Damian Lillard is the perfect star for the city of Portland. He always has been.
The Portland Trail Blazers needed a point guard? They went out and got Andre Miller. They needed a Miller replacement? They found a younger Miller in Raymond Felton. Once it became clear Felton was an old-man point guard in a young man’s (cupcake-filled) body but with none of Miller’s endearing qualities, the organization took a flyer on a kid from Weber State with a chip on his shoulder to prove everyone who ever doubted him wrong.
Lillard loves his hoops. He loves Portland. And he loves his hops.
Per Brandon Goldner of The Trailcasters, Lillard is on pace to set a new career high this season by embracing those hops. Specifically, he’s tapping into the kind of hops this sportswriter used to have (just a little bit of) a decade and 60 pounds ago before he discovered a desk job and a love for microbrews. (Funny how one set of hops can kill another, unfortunately.)
No, Dame D.O.L.L.A. isn’t adding Brewmaster to his resume, and he’s not channeling his inner Pat Connaughton by joining the Hillsboro Hops. But Portland loves hops in any form it can get them, and Lillard is embracing another type.
With 4 dunks through 10 games so far, @Dame_Lillard is on pace to have a career-high in dunks through 82 games (32). He only had 4 in all of 2016-17, and just 11 last year. #RipCity pic.twitter.com/spYaYzGR00
— Brandon Goldner (@GoldnerPDX) November 5, 2018
Lillard, 6’3”, 195 pounds, has never been known as a dunker across the league. Fans in Rip City have gotten to know his dunking habits and can see them coming a mile away, but outside the fishbowl that is the Pacific Northwest, it’s the guards who jump a little higher, finisher a little harder and show a bit more emotion who end up on House of Highlights on a regular basis.
We’re talking about Russell Westbrook.
Although this potential record means literally nothing when shared in a vacuum, here’s a bit of context: Lillard is attacking the rim. And, man, is that important.
On the year (yes, #SmallSamplesSizeSZN applies), the 28-year-old is completing better than 60 percent of his looks at the cup. He’s getting to the line more than eight times per game and he’s shooting a career-best True Shooting Percentage above 63 percent.
So while the highlights that are associated with Lillard’s potential career high are fun and get people talking, it’s the mentality that comes with it—or more specifically, the mentality that influences the record—that is the real takeaway.
Maybe, just maybe, in an era where players sacrifice substance for flash far too often, Lillard can be the opposite. As he packs a punch above the rim, his game just might continue to flourish all over the court.
If he happens to make it on House of Highlights every now and again, so be it. In the meantime, the Blazers will keep winning, and Lillad will keep flying high.