By Oliver Mauntel
Even since his high school days, Damian Lillard has often been overlooked. He was rated a mere 2-star prospect out of high school, and eventually accepted a scholarship to play for Weber State of the Big Sky Conference. Now, as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard is still often overlooked in the discussion regarding the top point guards in the league. Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Russell Westbrook receive plenty of attention for their play, and rightfully so. Curry has won a pair of MVPs and championships, Irving has a championship under his belt, and Westbrook is the league’s reigning MVP. Damian Lillard doesn’t have an MVP or any NBA Finals victories on his resume, yet he deserves to be held on the same pedestal as the formerly mentioned.
Although Portland failed to reach the postseason in his rookie campaign, Lillard still earned the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. In year two, Lillard guided the Blazers to an impressive 54 wins. However, his most notable performance came at the conclusion of his first career playoff series. In game 6 against Houston, down a bucket with only 0.9 seconds remaining, Lillard converted a catch and shoot dagger over Chandler Parsons to win the series. The game-winner served as a coming out party for Lillard, and ended a 14-year drought for Portland. Not many players have the guts to take a decisive fadeaway shot to win a playoff game, much less in just their second season.
A year later, the Blazers were bounced in the first round by Memphis, which resulted in a mass exodus by Portland’s core players. Starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and Robin Lopez all moved on to new teams, leaving only Lillard behind. The next season, the Blazers were expected to experience a major recession, yet Lillard, alongside CJ McCollum, surprised the league by earning the 5th seed in the West. The Blazers would eventually defeat the Clippers in the first round. Witnessing four quality starters exit in a single offseason is a rarity, and Lillard’s ability to lead his team to a more successful season the following year should be applauded. There aren’t very many point guards, if any, that would be able to achieve the same success under those circumstances.
Statistically, Lillard is among the best in the league as well. In his six-year career, he has career averages of 22.9 ppg, 6.2 apg, and 4.1 rpg, besting Kyrie Irving in each of those three categories. However, Irving has been selected as an All-Star in 5 of his 7 seasons, whereas Lillard has only been selected 3 times in 6 seasons. Lillard’s career scoring average is on par with Russell Westbrook, with better shooting percentages across the board. This season in particular, Lillard and Westbrook both have a Player Efficiency Rating of 24.5, while Lillard has a 5.8% higher Effective Field Goal Percentage.
Each and every year, Lillard is tasked with leading a flawed group. However, more often than not, the Blazers find a way to eclipse the preseason expectations. Based on both statistics and reason, Damian Lillard deserves to be considered among the top tier of point guards in the NBA.