Things haven’t gone super smoothly for the Portland Trail Blazers this season. After making it all the way to the Western Conference finals last season, the Blazers sit ninth in the West with a 25-31 record heading into the All-Star break. While the situation isn’t ideal, Portland’s struggles can’t be blamed on Damian Lillard, who has been historically productive this season, and has made a legitimate case for being the league’s best point guard in the process.

Lillard, a five-time All-Star, is in the midst of the best season of his eight-year career. Per performance, he’s averaging a career-high 29.5 points to go along with a career-high 7.9 assists. He’s also shooting a career-high 46 percent from the floor and 39 percent from long distance (tied with his mark from the 2013-14 season). On the season, Lillard is fourth in the league in points per game (though he’s just half of a point behind reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for the second spot), and sixth in assists. He’s one of four players – along with Luka Doncic, Trae Young, and James Harden – to be in the top 10 in both categories this season. He’s also top-10 league-wide in fourth quarter scoring. 

During a recent six-game streak that ran from Jan. 20 to Feb. 1, Lillard became the first player in NBA history to average better than 45 points and 10 assists over a six-game span. His 49 made 3-pointers over that span were also the most in a six-game stretch in NBA history. He also joined James Harden and Kobe Bryant as the only players to score at least 293 points over a six-game stretch in the last 20 years, though he shot better than both from the floor during their respective runs (per NBA.com). 

Most Points Over 6 Games, Last 20 Seasons

Total points

PPG

Total 3’s

FG%

3P%

FT%

James Harden (2019)

299

49.8

31

45.1

30.1  

89.5  

Kobe Bryant (2007)

293

48.8

21

52.1

42.9  

91.1  

Dame Lillard (2020) 

293

48.8

49

54.8

57.0  

92.3  

Veteran forward Carmelo Anthony, who joined the Trail Blazers earlier this season, has been around the league for a long time, and even he has been in awe of Lillard’s productivity, especially during that six-game stretch.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this,” Anthony said, via ESPN. “We’ve seen great basketball, we’ve seen guys score the basketball in different fashions, but what he’s doing, we haven’t seen that in a long time… I’m just happy to be a part of it, be a fan of it.”

What makes Lillard so dangerous and difficult to defend is that fact that he can score from everywhere and in every way. Driving to the rim and finishing over big men? Lillard can do that. 

As a career 88 percent free throw shooter, he isn’t afraid of contact. Pull up and float one in? He can do that too. 

Plus his range is virtually unlimited. Seriously, look at this: 

And this: 

A groin strain will keep Lillard out of the upcoming All-Star game, but the league has already taken notice of his herculean efforts this season, as he was the first reserve selected by captain LeBron James during the draft. Additionally, Lillard was ranked seventh on the most recent edition of NBA.com’s MVP ladder, and he would be even higher up on the list if the Blazers were better, which they would be if their frontcourt wasn’t decimated by injury issues and they hadn’t lost several of their most productive wing players from last season — Maurice Harkless, Evan Turner, Seth Curry, and Al-Farouq Aminu — over the summer. While Lillard has been a top-tier talent since he entered the league in 2012, he has clearly taken his game to another level this season. How? He credits improvements that he has made to both his physical and mental preparation.

“I think each year you figure out the things that make you your best and give you your best chance consistently, and I think I’ve just found that space… It’s a mental thing,” Lillard said of his play this season. “We’ve been struggling all season long. We were just at the point where you could make excuses and talk about the injuries, and use things as a crutch, feel bad for yourself, or you could figure it out and choose to battle. That was the decision I made mentally, regardless of where we were at as a team.

“Also, stepping up my preparation… getting more sleep, staying off my feet, hydrating, cold tub, massage… all of those things. Just things to make me feel good about myself and my life, and also doing the things that’s going to give me my best chance on the court.” 

The tweaks Lillard has made have worked. The NBA boasts an extremely deep set of talented point guards, and Lillard has propelled himself toward the top with his play this season. Injury issues have knocked Steph Curry and John Wall out of the conversation for the moment, and the same could be said for Kyrie Irving, who has played only 20 games with the Nets. Chris Paul is still in the conversation, but Lillard is averaging more assists and 12 more points per game than Paul is during the current campaign. 

He’s a [much] better shooter than the extremely explosive Russell Westbrook, which makes him a more difficult cover. He has experience over up-and-comers like Doncic and Young, and while Eastern Conference floor generals like Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry are both great, neither have been producing at the consistently high level that Lillard has. Lillard also has a proven history of being clutch; just ask Westbrook. So while there may be a conversation to be had when it comes to picking the league’s best current point guard, that conversation can’t be held without mentioning Lillard’s name. There aren’t many — if any — playing better ball than he is this season. 


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