Watch Damian Lillard show the Spurs why he’s a superstar
Lillard’s fantastic performance against the Spurs is just the latest proof that he’s an underrated star who could still get better.
Yet it was Damian Lillard who stole the show, scoring a career-high 43 points on 29 shots and coming through in the clutch. He scored the Blazers’ last eight points in regulation and blocked the potential game-winner from Danny Green. He hit the three to send the game to a second overtime. He led the charge in the third overtime, as the Spurs were running out of gas. It was a magnificent performance.
In his third season in the league Lillard is breaking out as a superstar. He averages 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 35.9 minutes. He’s a speed demon who can now finish inside (nearly 62 percent at the rim), in the past one of his biggest flaws. His shot is smooth and deadly in catch-and-shoot situations and he can hit pull ups when he needs to. Defensively he’s not a stopper, but plus/minus models suggests he’s at least a neutral presence, an improvement over years past.
And he has a well-earned reputation as a clutch performer, which as mentioned was in full display against San Antonio. He has the full package.
Yet barely ever is he mentioned among the elite at his position, let alone the league.
It’s always been this way. pic.twitter.com/xUNXhMbvrW
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) diciembre 17, 2014
To a degree, it’s understandable. The point guard position is brimming with talent like few times in NBA history. It’s hard for anyone to pick a top five when there are so many players to consider. Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry all deserve consideration — and that’s just to name a few. But Lillard belongs in that conversation, especially when he’s having such a positive effect on one of the best teams in the league.
Involving team success when judging a player is always tricky, if not misguided. The Blazers having a better record than the Wizards is not proof that Lillard is better than Wall; their respective teammates have to be factored in.
But Lillard has made a huge impact on the Blazers franchise, and that can’t be overlooked. Before he broke out, LaMarcus Aldridge was growing impatient and rumors about the Blazers looking to trade him surfaced. Two seasons and a second-round playoffs appearance later, he said he was “happy to stay, happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or two.” The Blazers went from potentially having to rebuild to likely being a playoff fixture and a dark horse contender for years to come, and in large part that came about thanks to the emergence of Lillard.
For the public perception of Lillard to catch up with his game, he will have to deliver in the playoffs the way he did last season against the Rockets. In the second round against the Spurs, he faded. That’s why it was fitting that arguably the best game of his career came against San Antonio. It’s as if Lillard was trying to send a message to the rest of the league: I’m a better player now that I was last year.
With his performance this season, Lillard has put the league on notice. It will be fascinating to see if he can now follow through and find that extra gear all the great ones have.