Media narratives aside, he will be no denied no longer. Damian Lillard is the best point guard in basketball, and his unrelenting game proves it.
Sensational. Electric. Astonishing. There is no end to the list of adjectives that could be used to describe Damian Lillard‘s performance thus far in 2020. Despite not receiving the national acclaim he deserves, the superstar has fully embraced the burden of putting the Portland Trail Blazers on his back and carried his wounded team to a strong start to the new year.
Following the tragic death of NBA icon Kobe Bryant, all eyes were tuned in on Friday night’s game when the Trail Blazers came to visit the Lakers in their first game since the shocking news. While the night was saturated with heartfelt musical tributes to the Los Angeles legend, no Laker was destined to fully embrace the ‘Mamba Mentality’. No, instead it would be this generation’s stone-cold assassin to deliver a killer performance.
Just one day after being announced to his fifth All-Star Game, Damian Lillard took it upon himself to honor Kobe’s legacy by serving up an incredible 48 point outing and leading the Trail Blazers to a 127-119 victory over the Lakers. Lillard neared triple-double territory by also posting 10 assists and 9 rebounds on the night.
Before the game, the star point guard elaborated on a personal anecdote to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, clearly demonstrating just how much the late Bryant meant to him.
Lillard has since transcended to a level few NBA players will ever reach at any point in their careers. Over their last nine games, Dame has posted averages of 40.6 points, 9 assists, and 5.8 rebounds while maintaining a ridiculous 69.4 true shooting percentage. The Blazers have gone 6-3 during this stretch and collected wins over playoff teams like Houston (twice), Indiana, and Los Angeles.
Portland has played five games since trading for Trevor Ariza. In that span, Lillard has somehow managed to improve even further. He’s scoring 48.4 points, dishing out 9.8 assists, and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s hitting 56.3 percent of his 3-point attempts (while taking 14.2 per game!), bringing him up to a so-good-it-can’t-be-real 73.7 true shooting percentage.
These aren’t even video game numbers anymore. Good luck trying to replicate this success on 2K.
Dame is averaging a league-high 37.1 minutes per game, doing absolutely everything in his power to will the Trail Blazers to wins. While adjusting to losing three starts made for a rocky start — he’s actually finding some genuine success.
Portland now stands just two games back from the eighth seed and is only gaining momentum. Hassan Whiteside is showing up big in a contract year. Carmelo Anthony has been the surprise story of the season. RIdding themselves of Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver looks like addition by subtraction while Ariza has been no slouch himself. Can you imagine what this team would look like when fully healthy?
The debate has raged on for quite some time, but the answer seems quite clear now. Damian Lillard is the best point guard in the NBA (sorry Steph, get well soon). Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving are both exceptionally talented players in their own right, but neither has ever succeeded in leading a team to the promised land. Both have ridden the coattails of better players to reach their crowning achievements.
Meanwhile, Lillard has solidified himself as the best leader in the NBA — as voted upon by his very own peers. Very few players in the NBA have the ability to lead a championship-caliber roster, and now Dame finds himself among this pantheon of basketball greatness.
A late bloomer in the NBA, Lillard appears to only grow better and more versatile in each subsequent season. Pretty soon, the debate may shift from whether or not he is the best point guard, to if he is the most valuable player in the association.
With Jusuf Nurkic waiting in the wings to make a February return, and Portland holding the ninth easiest remaining schedule, the reality of the Trail Blazers making a playoff push is looking more and more inevitable. Whoever draws Dame in the first round better prepare themselves… and for the love of god, start guarding him from 30-feet out.