Damian Lillard is as calm and cool as it gets. The Portland Trail Blazers star stood in stark contrast to Russell Westbrook as the two went head-to-head in the first round, the latter constantly talking and the former playing stone-faced.
Obviously we all know how that series ended, with Lillard hitting an incredible 37-foot shot to send the Oklahoma City Thunder home with a first-round loss once again.
Lillard has been working his way toward that playoff success for some time. In a new profile by the Washington post’s Ben Golliver, it was revealed that not only was the Blazers star working on his strength to expand his range, but his mind as well.
According to Golliver, Lillard has been working on his “emotional intelligence” as a means to have the mental acuity and calmness that’s needed to succeed in those big moments.
Via Ben Golliver:
Both coaches have also tried to shape what they call Lillard’s “emotional intelligence.” Beckner has spent years building Lillard’s confidence by “speaking greatness into him” through setbacks, such as multiple all-star snubs and a string of 10 straight postseason losses.
Kenyon has keyed in on Lillard’s self-control and leadership, recommending two books by author Ryan Holiday: “Ego is the Enemy” and “The Obstacle is the Way.”
“The best of the best stay composed when their team is down 15 points, or they’re in foul trouble, or when [Blazers center] Jusuf Nurkic breaks his leg and it feels like the world is ending,” Kenyon said. “No matter what, [Lillard] keeps his composure and leads by example.”
We have heard of sports psychologists for some time, but getting mindfulness training during a shooting and strength routine is the kind of next-level, integrated workouts we should probably start to expect in the NBA from here on out.
Lillard obviously came to playoff prominence with his 2014 shot over Chandler Parsons with 0.9 seconds left to send the Houston Rockets home. Things have been sort of rocky for Lillard from there, particularly after last season’s sweep at the hands of the lower-seeded New Orleans Pelicans.
But the Blazers are moving forward and are taking on the Denver Nuggets in the second round. They have a chance to move to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000, and Lillard is a huge reason why.