Damian Lillard added yet another All-NBA Team nod to his accolades earlier today. Is it safe to say he’s already a Hall of Famer?
When all is said and done, few players in NBA history will have the on-court and off-court résumé to match that of Damian Lillard. This evening, he was named to his fifth All-NBA Team, capping off a season in which he: (1) also made his fifth All-Star Game, (2) joined Michael Jordan and Stephen Curry as the only players to average 30 PPG and shoot at least 40 percent from 3-point range, (3) produced Pantheon, all-time performances in Orlando, en route to a Bubble Most Valuable Player award.
And then there’s the pen-to-paper appeal. Damian Lillard has written the eulogies to the Playoff lives of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Paul George, among others. And just last summer, he released the third studio album.
But there’s one inscription that the Portland Trail Blazers star, at this point in his career, likely hasn’t pondered over much:
His Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame speech.
As it stands today, it’s likely more a matter of when, and not if. Lillard’s fifth All-NBA Team selection likely doesn’t make voters think of him any differently at this point in time, but historically, it serves as a great hallmark, especially with him remaining in the heart of his prime.
If tasked with the decision on evaluating his legacy today, Lillard would absolutely be the seventh Hall of Famer to play for the Trail Blazers. But here’s what it means historically if he replicates what he did this year in 2021-22.
49 players in NBA history have earned at least six All-NBA appearances. Among those retired and qualified, they have a 100 percent success rate at making the Hall of Fame.
Given the nature of the all-inclusive All-Star Game, players that make six (or even seven) All-Star Games don’t make the Hall of Fame as much of a guarantee. And we’ve seen small market superstars get snubbed in the past — think Chris Webber or Ben Wallace. But in terms of sheer postseason moments, and worldwide appeal, Damian Lillard in some ways, may have surpassed them.
Webber is an interesting study, because he, akin to Lillard, fell victim to starring in an era where both superteams prevailed, and his position was loaded with Hall of Fame caliber talent. For that reason, it was interesting to view how NBA higher-ups viewed a Hall of Famer.
In a Webber, Hall of Fame case, NBA.com’s David Aldridge said he defined a Hall of Famer through two questions: “1) were you among the very best at your position for a substantial period of time during your career, and 2) did your presence and/or play change the game in a meaningful way while you played?”
Before the age of 30, Lillard appears to check both boxes. Dating back to a Rookie of the Year award in 2012-13, he’s been a perennial All-Star or All-NBA guarantee, and he’s been the de-facto star or not-to-distant secondary star on some of this decade’s better Western Conference teams. And, he’s joined Stephen Curry atop the NBA’s short list of inexorable, game-changing deep range shooters. The creative schemes that defenses have gone about trying to stop them stands as Exhibit A.
Those against Lillard’s Hall of Fame case likely either want to see more longevity, or are focused on some of his more notable postseason blunders. Contrary to popular belief, even if one did want to point to a “decline” in his Playoff numbers and efficiency, the statistics he does put up — 24.8 points per game on a 54.8 TS% — have only been matched by 13 players in NBA history, per Basketball Reference’s Stathead.
Prioritizing that also ignores what Lillard has done in a vacuum. Remember how much fear defenses had when Kobe Bryant would shoot, regardless of whether he were 15-for-20 or 5-for-20? Lillard evokes that same trepidation to a lesser degree. And he has at least two signature moments that have to put on every clutch Playoff highlight reel ever created. What he does over the back-half of his career figures to be icing on the cake.
Bill Simmons once wrote a column about fixing the Hall of Fame, and offered that “if you have to think about a player’s credentials for more than one second, he’s out.” With Lillard, there doesn’t appear to be much thought. He’s done something most other elite PGs of his time haven’t done, in being there for his team for 75+ games a year, and eight years in, his game appears to be scaling upward.
This offseason, Lillard’s bound to hit the studio and create tracks. He might be wise to at least begin thinking about what he plans to say when that enshrinement day comes about. Consider him on the bubble, or the borderline if you so please to.
He’s already shown you what he does when placed in a bubble.