Portland Trail Blazers: The Case for Damian Lillard as a First-Team Guard
Damian Lillard has been an overlooked star for most of his career, but this season he has a chance at earning one of the highest honors in the league: All-NBA first-team. James Harden has solidified the first guard spot on the team, and with less than a month left in the NBA season, Lillard is deserving of the second.
This year, the 27-year-old point-guard is averaging 27 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 6.5 assists-per-game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three. Although none of these numbers are career-highs, Lillard is having his most efficient scoring season, according to his true-shooting percentage (59.9). This is the result of his spike in three-point attempts per-game (8.5).
Most importantly, Lillard is leading the Portland Trail Blazers to their best season since LaMarcus Aldridge left the team in 2014. The Blazers currently own the third-best record in the Western Conference. In a historically tight playoff race, Portland has pulled away from the pack, and are riding a 13-game winning streak heading into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Houston Rockets.
Is Lillard The Second Best Guard In The NBA?
During this winning streak, Lillard has been exhilarating. Over the last 13 games, he’s averaging 30.5 points-per-game on 62 percent true-shooting. Over that span, Lillard ranks fourth in the league in plus/minus (12.4) and is top-10 in net-rating (13.9). Check out his awesome highlights vs. the Golden State Warriors last month:
In previous seasons, Lillard was putting up great statistics but was overshadowed by other players at his position, thus leaving him out of All-NBA consideration. This year, Lillard’s chances at the first-team are at their peak.
Stephen Curry hasn’t played enough games, otherwise, he’d occupy the second guard slot. The same goes for Kyrie Irving, who’s had a fantastic season as the leader on the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Both Curry and Irving are projected to play less than 65 games, and this will shy voters away from putting them on the All-NBA team.
Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City Thunder have played better in the second half of the season, but it’s tough to ignore their early struggles. Although the case can be made that Westbrook deserves the spot over Lillard, it’ll be difficult to put Russ ahead of him if the Blazers finish with a better record than the Thunder.
DeMar DeRozan has put up a strong case for the final slot. The Toronto Raptors have pulled away in the East standings, and DeRozan has had another great season. Although he’s taking — and making — more threes this season than last, DeRozan still only shoots 32 percent from deep. As advanced metrics become more prevalent in the NBA media, this hurts DeRozan’s chances. Derozan’s most common shot attempt is the mid-range pull-up jumper — an inefficient shot. For that reason alone, he’ll have a tough chance swinging the votes in his favor.
After the dust from the final month of the season clears, there’s a good chance the Trail Blazers will own the league’s fifth-best record, and Damian Lillard will be the fifth-highest scorer. Baring an insane final stretch from either Westbrook or DeRozan, Lillard seems like the most formidable option at the All-NBA first team’s second guard.