There’s a lot of talk about the MVPs of the league so far this season. The ones talked about most have been LeBron James and Joel Embiid. Is it fair to say that Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers could be number one in this race? His play is sure showing it.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
When you look at teams like the Lakers and 76ers, the Robin to the Batman has been available. LeBron James has had Anthony Davis for most of the season so far as well as Embiid having Ben Simmons. Speaking of Robins, Lillard has been doing damage not only without CJ McCollum, who’s missed the past 14 games, but also without Jusuf Nurkic, who’s missed 16. Lillard has been playing out of his mind averaging a colossal 31.6 points, 8.8 assists, and 4.4 rebounds on a 45.7/39.3/91.2 shooting split over his past 13 games. He’s had three consecutive games of 30+ points/10+ assists games as the lone NBA player to do so, so far this season. Hell, the team beat the 76ers in Philly with only one active starter in Robert Covington and you could see the leadership and motivation on the sidelines from Lillard himself.
Believing in the Other Guys
When one is appointed a leader, you never want to belittle the rest of the crew, but uplift the spirits of others to have the confidence to perform at a high level. Lillard has done just that. Gary Trent, Jr. has been filling in just fine alongside him averaging 19.3 points on 44.9% shooting overall and a whopping 46% from beyond the arc. Still just 22 years old, he’s become an integral part of the success of this team and has stepped in well in CJ McCollum’s absence. Anfernee Simons has been balling as well with more opportunity and becoming a reliable source once Lillard takes a rest. He’s averaging 12.9 points on 45.5% shooting overall and 45.7% from deep, his biggest improvement from his first two seasons. He has shown many flashes of confidence in his third season.
During this recent road trip, the Blazers finished it 3-0. The other guys really stepped up to be of assistance:
- Trent Jr. averaged 19.7 points on 48.8% from the field and 42.3% from three;
- RoCo averaged 11.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and 2.0 steals on 60% from the field and 66.7% from three;
- Carmelo Anthony averaged 12.3 points;
- Simons averaged 11.3 points on 55% from the field and 55.6% from deep;
- Enes Kanter averaged 11.0 points and 11.0 rebounds on 48.1% shooting;
- Derrick Jones Jr. averaged 10.7 points and 6.0 rebounds on 57.1% shooting
- Nassir Little averaged 5.3 points on 75% from the field and 80% from deep.
Lillard’s confidence and superpowers seem to be rubbing off on the rest of the squad during this period playing without key players.
We all know Damian Lillard is the clutchest player in the league and takes over a game at any given moment. These last three games, he’s done just that: all on the road. Firstly, with the game being tied 116-116 against the Mavericks, he hits a step back three over Dorian Finney-Smith seal it off. Secondly, after giving up a 20+ point lead to the Thunder and now down 102-97, the Blazers go on an 18-2 run in which Lillard was a part of all 18 points. He started 1-10 from three and not only made four consecutive threes himself, but assisted on the other two threes to Gary Trent Jr. and Robert Covington, showing continuous trust in the rest of his teammates in crunch-time. Lastly, against the Pelicans, he scored 11 points in the fourth quarter, and hit the go-ahead and-one layup on Lonzo Ball and completed it with the free-throw to take a two-point victory. Lillard is really putting the team on his back.
No disrespect to the other stars who are very deserving in the conversation of the MVP award, but Damian Lillard has been striking victories with less of his team being available. The Blazers currently sit in the 4th seed in the robust Western Conference with an 18-10 record. If they were in the Eastern Conference, they’d be 0.5 a game behind the number one seed. They’re currently only 3.5 games behind the Lakers. They’re also on a six-game win-streak, winning 9 of their past 11. He just became the 18th player ever to record at least 40+ points and 15+ assists in a game and tied his career-high in assists with 16 in a key game against a competitive Pelicans team. With the loyalty to his team, elevation of performance by his teammates, and willingness to execute in crunch time, Lillard should be in the front of this race. It just seems as if no matter the city, county, state, country, planet, or universe, it’s always Dame Time.