Check your watches: Lillard has been the NBA’s best guard in 2018

Jay Croucher Columnist

By Jay Croucher, Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert

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    Damian Lillard is on a tear at the moment. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

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    As Damian Lillard pushes hard off his right foot, springing and vaulting his body smoothly and powerfully to the left, he rises up, fading away.

    He proceeds to lightly urge the ball off his fingertips towards the swishing net, one gets the feeling that somewhere the creators of basketball must be watching and thinking to themselves: yes, this is what we had in mind.

    Lillard is quintessential. He is iconic, a perfect basketball image that moves in a series of still photographs. He and Stephen Curry exist in their own universe – one where their gravity extends to half-court, where typically calm moments for defences are filled with horror and grave anticipation.

    They’re different players with the same defining masterpiece: the ability to pull-up from anywhere at any time. There is no distance from which they shoot where you feel like the ball won’t go in.

    Champions come to life in Game 7s, but also in random February games in Phoenix. Over and over again, especially in Portland’s current nine-game, season-altering (and potentially franchise-altering) winning streak, Lillard has dragged the Blazers to victories that shouldn’t have been.

    He beat Phoenix because he decided to, he got hot and ended the Wolves, and in his most absurd display yet he stole a win from the Lakers with magic and insanity.

    The win in LA was one of the season’s obscure epics. It was one of ‘those games’, where the road team leads the whole way then the home underdog rides a sudden hot streak in the fourth quarter to victory. With the Lakers clicking and the Blazers fading, down double digits with five minutes left, the conclusion was on its path to foregone.

    Perhaps the defining trait of a superstar is their ability to make one inevitability quickly become the opposite inevitably. So Dame did at Staples, hitting four spectacular threes on consecutive possessions to reverse the game’s course and give Portland an ascendancy they wouldn’t relinquish.

    Each three was its own impossibility. The early shot-clock, deep contested pull-up. The even deeper uncontested three that is only uncontested because there’s no danger of anyone shooting from that far gone. The isolation, stop-on-a-dime step-back on the left wing. The pump-fake, stutter step and shuffle to the left with peerless footwork before rising up and sinking the dagger.

    It was all vintage Dame, a ‘best of’ all of a sudden taking place on a studio album. All the hallmarks were there, the neck always elevated and coolly surveying, the back arched, the unstoppable trigger of a shooting motion forever ready and waiting.

    Before 2018, Lillard was an undeniably cool, undeniably flawed superstar. This year something has changed. Since January 10, when he finally shook off a lingering injury, Lillard has been the best guard in the NBA. He’s at 29.2 points per game, on 48-40-89 shooting splits. He’s been outrageous.

    In this process of this outrageousness, he’s dragged an aggressively unremarkable collection of teammates towards something special. Beyond CJ McCollum – who is marvellous, but not nearly as overwhelming as Lillard – this is a limited group of battlers. But empowered by Lillard and McCollum, all the battlers have to do is battle.

    The result is a team whose fourth best player is either Shabazz Napier, Al-Farouq Aminu or Ed Davis having the best record in the West after Golden State and Houston. But Shabazz doesn’t matter when you’ve got Dame.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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    The Crowd Says (5)

    • March 12th 2018 @ 9:58am
      Aaron Callaghan said | March 12th 2018 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      I’d have to sit down and look at the numbers but an instant counter to your case is James Harden. Honourable mentions to DeRozan and Irving.

      • March 12th 2018 @ 12:51pm
        mushi said | March 12th 2018 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        Not sure if you’ve notice but when Jay is only being a tad hyperbolic then he’s being understated.

    • Roar Pro

      March 12th 2018 @ 10:52am
      Ryan Geer said | March 12th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

      Very underrated as a player probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves playing in Portland. One word I would use to explain Lillard is clutch, he’s hit some big shots, and showed his prowess in that special performance the other night scoring 19 points (15 in a row) in the last 8 minutes to help the Blazers close out the Lakers 108-103.

    • March 13th 2018 @ 3:20am
      express34texas said | March 13th 2018 @ 3:20am | ! Report

      Lillard is clearly POR’s best player and playing well, though I wouldn’t say much if any better than last year. More than just stats, but his stats are almost identical with last season. The main reason POR is doing well is because they’re a top defensive team in the league this year, and Lillard probably contributes the least to this as he’s a subpar defender.

      If he’s lucky, he’ll make 3rd team all-nba.

    • March 14th 2018 @ 8:56pm
      Lachie Abbott said | March 14th 2018 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

      Bit of an overreaction to his hot streak during the second half of the year and particularly this week. He is a great player no doubt but there is no way he is better than James Harden as a guard.

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