The Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season for a variety of reasons. One player who has not disappointed, however, has been franchise guard Damian Lillard. Amidst all the new players, and the turmoil of the injuries, Damian has kept plugging along, and has kept the Blazers afloat despite numerous setbacks.
That hasn’t been seen or discussed very much, as the NBA media cycle has been focused on trades, whether real or imaginary, on Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma, and on Luka Doncic. There hasn’t been much other room available, and certainly not for the best player on a team winning 41% of its games. It’s unfortunate that the Blazers have struggled, because Dame has largely been ignored this season as a result, and that’s a shame – what he has been doing on a nightly basis is special.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that Damian is having the best season of his already storied career. Just looking at raw numbers, Lillard is putting up the second-highest points per game of his career together with (by far) a career high in assists. He’s also maintained his steady average of field goal shooting around 44% while attempting more threes and free throws (both per game and as percentage of shots) than ever before. This has culminated in a true shooting percentage of 60.2, an elite mark for any player, but especially for one with offensive responsibilities as great as Dame’s. Lillard is scoring more, playmaking more, and doing so at higher efficiency while sustaining a level turnover rate. That’s pretty remarkable.
All-in-one advanced stats don’t paint a picture quite as bold – Lillard’s BPM and WS/48 lag slightly behind his 2019 campaign and quite a bit behind his 2018 season, marking it as merely “another” fantastic season rather than perhaps a career best. ESPN’s RPM also has Lillard at a 3.4 mark, compared to 4.9 in 2018 and 5.04 in 2019, but RPM is not quite a ranking, especially between the same player in different years, so that can probably be overlooked. PIPM, too, has this season somewhat behind Lillard’s two most recent campaigns, but still grants him a fantastic 3.6 mark as one of the best players in the NBA. Interestingly, his trailing prior seasons via metrics mostly relates to a seeming fall-off defensively; on offense, he’s rated as being within a hair of those campaigns, if not tied. Overall, those “advanced” metrics would place this as the third-best season of his career, rather than the best, but one hot stretch could change that very quickly.
Consistency isn’t necessarily rewarded in the NBA. Players who maintain excellence (or mediocrity) every year don’t get discussed nearly as frequently as those who make leaps or descents. Change is simply more interesting to the average fan – “why is this player or team better”, “what happened to this player to make him so much worse”, and “what personality is causing an issue on this team” are all questions far more likely to draw eyeballs and clicks than discussion of one player’s continued greatness. However, that doesn’t mean the more “boring” storyline shouldn’t get written or talked about.
Damian Lillard was one of the best guards of the last decade. He placed in the top six in MVP voting twice and made four All-NBA and All Star teams. Lillard is one of the greatest shooters of all time, and one of the most clutch players of his generation. This season, as he’s approaching that scary 30th birthday, he’s playing as well or better than ever. He’s a mortal lock for the All-Star game, as well as an All-NBA berth at the end of the season, but he should be discussed more for his nightly greatness. The Blazers might not be very good, yet that doesn’t take away from the fact that Damian Lillard is one of he best (and most exciting) players in the NBA today.