The race for NBA Most Valuable Player is often dominated by one, perhaps two, MVP-worthy superstars. Houston Rockets guard James Harden has put his name forward in a big way this season, but according to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, several players are encroaching upon the race, including Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. Judging by boxscores, advanced stats, team success, and narrative, Arnovitz still has Harden ahead of the pack, followed by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant. But Lillard has emerged from a sea of players below top-tier status to claim the 8th spot on the ESPN list.
Both conventional and advanced stats smile on Lillard’s resume. Lillard ranks sixth in the league in win shares. He topped 60 percent true shooting this past week, an arbitrary but meaningful threshold for elite efficiency, bolstering the strong raw numbers. Lillard isn’t likely to see any Top 3 votes, but he’s played his way into the strong third tier of candidates that could collect a handful of fifth-place votes.
This may seem like faint praise for a player averaging 26.8 points per game whose team currently sits in 3rd place in the tight-as-last-year’s-skinny-jeans Western Conference. Keep in mind that, other than Brandon Roy, the last Portland player to get this level of positive national attention was Clyde Drexler, nearly three decades ago. For a Trail Blazer, Lillard is making an enormous impact on league consciousness with his late-season heroics. Even slight MVP consideration is a step forward for his personal brand and the team’s profile.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving also rank above Lillard on ESPN’s list.