In the nearly 50 seasons of Portland Trail Blazers basketball, only twice has a Blazer player been named First Team All-NBA: Bill Walton in his 1978 MVP season, and Clyde Drexler in 1992. That could change very shortly. Damian Lillard is in the midst of the finest season of his already excellent career. He is playing at an MVP-caliber level, and has led the Trail Blazers from basketball purgatory to a choice spot in the stacked Western Conference. While James Harden, the season’s likely MVP, has one of the two guard spots for the First Team All-NBA locked up, Lillard deserves to be in the driver’s seat for the second spot.
With talented players like Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving having missed a substantial amount of time this year to injury, Dame’s closest competition for the honor will likely be Russell Westbrook and Demar DeRozan. Other players, such as Chris Paul and Victor Oladipo are having excellent seasons but will likely miss out on All-NBA honors entirely, due to the strength at the guard position around the league.
DeRozan’s Raptors have been the surprise team of the season, along with the Blazers, and he deserves a lot of credit for their leap. However, Lillard’s numbers are better almost across the board. Entering the week, Lillard is averaging 27.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game to DeRozan’s 23.4, 3.9 and 5.2 per contest. DeRozan is shooting at a slightly higher percentage overall (46% vs. 44%), but Lillard is shooting much better from three (36% vs. 31%). Lillard’s 25.06 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is also much better than DeRozan’s 21.42, which is outside the top 25 in the league in the category.
Westbrook, on the other hand, is a stat machine. Entering the week he is averaging a triple-double for the second straight season at 25.4 points, 9.8 rebounds and 10.2 assists. However, other statistical areas give Lillard the upper hand. He is shooting significantly better than Westbrook in both threes (36% vs 29%) and free throws (91% vs 73%). Lillard is also the more efficient player. While the two’s PER are nearly identical, Dame is scoring over a point per game on two fewer shot attempts a night, and is averaging two less turnovers. Plus, the Trail Blazers swept Westbrook’s Thunder in the head-to-head this season, which should count for something.
Much has also been made about Lillard’s improvement on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers support it. Per nba.com, Lillard has a slightly better defensive rating and defensive win share over Westbrook, while both players rank higher defensively than DeRozan.
Another key aspect to consider in the debate is that Lillard is the only one of the three to be the only All-Star on his team. While CJ McCollum is having a fine season, and may well have the numbers to warrant a selection in the league’s annual event, both Kyle Lowry and Paul George are proven, veteran players with several All-Star appearances under their belt, who are each capable of leading a team on their own. There’s no question that Lillard bears more of the night-to-night burden of carrying a team than either of his competitors.
The chronically-overlooked Lillard is starting to get his due recognition this season. He is having a phenomenal season, and deserves to be named First Team All-NBA. Whether the powers that be will adhere to this will be revealed soon enough, but nothing can take away from what he means to Rip City, and the season he has treated its fans to in 2018.