front of that crowd will help me be able to probably jump higher than I normally do.”
While Lillard might be a long shot to win the the dunk contest, he’ll have to be considered one of the favorites to take the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest crown.
“I wanted to shoot in the Three-Point Contest,” said Lillard, “and I think that’ll be the one that I’m most excited about.”
He’s third in the NBA this season in three-pointers made with 140 while shooting a very respectable 41 percent from beyond the arc.
His percentages from certain areas on the floor also bode well for his chances, as he shoots 42 percent from the left side center, 46 percent from the right side center and a whopping 62 percent from the left corner. On the other hand, he’s a much better shooter from three when shooting pullups (68 percent) and step backs (68 percent) than he is on regular jump shots (37 percent), which are more akin to the shots taken in the three-point shootout.
“In the game, a lot of times they don’t leave me to get many spot-up opportunities,” explained Lillard. “I shoot those shots all the time when I’m getting reps in. I think the thing that I have to get used to is getting it off a rack. Which side I like to pick it up from, obviously doing it within the time that we have.”
And unlike the dunk contest, where handicapping the competition is somewhat difficult due to the vagaries of the scoring system, the field in the three-point shootout is undeniably strong. Lillard will be up against Kyrie Irving (35 percent), who won the event last year, Washington’s Bradley Beal (41 percent), Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson (39 percent), Orlando’s Arron Afflalo (43 percent), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (40 percent), San Antonio’s Marco Belinelli (44 percent) and Minnesota’s Kevin Love (38 percent).
Lillard will defend his Taco Bell Skills Challenge title after being the first rookie to win the event last year in Houston. He bested Jrue Holiday, Jeff Teague, Brandon Knight, Jeremy Lin and Tony Parker to come away with the trophy in his rookie season.
As for the Rookie-Sophomore Game, Lillard was “drafted” by Grant Hill’s team for the Rookie-Sophomore Game alongside the likes of Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes.
Some questioned whether Lillard was putting himself at risk of fatigue when news of Lillard participating in five events during All-Star Weekend broke prior to the official announcement, which Lillard brushed off.
“If you pay attention to it, the Skills is two rounds, maybe a minute a piece,” said Lillard. “That’s two minutes. The Three-Point Contest is probably two minutes. The dunk contest will probably take five. And then the Rookie-Sophomore Game is not like a real regular season game. So I’m not going to be out there exerting all of my energy, playing as hard as I would for the Trail Blazers. And who knows how many minutes I’ll play in the All-Star Game. So, in reality, it’s probably 45 minutes of work actually on the court. I don’t really think I’ll be tired from that.”
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge tips off at 6 PM on Feb. 14, events on All-Star Saturday night begin at 5 PM on Feb. 15 with the weekend culminating with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16. All events will be televised on TNT.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”