Despite not being picked as an All-Star starter, Damian Lillard has continued to light up the NBA with an MVP year. He has led the Portland Trail Blazers on a Western Conference conquest without key teammates.
However, it seems as though he has kept them more than afloat. While the Blazers are ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, their top five offense has proven to be a deadly weapon.
At the helm of the offense is the Most Valuable Player candidate Damian Lillard.
His meteoric rise to the top of the league, especially this year, has put the Blazers in a position to excel once McCollum and Nurkic return to the lineup.
Lillard is averaging 29.8 points, 7.7 assists, and most importantly, is shooting 93.3-percent from the free-throw line. Lillard also has the fifth-best player-efficiency rating in the league and has the second most estimated wins added according to the Hollinger NBA Player statistics.
It seems as though “Dame Time” has finally received proper recognition despite the All-Star starter snub. That being said, here are three games that prove that Damian Lillard is the 2020-2021 Most Valuable Player.
Jan. 13: Portland Trailblazers beat the Sacramento Kings
This win against the Sacramento Kings was a masterpiece created by Lillard. The All-Star guard dropped 40 points, 13 assists and did so with zero turnovers.
He also went 12-12 from the free-throw line and tallied three steals. The Kings were unable to stem the offensive effort of Lillard, and while the game was closer than expected, Lillard’s performance was one of the season’s best.
Lillard’s ability to make space for himself and others was on full display as he dissected the Kings’ defense.
Lillard was able to break down the Kings’ pick and roll defense on multiple possessions, which opened up opportunities for open threes or a rolling Nurkic. The Kings were unable to contain Lillard on drives to the rim, as evidence by the 12 attempted and made free throws.
It is important to note that both McCollum and Nurkic were active in this game and combined for 46 points. It was not a lone effort by Lillard as he looked to get teammates involved and was active off-ball.
The Blazers’ defense was not going to win them this game, so Lillard and the rest of his team put up more than 30 points in each of the four quarters.
Jan. 30: Portland Trailblazers beat the Chicago Bulls
Lillard has never been shy of the moment, and this game was no exception. Despite the 31 points from Lauri Maurkannen and 26 points from Zach Lavine, Lillard put the Bulls away with his signature step-back three.
Coming into the game, the Blazers had nine active players as Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum all suffered significant injuries. That being said, this would make the Bulls’ job much easier. Contain Lillard as best as possible, and the game becomes much more winnable.
However, the Bulls could not contain Lillard as he totaled 44 points, nine assists and shot 8-17 from behind the arc.
Amongst the many weaknesses that the Bulls have, defending the three-point line is perhaps the most damaging. Opponents made 42.8-percent of their shots against Chicago 20-24 feet from the basket. The Blazers, especially Damian Lillard, had no issue exploiting this.
Feb. 17: Portland Trailblazers beat the New Orleans Pelicans
Despite hitting several obscene three-pointers, Lillard’s passing was on full display against the New Orleans Pelicans. Tying his career-high in assists for the third time, getting his teammates going was one of the keys to winning this game. Why? Zion Williamson.
Williamson scored 36 points on 12-18 shooting and shot 11-15 from the free-throw line. Despite growing concern for Williamson’s physical abilities, he was able to blow open the Blazers defense on his drives to the rim.
That being said, the Blazers were only going to win this game if they Pelicans. Going into this game, the Pelicans were 22nd in defended field goal percentage and 25th in defensive rating. On the other hand, the Blazers were fourth in offensive rating and were tied for first in win percentage in the clutch (clutch is defined as winning a game in the last five minutes with a five-point difference).
Similar to the Bulls game, this game ended up being much closer than it should’ve been. It is evident that the Blazers will need both Nurkic and McCollum to return as soon as possible, especially since the playoffs are closing in.
Damian Lillard is the 2020-2021 MVP
In each of the three games, Lillard has carried his team to wins on career performances. His ability to shoot over 90-percent from the free-throw line adds to his dynamic scoring. Being able to score over 30 points and dish out 13 assists with zero turnovers is a skill that few NBA players possess. Lillard has turned into one of the most clutch players in the league, and no matter, who is guarding him, no matter where he’s being guarded, never count the Blazers out.
Lillard has shown no signs of slowing down. While he is competing against Joel Embiid and LeBron James, “Dame Time” has all the tools to claim the MVP Trophy for himself.