The Trail Blazers are just past the All-Star break with a 21-15 record. Before we get too far past the break, Blazer’s Edge associate editor Steve Dewald is here to deliver the final midseason award.
After working through awards tied to newcomers and breakout players, the final honor is far from controversial. Damian Lillard has emerged as a league-wide MVP candidate and he has certainly proved, once again, that he is the most important player on the Blazers’ roster through the first half of the season.
Blazer’s Edge Midseason Awards | MVP
Damian Lillard | PG
PTS: 29.8 | AST: 8.0 | REB: 4.3 | FG%: 44.5 | 3P%: 38.5
What can be said about Lillard’s production that has not already been said? Honestly...not much. Lillard, who is firmly in his NBA prime at 30 years old, has continued his ascension up the Blazers’ all-time leaderboard with another season full of high-level production in the face of considerable hurdles. With Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum out of the lineup with injuries, opposing defenses have shifted even more attention to the former Weber State star. Luckily for Portland, that has not slowed down Lillard.
Since McCollum’s exit from the rotation, Lillard has registered an eye-popping scoring average of 31.1 points per game. That average trails only Joel Embiid and Bradley Beal during that stretch. His game-to-game average only highlights a portion of his superb output. More often than not, Lillard is tasked with carrying the Blazers’ entire offense for long periods. Through 35 games this season, he has crossed the 40-point threshold on four occasions. For comparison, Lillard has only scored under 20 points in three games.
Let’s set aside the numbers, though. Lillard’s perch is built upon a foundation of stunning late-game moments. Here is a look at two of my favorite moments from this season.
First, we have Lillard’s unbelievable sprint to the finish line in a late-January victory over the Bulls. Facing a two-possession deficit in the final moments of the contest, Lillard lit the fuse on several late-game fireworks.
A few weeks later, Lillard produced another memorable night against the Pelicans. From the opening tip, Lillard put on an absolute master class in half-court sets. By the end, he had Lonzo Ball tied in a knot—leading to a stellar finish underneath with the Blazers needed it the most.
This award was the easiest of the bunch. It is clear that this is Lillard’s team and he is also at the height of his powers. But it is important to zoom out just for a moment. This is a special time for the franchise and its fanbase. For the first time since Clyde Drexler, the Blazers are enjoying the clear-cut prime of superstar player. I would argue that LaMarcus Aldridge split his prime years between the Blazers and Spurs, Brandon Roy was robbed of a true prime run, and Rasheed Wallace’s stint with the Pistons casts a shadow over his time in Portland.
In short, individual runs like this do not happen often. While there is plenty of time for well-deserved hand wringing over the roster that surrounds Lillard, it is equally important to enjoy this stretch of basketball brilliance.