He has never been associated with the best of the best around the league, always being shoved aside for the highlight reels of Russell Westbrook, Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. The Houston Rockets’ tandem of Chris Paul and James Harden has taken the league by storm, garnering hype about a potential Western Conference Finals. Controversy in Washington over John Wall and his relationship with the Wizards has caused analysts to debate his importance to the team. How about the Isaiah Thomas trade train that has made headlines? In his 6th season in the NBA, this point guard has found himself in many conversations around NBA circles. He has been called underrated by some. Overrated by others. He has been snubbed from multiple All-Star Games. He didn’t play at Kentucky or Duke and doesn’t play in New York or Los Angeles. He has specifically said he doesn’t want to join a super team, and has never been problematic in his locker room, only inspiring. Now, he is putting the league on notice. The question is, what time is it?
It’s Dame Time.
This season, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard has been a force to be reckoned with. He’s averaging just under 27 PPG, 6.5 APG and 4.5 RPG on 45% from the field, 37% from three and 91% from the stripe. He has had a 50-point game, two 40-point games and 18 30-point games this season. In the last four games Lillard has scored 35 (4 threes), 39 (6 threes) and 37 (8 threes) as part of the current 8-game win streak the Blazers find themselves on. The Portland Trail Blazers are 3rd in the west by a game and a half at this moment.
He has made 3 All-Star Games, won rookie of the year and is a 2-time All-NBA Team player in his career.
Lillard has led the Blazers to the playoffs the last four seasons with their second-best player being C.J. McCollum, who has proven to be an All-Star-caliber talent. Jusuf Nurkic has proven to be their only other formidable talent and a legitimate (though not elite) starting center. Other than those two, the Blazers are filled with supplementary fringe role players. In the 2014-15 season, the Blazers lost to the Memphis Grizzles in the first round. The following season, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wes Mathews all left the team, and Lillard the only remaining starter. In the 2015-16 season, the Blazers not only made the playoffs, but they beat the L.A. Clippers in 6 games and advanced to the second round before losing to a 73-win Golden State Warriors team.
Compared to Other Elite Point Guards
Just to be clear, the modern-day point guard doesn’t necessarily reflect a “true point guard” like a Magic Johnson, Steve Nash or Rajon Rondo. The elite “point guards” in the NBA are really combo guards, other than Chris Paul, Mike Conley, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball and other guys that have that style of passing first and running the offense as the primary focus.
Where does he stack up against the league’s best?
Steph Curry is a two-time NBA MVP and a two-time NBA champion. However, his numbers this season are nearly identical and slightly better than Lillard’s (26.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.2 RPG, 92% FT, 49% FG). We also have to acknowledge the fact that when playing with Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, it can make life a lot easier. That being said, let’s not ignore the fact that the Warriors would be in the same position if you swapped Lillard and Curry. We understand Curry’s limitless range as the greatest shooter of all time. But we cannot ignore the significantly better pieces Curry has around him. As a rational thinker, I’m going to say Curry is better than Lillard. However, the gap is not as wide as many may believe.
Russell Westbrook is averaging nearly a triple-double (25.3 PPG, 10.2 APG, 9.7 RPG) on the Oklahoma City Thunder. But despite acquiring All-Star forward Paul George and scoring machine Carmelo Anthony, the team sits at the 7th seed in the West, with significantly more talent than Portland. Westbrook has played with James Harden, Kevin Durant and Victor Oladipo throughout his career. Those players all left the Thunder (at different times) and were significantly better on their new respective teams. Harden transformed into an offensive superstar, Durant became more efficient and well-rounded, and Oladipo went from averaging 16 PPG and 44% shooting to 24 PPG and 48% shooting. Westbrook’s lack of selflessness (despite his high assist totals) shows that when the game is on the line, he usually comes up short. Lillard has played with far less talent, yet has advanced further in the playoffs than expected on multiple occasions.
Other than the fact that Westbrook jumps higher and gets a few more assists, why is he undisputedly better than Lillard?
He’s not. You could make the argument that he is though.
Kyrie Irving has made a fantastic transition to Boston, as he was traded from Cleveland at the beginning of the season. He had an issue playing with LeBron James and wanted to be the star on his own team. Although Boston has a promising future and Irving has had a great season, his numbers don’t quite match up to Lillard’s as he is averaging 24.8 PPG, 5.1 APG, 3.7 RPG. Irving is certainly a superstar, but who’s to say he is a better player than Lillard? Has he led a team on his own to the playoffs? The Cavs saw no playoff success in Kyrie’s first three seasons before James returned. Lillard didn’t have a problem getting to the postseason in his second season.
Other than the fact that Kyrie has one of the nastiest handles in the NBA, why is he undisputedly better than Lillard?
He’s not. You could make the argument that he is though.
John Wall has been a hot topic of conversation inside the Wizards locker room. Teammates have complained about him on and off the record, and the Wizards seem to play better as a team when he is off the court. Playing alongside Bradley Beal, a player similar to C.J. McCollum, as well as legitimate starters such as Otto Porter, Markeiff Morris and Marcin Gortat, the Wizards have repeatedly come up short when it counts most. Wall has been injured for about half the season, yet his numbers don’t even come close to Lillard’s. There should not even be a discussion about who is better between the two players.
Other than the fact that he runs faster, why is Wall undisputedly better than Lillard?
He is not. No argument would be sufficient that Wall is better.
Since joining James Harden in Houston, the Rockets have looked like a real threat to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. Chris Paul is one of the few true point guards left in the NBA. While he is a better true point guard than Lillard, he is not a better overall player. He’s older and more savvy, yet he’s never advanced past the second round in the playoffs. There’s something to be said about that.
If you want to say he’s a better player, you should make sure not to confuse “point guard” and “player.”
Lillard has started to become recognized around the league, and now it’s time for people to give him some respect. Dame isn’t your average good starting point guard like Kyle Lowry or Mike Conley. He isn’t an ordinary star. He is a superstar. Lillard said it himself when asked where he ranks himself among guards in the NBA, and there is nothing that any of them can do that he can’t.
Recognize greatness. Put some respect on the 0.
Image via https://freddieof.deviantart.com/art/Damian-Lillard-png-PNG-back-jersey-689033503
About Me: I’m Spencer Alexander Zied, a freshman at the University of Miami from New York, New York. I love to play basketball and tennis and am a big fan of the Knicks, Giants, Yankees and all U. Miami sports. I’m also a big fan of First Take and Sportscenter on ESPN. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with me on Twitter, on Facebook, or on Instagram (szied713).