Damian Lillard has ascended his play, and the Trail Blazers, to another level since the calendar flipped. Seriously. He won Player of the Week in late January, averaged 31.4 points in February — a team-record for points in any month — and has his team No. 3 in the Western Conference a week into March.
Portland’s eight-game winning streak, and Lillard’s play, makes even casual fans and national media around the league take notice. Let’s see what others are saying about Lillard, other than his rise to an MVP candidate.
Damian Lillard Looks Unstoppable, And The West Is Fun As Hell (Megan Greenwell, Deadspin)
Lillard is averaging nearly 31 points per game since the break, and his backcourt buddy C.J. McCollum is adding another 21. The Blazers are now in sole possession of third place in the West, up a game on the Pelicans, Spurs, and Timberwolves. For the first time this season, a team might be starting to distinguish itself as the clear third-best team in the conference.
Damian Lillard torches Lakers, proves again he is most under-appreciated superstar (Brad Botkin, CBS Sports)
I think he’s a top-five point guard in the league, and probably a top-15 player. Let’s agree that Stephen Curry and James Harden, in whatever order feels right to you, are the two best point guards. After that, we’re arguing about Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving and Lillard for the third-best point guard in the league.
I’m going to catch hell for this, but I’m taking Lillard over all those guys. I’m willing to hear a case for Paul, and I may even capitulate on a given day because he’s the best defender of the group. But Lillard’s capacity to dominate a game, particularly in crunch time, is as high as anyone in the league, point guard or otherwise.
How Do You Know When It’s Dame Time? (Haley O’Shaughnessy, The Ringer)
Since the All-Star break, he has scored the most fourth-quarter points of anyone—guard or otherwise—in the league. After the break last season, Lillard finished fourth among guards in fourth-quarter scoring; after the break the season before that, he was second; and in 2014-15, he ended up with the most total fourth-quarter points throughout the entire season.
This is the first time his late-game dexterity has mattered this much. Portland is currently the best Western Conference team outside of the big two at the top. A Blazers season that was supposed to be lost to mediocrity—like a recurring dream that you only think about as it’s happening—suddenly has expectations beyond the first round of the playoffs. Dame Time just matters more when Portland is a real competitor in the West.
Lillard is currently averaging 26.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this season. He told reporters after a win over the New York Knicks he thinks this is his best season yet — it looks like the national media agrees.