It has been far from the season the Blazers were expecting. Coming into the season expectations were high. However, after an exciting overtime win over the Warriors, the Blazers are sitting at just 19-26.
Since Damian Lillard stepped into the league, Portland has been competitive. The only season Lillard has not played in the postseason was his rookie season. After that, it’s been six straight trips to the playoffs.
This season, it’s going to be a struggle to make the postseason. As mentioned, the Blazers are just 19-26 and they are a few games out of the eighth seed. However, even in a season that hasn’t led to as many wins as fans or the players are used to, one thing is for sure, Damian Lillard is having his best season.
Not only are his statistics up mostly across the board, but he has two games with at least 60 points this season. He originally set the franchise record in the teams’ November, 8th loss to the Nets. Monday against the Warriors, he surpassed that number. And with Lillard scoring nearly half of the teams’ points, all of his franchise-record 61 points were needed in an overtime win against the Warriors.
The Oakland native has already managed to make four All-Star Games in his seven seasons coming into this season, and he is undoubtedly on his way to his fifth.
It already seemed like it could be a lost season after Zach Collins was lost for what will be most of, if not all of the season, Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, and Jusuf Nurkic has yet to play a game. To make matters worse, CJ McCollum has missed the last two games while dealing with an ankle injury.
None of that has deterred Lillard however. In a situation where most teams would pull the plug on the season and begin to align things for next season, Lillard has continued to play. He has been relentless each night. His duty this season has changed from trying to lead his team through the Western Conference playoffs to actually getting into the playoffs, and instead of playing with an established group of players like the last number of seasons, he has been put in a spot where he needs to guide younger players on how to be professionals.
That hasn’t phased him. He’s taken that responsibility and run with it. His body language hasn’t changed, and by him coming out and playing each night to win by trying to do small things, he is setting a great example for younger guys like Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little, who was set to sit most of this season but has now been thrown into a prominent role.
On the season Lillard is averaging a career-high 27.9 points per game. While doing that, he has been wildly efficient. On two-point field goals, he is shooting a career-best 52.4 percent and that carries over to his career-best 44.6 percent overall field goal percentage.
The only numbers for Lillard that aren’t up this season are his three-point field goal percentage, which currently sits at 36.8 percent, which is the exact same as his career percentage. Also, his free-throw percentage is down to 88.6 percent, which is the worst since his third season in the league. His turnover rate is also slightly up, but part of that is him dealing with not as much help around him.
While not having that help, he is coincidentally averaging a career-best 7.6 assists per game. So while he has had less help most of this season than he is used to, he has had his best season distributing to teammates in his career. This speaks to the ability Lillard has to continue developing his game each season.
All of that is leading to him likely going to set a new career-high in offensive win shares.
The bottom line is Portland needs to count their lucky stars that Damian Lillard is a Portland Trail Blazer.
Who knows how this season is going to end. There are plenty of people in the pro-tanking crowd, but there are also plenty of people who want to see Portland get the eight seed. However this season ultimately ends, Damian Lillard is showing exactly why he was voted the best leader in the NBA before the season started, and you know that with a leader like Lillard, these younger guys who are being forced to take on more prominent roles are being led by someone who will set the right example.
Too much in the NBA young players are influenced by veterans who can be focused on the wrong things. That’s clearly not the case with Lillard. He is going to show players the attitude they need to come out and play with each night and that regardless of the result, doing everything you can to make winning plays and not focusing on just your numbers is the most important thing.
This season won’t end in a championship, but the foundation is already being laid for next season. Collins and Nurkic will likely be back at full strength, and Rodney Hood could still be around. And now guys like Simons and Little are getting valuable experience that can help them be key players in a bounce-back season next season.
Make sure to appreciate Damian Lillard while he is a Blazer because most NBA teams would do anything for a leader of his caliber, and last night showed why Portland is so lucky to have him.
Top Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press