Alex Kennedy: Damian Lillard
Prior to this season, I would always name Isaiah Thomas as the NBA’s most underrated player. After all, he was the final pick in his draft, the Sacramento Kings tried to replace him with a new starting point guard every year, the Phoenix Suns traded him just months after signing him and he was often relegated to a bench role despite being extremely talented. However, now that Thomas is the star of the Boston Celtics and made his first All-Star appearance this year, I think it’s safe to say he is no longer underrated. It’s about damn time.
Let’s switch gears to Damian Lillard, who wasn’t an All-Star this season for reasons that I still can’t comprehend. That snub is still mind-boggling to me, and it’s obvious proof that Lillard is still extremely underrated.
Whatever the reason for him being constantly overlooked, it’s clear Lillard deserves more national attention. He has been dominant this season while winning games and playing an extremely entertaining brand of basketball.
Not only has Lillard had a career-year statistically, he has carried the Portland Trail Blazers into the Western Conference playoff picture when just about everyone projected they’d be one of the worst teams in the NBA prior to the start of this season.
Portland lost five key veterans over the summer (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo) and more than half of the players on their roster were acquired this past offseason. Players like C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard and Mason Plumlee were asked to step into much bigger roles for the first time ever.
However, despite all of these changes, Portland is 31-28 – tied for the sixth seed in the West.
Head coach Terry Stotts deserves credit for the great job he has done and there’s no question that McCollum’s huge strides have been impressive, but there’s no arguing that Lillard has carried this team.
Lillard, who is still just in his fourth NBA season, is averaging career-highs in points (25.2) and assists (7.1), while also chipping in 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. He is fifth in the league in points per game and seventh in assists per game (the only player to be ranked that high in both categories). He’s also been incredibly efficient (22.93 PER), while ranking sixth in the NBA in Offensive Box Plus-Minus (6.3).
Only one NBA player this season has scored 30+ points in five straight games: Damian Lillard.
Lillard is one of the best point guards in the league and he has put the Blazers on his back this season. Yes, he was a huge All-Star snub, but don’t be surprised if he receives an All-NBA nod as voters try to make up for their big mistake. He’s underrated now, but hopefully he starts to get the credit he deserves very soon.