With the first week of Team USA practice nearing its end, Damian Lillard has remained competitive in his pursuit of a roster spot. Despite teammate LaMarcus Aldridge withdrawing from consideration earlier this month, Lillard is as poised as ever to crack the lineup, which is stacked with star power. The Portland Trail Blazers guard is one of five All-Star point guards vying for a chance to play in this summer’s upcoming FIBA Championship. Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose are the other names in the running, with many assuming that Curry and Rose are virtual locks for roster spots.
This leaves Lillard up against two enormously talented point guards in Wall and Irving. There is talk that Lillard’s defense may be a crucial tiebreaker for coach Mike Krzyzewski, with Irving and Wall being better two-way players. However, Lillard himself thinks that he’s improving each day, especially on defense. In an interview after Wednesday’s practice, Lillard told reporters: Today was my best day, scoring-wise, defensively. I think I’ve gotten better each day.” Earlier, in practice, Lillard caught the eye of coaches by hitting a clutch step back three-pointer over Bradley Beal during team scrimmage.
The guard’s affinity for hitting big shots may be an underestimated facet of his game and may propel him past the unproven Irving and Wall in the coaches’ final decisions. Grantland’s Bill Simmons believes Lillard is a better choice than Irving for a roster spot for this exact reason. On Monday’s edition of the BS Report, Simmons said the following:
“I trust Damian Lillard, I just think that guy is fearless. I don’t trust Kyrie Irving at all. I’ve never even seen him play in a big game. I know what Damian Lillard can do in a big game. I’ve seen him have multiple big moments.”
While one shot in practice is not going to be the difference maker on the international basketball stage, Lillard has shown nothing but improvement since he entered the league in 2012. After a stellar Rookie Of The Year performance, Lillard improved his game on every level last season, propelling a surprising Trail Blazers team into the second round of the playoffs. With less than a month until the FIBA Championships begin, we’ll have to wait and see if Lillard can continue to add to his list of accomplishments.
Jeremy Rucker is an NBA writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyR327