When we think of foul-baiting, images of Joel Embiid and James Harden flailing their arms as they wrap up defenders and flopping to the ground come to mind. However, there’s another type that Damian Lillard engages in. The good kind.
Lillard is struggling to score the basketball from the field this season. His 41.1 field goal percentage is the second-lowest of his career, and ranks 48th among the 54 players who attempt at least 15 shots per game. He’s only connecting on 32.8 percent of his threes. Again, that’s the second-worst of his career, and he ranks 28th among the 29 NBA players who take at least seven shots behind the arc per game.
His saving grace to a disastrous shooting season has been his ability to draw fouls at an incredible rate. These aren’t the Harden-esque type where he grabs his defenders arm while trying to gather the ball and go into his shooting motion. These are legitimately drawn in the natural flow of the game.
With rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. matched up on him in the above clip, it’s barbecue chicken for Lillard. He casually dribbles the ball up the left slot, as the Bucks run a basic pindown screen on the weakside. With Pat Connaughton spacing the strong side corner, Lillard explodes toward the paint, leans into Jaquez Jr. ever so slightly and draws the whistle from the official. It may seem like minimal contact, but it’s exactly the type of call the refs routinely make on ball-handlers attacking from the perimeter.
Lillard is drawing shooting fouls on 16.6 percent of his shots this season—the highest mark of his career. That’s also the best rate amongst point guards. Trae Young is second at 14.7 percent and other notables include Luka Doncic (13.9 percent), De’Aaron Fox (13.6 percent) and Tyrese Maxey (12.3 percent).
He’s not only elite at drawing fouls, but he’s elite at knocking down his free throws. His 92.1 percent success rate from the charity stripe ranks sixth in the NBA and is just a tad behind his career-best.
He still maximizes the threat of his outside shot despite his shooting woes. This helps him create the necessary advantage to attack his man off the bounce. The Bucks set a double high screen for him near the logo and Kyle Lowry goes under while the screener’s defender hard hedges before recovering to his initial assignment. Lowry comes flying out to the three-point line just a tad out of control, allowing Lillard to crossover between his legs before attacking the hoop right in the middle of Lowry’s chest.
With Lowry backpedaling and moving on defense, the contact is enough to draw the ire of the referee. Meanwhile, Lillard continues to go strong to the hoop while attempting to finish through the contact.
Lillard plays under control at all times. He never goes too fast and does a terrific job of mixing up his angles and speed of which he attacks. That, with the addition of his slight stature, makes it difficult for defenders to draw charges when he initiates contact. He’s only committed one charge this season.
The free throw rate has saved Lillard’s start to the season. His effective field goal percentage, which only takes into account twos and threes, ranks 43rd among 54 players who take at least 15 shots per game this season. However, when we measure by true shooting percentage, which adds free throws to the equation, he ranks 17th with the same qualifiers.
It will (hopefully) only be a matter of time until his jumper starts falling at a higher rate. When that happens, his production should skyrocket considering that will have no negative effect on his ability to attack the hoop and draw fouls. For now, he’ll ride the wave of overaggressive defenders and the good type of foul drawing.