The Portland Trail Blazers franchise’s superstar is on fire. The team hasn’t lost since the All-Star break, and there’s no stopping. Damian Lillard has brought his Blazers to new heights, putting him in conversations as one of the best players in the NBA. There’s a ton of talk as to who’s going to win the MVP, but outside of pro-Trailblazer online forums, Lillard isn’t usually included in those talks.
Then there’s the conversation on what the MVP award actually means. Is it the NBA’s advanced stats unicorn or points-per-game savant? How about the guy who has to lift the worst team into the playoffs? It’s hard to find a player other than Damian Lillard fighting a bigger battle on the court this year. By comparing Lillard to comparable MVP candidates, I’ll be able to show that he should be considered an MVP candidate if the Trailblazers hold onto the third or fourth seed in the playoffs.
Here’s a look into how Damian Lillard’s numbers stack up against other MVP candidates playing the guard position since the All-Star Break:
|Player||PTS||REB||AST||FG%||3P%||AVERAGE GAME SCORE||+/-|
All three players have been scoring at will, but Lillard leads this category. He’s on par with James Harden in regards to field goal percentage and is keeping pace on Game Score, which is just a rough measure of overall player productivity.
The deep ball has been the overall theme for Lillard since the All-Star break as well. He was able to bring the Blazers back late against the Lakers by hitting four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. Lillard has hit twenty 3-pointers over the past 5 games.
Still, based on the table above, Lillard’s numbers seem to fall just short of some the numbers of other MVP candidates. His plus-minus is impressive albeit significantly lower than that of Curry.
However, what do these statistics mean without additional context? What does Damian Lillard typically look forward to playing basketball with when he checks in to the game?
|Player||0-15 PER||15-20 PER||>20 PER|
Stephen Curry has the most help, obviously, where 8 of his teammates are posting a PER of more than 15 on the year. Besides Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, Curry has fellow All-Star Draymond Green and efficient players like David West helping out. In fact, West has spent about a third of his career posting about a 20 PER, so it’s not like being a Warrior’s resident has been an outlying boon to West’s career. In other words, the presence of Curry most likely hasn’t made David West any more efficient.
James Harden is supported by another star in Chris Paul and a strong complimentary player in Clint Capela. Although Paul has been hurt for much of the year, the duo has barely lost when both seeing time on the court due to the fact that Paul is still one of the better point guards in the league.
Lillard on the other hand, is doing much of the heavy lifting on his own.
This isn’t necessarily a shot against Jusuf Nurkic or C.J. McCollum, as they’re both exemplary teammates, but they’re certainly not on the level of Kevin Durant or Chris Paul. Having a superstar teammate just makes life easier. It makes the probability of winning an MVP that much higher too.
|Player||ON Court||OFF Court||Difference|
The table here is showing Team Offensive Ratings for when the respective player is on or off the court. So for example, the Blazers are scoring 111 points per 100 possessions when Lillard is in the game. However when he sits, the Blazers take a significant hit in offensive production.
Curry elevates his team greatly on offense when he comes into the game, although it’s an easy thing to do when the likes of Durant or Klay Thompson are helping spread the floor.
Notice though, that when James Harden is on the bench, the Houston Rockets are producing the same amount of points per possession as a Damian Lillard-led Blazer offense. When Curry is on the bench, the Golden State Warriors perform just a tad worse than a Lillard-led Blazer offense. This further emphasizes the point that, not only does Damian Lillard need help, but he’s dealing with a heavily depleted offensive unit when he first takes the court.
Surely Damian Lillard won’t be considered as an MVP candidate. His team won’t be getting the first seed in the playoffs and that kind of storyline is favorable for voters that are selecting an MVP. However, no other star has less help than Lillard and that should count for something.
Damian Lillard will face off against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors tonight in what should be a thriller. The Blazers are 2-4 against the Warriors when Lillard scores more than 30 points and just 2-9 when Lillard doesn’t. Given the history between these two teams, I’d be surprised if Lillard can’t get to at least 35 points. This will be the biggest test for the Lillard this season, as he looks to protect the 8 game win streak.
Consider this man for MVP!