We've got a doozy of a question for today's Blazer's Edge Mailbag! If you have a question about the Portland Trail Blazers, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saw this debate in the comments of a post and wanted your opinion. Is Lillard already the best point guard in Blazers history? If not who's better?
You couldn't have picked a more complicated position to evaluate. The generational shifts are huge.
1. Over the last decade the definition of point guard has morphed from "facilitator" to "scorer". Fat Lever could have scored 20 a night...he pretty much did in his prime with the Nuggets. But back then coaches wanted their point guards to set up everyone else. The era of 20+ ppg points came after the millennium.
2. NBA rules, particularly hand-checking, make it easier to score as a guard now. Imagine if nobody was allowed to touch Rod Strickland. He was quick and had an uncanny nose for the bucket. He'd have posted at least one 25-point season easy.
For the segment of fans that grew up with saccharine as the artificial sweetener of choice and whose birth control was made of sheepskin, Lillard's scoring (his clear strong suit) will work against him. They'll champion assists, team chemistry, and nostalgia. For those more used to Stevia and Nuvaring, nobody's going to compare to Lillard statistically. Given the recent upsurge in team success, they might have an argument in the old-school areas as well.
People forget this, but before the Blazers angered the basketball gods by passing on Chris Paul in favor of Martell Webster, Jarrett Jack, and the incumbent Sebastian Telfair, they benefited from a multi-decade string of good point guards. Dave Twardzik gave way to Lever, followed by Terry Porter, Strickland, Kenny Anderson, and Damon Stoudamire. The position is crowded historically, which doesn't help Lillard's case.
On the other hand, few of those names were true standouts. All of them were good; only a couple crossed the border to great. Porter is Lillard's obvious competition, with Strickland's 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons pushing Dame a little bit.
Confining the discussion only to point guards, I'd put Porter at the top of the heap for his longevity and playoff success with Lillard second and Strickland third. I feel pretty comfortable saying that, barring injury, Lillard will be the clear #1 before his current contract expires and will be remembered as Portland's greatest point guard by a mile when his career is done. Offense and big moments stick in the memory and Lillard's got both in spades. His path to the rafters is as clear as anyone's since Clyde Drexler's.
I'm not sure Lillard has distinguished himself from a number of excellent Blazers at other positions. Off the top of my head, here are the players I'd rate at Lillard's general level or above right now:
Geoff Petrie, Sidney Wicks, Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Jim Paxson, Drexler, Porter, Kiki Vandeweghe, Cliff Robinson, Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, Brandon Roy, and LaMarcus Aldridge
Even if he trails everyone on that list, Lillard still ranks in the Top 15 Blazers of all time. Most would argue he's exceeded a couple of those players already; listing him among the top dozen wouldn't be a stretch. That's not bad for a guy with four seasons in the league. But Lillard is a long way from #1 and #2. Reaching that level will require not only individual brilliance but unbridled team success.
Let's throw this question open to the masses. Where does Damian Lillard rank for you among all-time Trail Blazers point guards and why? Where would he fit on your All-Time Blazers list? Let us know in the comment section.