OSN Column: Why Damian Lillard Deserved To Be On The NBA 75 Team
By: Josh Winter/Oregon Sports News
The NBA recently released their NBA 75 list. As a part of the 75th anniversary of the NBA, the league released a list featuring the 75 greatest players in NBA history, similar to the one released on the NBAs 50thanniversary in 1996, with all 50 of those players keeping their original spots.
The list has immediately brought some criticism, with players like Dwight Howard and Klay Thompson not included. One of the inclusions in the list was Damian Lillard. Lillard’s inclusion has been criticized. Some analysts say that other guys like the two aforementioned, as well as Kyrie Irving, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, should have been included over Lillard.
Why Lillard deserved to be in the NBA 75 team
The first thing you need to remember about Lillard is that he has been one of the most underrated guards in the league over the last five years. Lillard was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft, after being one of the best scorers in college basketball in the three and a half seasons he was playing for Weber State.
Lillard immediately showed his talent, averaging 19 points per game in his rookie season, winning rookie of the year. Since then, Lillard has consistently scored more than 25 points per game, averaging 30 points per game in the 2019-20 season. Lillard has consistently shown his ability to be an excellent scorer. Lillard has consistently shot around 37% from the three point line, even getting up to approximately 40% in his best year of 2019-20. Lillard has excellent finishing and has to be considered one of the best one on one scorers in the league. Lillard’s shooting from the free throw line is also an exceptional part of his game. Lillard, over his career, shooting 89% from the free throw line, precisely the sort of shooting you want to see from an all-star point guard.
Lillard has also increasingly been improving as a facilitator. The emergence of CJ McCollum has seen Lillard’s assist numbers increase, with his highest three assist totals all coming in the last three seasons. Lillard does all of this while being able to hold onto the ball very well. Despite being seventh in assists in 2020-21, Lillard was only 16th in turnovers, showing he is good at facilitating play while also being smart with his decisions with the ball.
Lillard’s excellence is really shown by the multitude of personal awards he has won in his NBA career so far. Lillard is still only 31 and yet is a six-time all-star, six-time All-NBA team, Rookie of the year, as well as being included in this list. Lillard even has his number retired by his college team, the Weber State Wildcats. Lillard also has a knack for some exceptional performances. Lillard is tied with Lebron James for seventh on the list of most 50 point games, having three more 50 point games than Steph Curry. Lillard also has more 40 point games than Carmelo Anthony, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Why Lillard’s selection has criticized
Dame is undoubtedly one of the most talented guys to have ever played in the NBA. He is definitely a lot more skilled than some of the guys on the list from 1996. But the main reason for Lillard’s selection being criticized is his lack of playoff success. Despite making the playoffs eight times in his NBA career, Dame has never been to the NBA Finals, with his best performance being a conference finals appearance in 2018-19. Lillard has lost in the first round five times in the eight trips to the playoffs, including being swept four times. That 2018 – 19 playoff seemed like it could be the one for Damian Lillard and the Blazers. Lillard hit one of the most incredible playoff shots in the first round when after scoring 47 points, he took his tally to 50 with a 37 foot three at the buzzer to give the Blazers a 118-115 win over the favorite Oklahoma City Thunder. Lillard became only the second player ever to hit two series-winning field goals at the buzzer, having done the same to the Rockets in 2014. After beating the Nuggets in seven games, the Blazers were hugely overmatched for the loaded Warriors.
This lack of playoff success is the primary reason NBA experts are critical of his inclusion on the list. This is particularly the case when players who have won a championship like Kyrie Irving Dwight Howard are not on the list.
Why the criticism is harsh
Damian Lillard has consistently been incredibly loyal to the Portland Trail Blazers, as the Blazers have struggled to put players around him. Lillard has consistently been in the top 10 for most minutes played for the last five years, and Lillard has had to carry his team more than any other NBA player over recent years.
The stat that most shows this is that since 2015, when Lillard started to become a superstar in Portland, Dame has played with 0 MVPs, 0 All-stars, 0 All NBA players, and 0 DPOYs. The Blazers have consistently failed at bringing insufficient support for Lillard. The team did well when they drafted CJ McCollum in 2013, but McCollum has only ever been the NBA’s most improved player, not ever being much more.
Despite this, Lillard has consistently been one of the league’s best offensive players and a solid defensive player. If you look at the players who people believe should have been on this list, it is difficult to say whether they have more raw basketball talent than Lillard.
The main reason why Dame deserves to be on this list is that he is one of the most exciting offensive point guards we have ever seen. Lillard has consistently carried the Blazers to the playoffs. If the Blazers struggle this season and Lillard moves, we may start to see Lillard get the recognition he deserves when he has all-star talent around him.