As the calendar turns over to December and the snow begins to fall, a month of the NBA season has gone by just like that. Just like Drake reminded us in September, nothing was the same. Teams that looked poised to make deep playoff runs on paper have turned out to be vying for the rights to Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins instead of the Larry O’Brien trophy, while teams that everyone overlooked are emerging as serious title contenders.
One team that has shocked the world this season resides deep in the Pacific Northwest. This team comes from a place without any glamour and glitz. Just hard-nosed, winning basketball. This team is, of course, the Portland Trail Blazers, who seem to have set the rest of the NBA on fire with an 18-4 record and a first place in the deep Western Conference.
Who would’ve thought with teams like San Antonio, Golden State, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers that the Trail Blazers would be leading the Western Conference after a little over a month of action? I didn’t. Especially since the Blazers haven’t been past the first round of the NBA playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. However, I’m starting to become a believer in this team and here’s why.
*** *** ***
Damian Lillard’s Emergence
If you had any questions about Damian lillard’s ability to keep up his Rookie of the Year production in his sophomore season, you probably shouldn’t be asking questions anymore. Lillard is averaging 20.7 points and 5.6 assists, while shooting 41 percent from the field (42 percent from deep) and 92 percent from the free throw line. Statistically, Lillard has been one of the top point guards in the league. Lillard is getting about 85.7 touches per game (compared to 95.6 touches for CP3 and 99.9 for John Wall) and is scoring 0.24 points per touch. Compare Lillard’s 0.24 points per touch to Chris Paul’s 0.19 and John Wall’s 0.20 and consider that Lillard is getting around 10 less touches than both these players a night, per NBA.com/stats. With these facts presented, Lillard might be the best scoring point guard in the league right now. Another reason I consider him one of the top point guards in the league is his developing ability to deliver in the clutch.
There’s a difference between hitting an open shot to tie/win a game and willing a shot in that’s heavily contested. To me, a necessary aspect of being clutch is the ability to hit shots in crucial moments of a game that look like they have no business going anywhere near the rim. Here, we see Lillard willing this shot over Marion to tie the game up with 1.9 seconds. (The Blazers would later lose on a Monta Ellis shot, but that’s besides the point here.)
To make a shot like this, you have to have confidence leaking from your pores. Lillard pump fakes Marion and as he recovers, Lillard is forced to double clutch a three-pointer and BANG, nothing but net. That’s clutch right there. Let me also point out the fact that Lillard is shooting 50 percent in the fourth quarter (better than CP3’s 42.3 percent) and he’s scoring 3.7 points in the fourth quarter, which is 10th in the NBA (outpacing CP3’s 2.7). He’s not the best point guard in the NBA, but he’s making strides to enter the conversation. In only his second year, it’s insane to think that Lillard is this talented, and honestly, it feels like Dame started the season slowly. (He just recently pushed over the 40 percent shooting mark from the field.) Believe the hype. Lillard is serious and is a large part of why the Blazers are sitting at the top of a very strong Western Conference