Damian Lillard spent the 2018 NBA All-Star Game posting a performance as strong as any Portland Trail Blazers guard before him. Given his exploding national profile and his impact on the franchise, it’s time to assess Lillard’s place in the pantheon of great Portland guards. The Blazers have fielded many backcourt All-Stars, 20-point scorers who have become the stuff of legend. At 27 years of age, where does Lillard rank among them?
To answer this question, we’ve ranked the seven greatest guards in Portland Trail Blazers history. See if you think we got the order right.
7. Jim Paxson
Jim Paxson, an All-Star shooting guard whom history has largely forgotten, was Portland’s stalwart in the early 1980’s. He managed to shake off the post-championship-era malaise and exceed expectations, carving out the prime spot on teams that included 20-point scorers Mychal Thompson and Calvin Natt. Paxson appeared in the NBA All-Star Game in 1983 and 1984, making second-team All-NBA in 1984 as well. He earned these honors despite not being fantastic off the dribble or flashy with his finish. He was a master of moving without the ball and completed his 11-year NBA career with a .498 shooting percentage from the field. That’s not bad for a guard whose calling card was the jump shot.
6. CJ McCollum
Midway through his fifth season, playing alongside Damian Lillard, McCollum doesn’t have the longevity and spotlight to ascend higher on this list...yet. If he remains with Portland through his prime years, he’ll rank near the top. He’s crafty, an opportunist who keeps opposing defenders on their heels trying to guess how he’s going to score. A quick look at Basketball-Reference shooting stats indicates that McCollum’s worst two-point range comes between 3-10 feet, where he shoots 43%. Plenty of NBA guards would kill for that average overall, especially with the volume of shots McCollum takes. Even his “worst” is enviable. McCollum also averages 42% from three-point land and he’s about an assist and a rebound per game away from becoming one the league’s best stat-stuffers. Were he in his own era, captaining his own team, he’d be tabbed as a potential All-Time great without hesitation. He still should be.
5. Geoff Petrie
Portland’s original draft pick carried the team through its expansion seasons alongside forward Sidney Wicks. His career average of 45.5% shooting from the field doesn’t look that impressive until you factor in two caveats: he averaged 21.8 points per game for his career and he did it shooting the long ball before the three-point arc came into the league. Had the three-pointer been in use in Petrie’s day as it is now, he might well have averaged 25. Like Paxson, Petrie was a two-time All-Star. He was also named Rookie of the Year in 1971 after scoring 24.8 ppg in his debut season.
4. Terry Porter
Terry Porter played 10 seasons for the Trail Blazers, 17 overall in the NBA, after being drafted 24th in 1985 over loud objections that the Blazers “didn’t need another guard”. As it turned out, they didn’t get just another guard. They got half of the most accomplished backcourt in franchise history, an incredibly smart point guard who could modulate his contributions based on the tenor of game and needs of teammates. Though Porter is the only player on this list who never posted a 20 ppg season, his all-around contributions, accurate shooting, and clutch play made him one of the most revered figures in Trail Blazers lore. Had his teams won a championship during any of the three years in which they had a serious shot at it, he would have been harder to unseat in the Top 3. As it is, a pair of All-Star appearances and three title runs still recommend him highly.
3. Brandon Roy
Before knee injuries cut his career short, Brandon Roy was on his way to becoming a legend and had a legitimate shot at being the best Blazer of all time. He took the league by storm in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006-07, then settled into a routine of 20-point performances fueled by his ability to go any of four directions with the ball while scoring with ease. Long before “Dame Time”, Roy was destroying opponents with last-second, game-winning bombs. Portland fans didn’t need 4k; Roy WAS high-definition, as this highlight reel amply demonstrates.
Three All-Star appearances an a pair of All-League nominations in just five years with the Blazers—all under the age of 26—confirm that Roy’s legend wasn’t an illusion. Sad Trail Blazers thought: had Roy not been injured, he would just barely be exiting his prime right now.
2. Damian Lillard
Everything Brandon Roy did, Damian Lillard has also done, with just as much flair, impact, and timeliness. Plus Lillard has exceeded Roy’s production and longevity, and he plays a more demanding position in point guard. Only once in six seasons has Lillard averaged below 20 points: his rookie year when he, like Roy and Petrie, nabbed Rookie of the Year honors. In the last three, including the current year, he’s topped 25 ppg with defenses lasered in on him.
Lillard uses the three-point arc as a more intimidating weapon than any Blazer before him. He’s made the All-Star team three years in six seasons, All-NBA twice. He has not even hit his true prime yet. Assuming he remains with the team for the duration of his career and avoids the injuries that took down so many of his fellow legends, Lillard will end up leading the Blazers in every important category a guard can lead in. Eventually, he will be THE Trail Blazer that people remember. He’s already good enough that transplanting him onto the team in place of any of the guards listed above—save perhaps Roy, because of height—would make that team better.
1. Clyde Drexler
The one guard that Lillard has not surpassed—and may not ever surpass if his teams don’t make the NBA Finals—is Clyde Drexler. Drexler spent two seasons over 25 ppg. He certainly could have managed five had he not pulled back his personal scoring to accommodate Portland’s powerhouse starting lineup of the early-1990’s. In the process he led his team to two NBA Finals appearances in three years. Though amazing, Clyde’s teammates couldn’t get out of the first round after he was injured and subsequently traded. He was the epicenter of the best multi-year team the Blazers have ever fielded.
Drexler averaged 20.8 ppg in 12 seasons with the Blazers, with 8 All-Star nominations, five All-NBA awards (including First Team in 1991-92), and inclusion on the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time list.
And then, of course, there was this:
For sheer physicality, scoring punch, talent, and impact on the franchise, we’re keeping Clyde Drexler on top of the list of greatest Trail Blazers guards. But what do you think? Have we given Lillard and McCollum too much, too soon? Are Roy and Porter ordered correctly? What would your list of the best guards in Blazers history look like? Weigh in below.