It is getting harder and harder to believe how Damian Lillard can continuously fly under the radar. Let it be known – Lillard is a top point guard in the league. That is not a statement, it’s fact.
With 80+ points in his last two games, including a career high 51-points that was responsible for handing the Golden State Warriors their fifth loss of the season, it is easy to get caught up in the hype. But because of the hype or not, it’s time that the Portland floor general finally get the respect that he deserves.
Just a fourth year guard from Oakland, California, Lillard has long been playing at a level that should not only brand him a superstar, but garner him the same respect that we heap on his counterparts like: Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving. These guys aren’t his superiors, they are his equals, yet continually we see their names up in lights, with Lillard nothing more than an afterthought.
Over the last few seasons Lillard has separated himself as one of the league’s premier guards, with a complete ability that has seen him influence games in ways that few others can even compare to. Admittedly, this has earned him two All-star selections (2014 and 2015) and representation in the All NBA third-team (2014), however he still seems to be overshadowed by those around him. For example, it only confuses how the only guard, besides Russell Westbrook, to be in the top ten for both scoring and assists can have been omitted from the recent All-star game.
It’s not like his stats are meaningless either. Right now the Portland Trailblazers are 7th in the West with a record of 29-27. Certainly not the best team in the league, but competitive right? Well, let’s put where they sit into perspective. Last season the Trailblazers finished the regular season as the Western Conference’s fourth seed with a record of 51-35. Barring a miracle, they will not close the season out anywhere near as well as that. Still, this is where Lillard’s impact comes to the fore. From the 2014-15 teams starting five, four have been traded elsewhere. Robin Lopez (New York Knicks), Nicholas Batum (Charlotte Hornets), Wesley Matthews (Dallas Mavericks), and of course five-time NBA All-star LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio Spurs) have all disappeared.
Rightfully so, many expected the Trailblazers significance to disappear with them, however under the power of Lillard they have found modest success, culminating in the before mentioned, recent downing a team that is chasing history to be the greatest ever. Without Lillard this simply would not be possible.
Please don’t get the point twisted. It is not to say that Lillard is not thought to be an elite guard, it is that his actual greatness is often overlooked. All too often, guys like Chris Paul or Kyrie Irving are thought of as the next notch above Lillard. We saw this in last Summer’s USA team selection for the FIBA World Cup in which Lillard was overlooked for guys like Irving and even Derrick Rose. Then, again with the recent All-Star selections. It’s like Lillard is overlooked when even discussing the best point guards in the league. It just seems farcical for anyone not to see that what this 25-year-old does for Portland is on the level of Curry for Golden State and Westbrook for OKC.
Lillard averages 24.9 points (NBA Rank 6th), 7.3 assists (NBA Rank 6th) with a Player Efficiency Rating of 22.87 (4th among guards). Across these three categories only MVP candidates Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook are comparable, with ever-excellent Chris Paul also in the mix. Then, factoring in his team situation, it is impossible to say that Lillard is not at the very least a top 5 point guard, and perhaps top 10 player in the league right now.
At this current time, pound-for-pound, stat-for-stat and impact-for-impact, Lillard’s game is as crucial to his team’s success as LeBron James’ in Cleveland.
Luckily this ignorance is easy fixed. Just remember – DAMIAN LILLARD – next time you want to have a debate about who the best guards in the league are.
Written by Juan Estepa @EstepaJ