His first high school coach gave him no playing time, so he left and starred at Oakland High, getting the respect he deserved from his coaches. But despite the numbers, Damian Lillard had few offers to speak of. Kansas, Duke, and UNC weren’t coming to Oakland to give him a chance. ESPN ranked him the 48th best point guard in the country, behind Seth Curry.
So he chooses Weber State, a small school in the middle of Utah. Of course, all eyes weren’t on him, until his Junior season, when he scored 25 points per game and was a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award. That vaulted him into a lottery pick in the 2012 draft, and 2 straight all-star selections in the first 3 years of his career in Portland.
But why does he still get disrespected time and time again during conversations on the NBA elite?
The upper tier of point guards in the modern NBA’s very hard to crack. Without a doubt, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and Russell Westbrook have cemented themselves there. Many fingers point to Kyrie Irving or John Wall as the next ones to join them, but why not Damian Lillard?
Kyrie’s numbers hit an early peak last year, and would seem to be only getting better if it weren’t for his recovery from the gruesome knee injury he suffered in last year’s Finals. But even at their peak, it’s hard to argue they’re that much better than Lillard.
This year, Lillard’s averages are near 24.5 points per game, with 7 assists. Kyrie surely isn’t doing that yet, and neither are Chris Paul, Steph Curry, or John Wall. Not even Russell Westbrook is averaging 24.5 and 7!
Granted, those guys all either score more or assist more than Dame. But neither do both. Lillard’s abilities are unique and elite. In the lane, or from the arc, Damian Lillard’s an absolute assassin. 10 times this year he’s scored over 30 points, including a 40 point (and 10 assist) outburst against Golden State 2 weeks ago.
He’s been forced to shoot a career high 20 shots per game this season, because there’s not much left in Portland after last offseason, which has driven his percentages down. I’d put him neck and neck with any other point guard in the league for most dynamic scorer. I don’t think Steph can drive as well as him, and Russell can’t shoot as well.
None of this is to say Dame’s better than Steph, Russ, or even CP3. But when you (along with the emergence of CJ McCollum) carry a team that’s giving Ed Davis and Gerald Henderson significant minutes, you deserve to be in the conversation on top-tier points guards.
At the VERY least, you deserve to make the final 30 for the team USA roster. For goodness sake, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, and Andre Iguodala made it. Kyrie made it, and he’s not even from America! But I digress.
When the NBA released the latest All-Star voting polls, Lillard was 10th for guards, behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Flat out disrespect. But for Dame, that’s nothing new.