5 Reasons Why Damian Lillard Should Be NBA MVP

Damian Lillard is many things to many people; and not just a bucket; but now a league certified and recognized bullseye; a teammate dubbed “cheat code” and Hulu’s best NBA rapper. He is also the current and clear front runner for the NBA’s MVP award. No big deal, right? That’s how Dame makes it seems. Double/triple teams don’t work on him – he snakes through to the basket, finds the open man after drawing extra help from opponent defenders, or carves out previously unforeseen space for a wide open look – usually one good for a smooth, high arcing three. With 17 in 27 contests, Dame leads the league in 30 point games.

At the moment, the NBA regular season wields a perpetual motion hype machine. This refulgent kaleidoscope is the absolute best in the world at what it does: produce, gather, collect, then repost and reproduce an extraordinarily easy to access digital cacophony of flash. How many dunks are televised a year? Ten thousand? (Not that many.) But in all of these full tilt, high octane refulgent scoring highlights, and amidst all of this entertaining bedlam that incites fan expectations for a constantly evolving and relentless drama of turbulent, back and forth competition, there is one final question all basketball fans want impossibly answered well in advance, though it is more often than not impossible to do so – who is the most valuable player? 

In this predominately socially distanced Covid year, though maybe it’s an ESPN creative decision to produce this programming product, in leading the charge and digital change – the nonstop full calendar broad dominance of the professional sports Most Valuable Player field feels, seems, appears, or really actually is nowhere more crowded at the top, and hotly contested, shapeshifting, week to week than it is in the NBA. 

Safe to say, by this time next week, there is more than a good chance a brand new basketball lodestar will get the MVP hype and nods and praise from sports media, right after Stephan A. Smith gets down from his high horse, shredded vocal chords not a major issue whatsoever. The constant scramble to anoint the king of basketball features a blessing and a curse of endless comparisons – last week Stephan Curry was in front – even if one stands more than a good chance of triumph once the debate concludes, as Portland’s Damian Lillard does right now. 

But let’s get into it anyway, take a whirl, throw metaphysical hands, play a convincing five fingers (reasons) of death – NBA MVP front runner style to show, prove, and perhaps reveal exactly why Dame is once and for all the best player in the league; the most important to his team, while affirming what won’t change this time next week – unless the Blazers win big – that Lillard clearly stands alone, and maybe will stay throughout the rest of his career (again, unless he wins big) as the single most prolifically underrated NBA scoring superstar in the last decade. 

1. The most important play in the NBA is the scoring play, of course, but more specifically, it’s the clutch three pointer. Nothing exhilarates fans more than a splashy dagger late from deep. If one believes the hype – watches the highlights, actually – Lillard is the best from deep when it matters most. Throughout the rest of his time on the court, he’s also the most consistently excellent. So far this season, Lillard is averaging 29.8 PPG (3rd) with 7.7 APG (10th), has a FG% of 45 to go with roughly 94% from the free throw line. And the kicker, since 2012, Lillard has more points in the final five seconds of games than any other player. 

2. Winning games, and leading a team towards a win (making one’s team look better, go farther) matters far more to the NBA MVP voters than explosive highlights, lavish handles, crystalline court vision, and dimes dropped alone. The Portland Trail Blazers are 8-2 over their last 10 games, and winners of 6 straight. Only the Utah Jazz are statistically better – and their entire roster is healthy. However, Wednesday night in New Orleans was a classic example of Dame doin Dame no matter what or who surrounds him on the floor. (Lillard’s third consecutive game of at least 30 points and 10 assists.) Lillard dropped 43 points while casually matching his all time career high 16 assists en route to out-dueling the all new Charles Barkley doppelgänger and juggernaut Zion Williams, and the Pelicans, 126-124. Lillard’s final stat line for the game was superlative. Dame put together a gem in 38 Minutes, with 43 Points, 16 Assists, and 8-8 FT. Yet the most spectacular play of his night was also his last – again, when it matters most, he’s at his best. Lillard cut clear, started streaking through the lane after splitting a double team beyond three. With time winding down, he dared Lonzo Ball to contest early with an abrupt pump fake, getting Ball up off his feet before Dame leaned in, taking a body shot we all know he saw coming, to draw the foul – then just like a fighter jet, Lillard executed a flawless half-quarter corkscrew and lined up the angle – to find the net off a perfect bank shot. And one. The last two weeks in particular, it’s as though Lillard manages to somehow play in some form of stealth mode while opposing defenses concoct feckless double and triple teams. If Michael Jordan shall be eternally known worldwide as His Airness, then perhaps, this week’s halcyon NBA MVP front runner should be known as not just, Logo Lillard, but The Fighter Pilot. Or maybe something else, equally cartoonish, since he’s at full speed equal parts jungle cat explosive and open heart surgeon precise. Dropping bombs. Once defenders witness the flash of the shot – usually after one or two swift steps to craft a gulf of space – it’s far, far too late to stop him. Dame’s already nailed the target. 

3. He’s consistently outshining other MVP candidates by winning big games with big shots while in direct competition; with no major help either. Arguably the number two and three best Portland players are injured, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. Yet again, Dame’s armed alone with trademark silken stunt pilotry, sharpshooting enough to invoke, incite a classic raucous two minute rant from Stephen A. Smith. Though Stephen A’s tone had parts apology and sermon, he declared  Dame not only outgunned Luka Dončić and the Mavericks, 121-118 – and taken pole position in the MVP race. But also, paraphrasing, Smith said, “Tell me who strikes more fear in your heart during crunch time with the ball in his hands?” The answer being – clearly – no one we know. Not at the moment, and certainly not Dončić, who missed a big shot when he had a chance near the end of the fourth. That big zero on Lillard’s back is both target and a symbol of who is better at the buzzer.

4. Cold blooded character, swagger, vibes – Is there anyone more cold blooded, clinical, smooth, incisive, perched at the optimal remove from stress, and always featured at the zenith of this conversion than Lillard? No, no way, not even close. Not since Kobe or Jordan. Dame’s ability to overcome adversity, and as Smith highlighted, score more in clutch time, in the last five seconds of a game, than anyone since 2012 is unmatched. End of discussion. He’s the greatest in this niche; and he’s the singularly most nonchalant – and before this week, criminally incognito but utterly ruthless deep threat hoops Atlas (like Jordan) in a red and black (like Jordan) jersey number zero (not like Jordan) to not get mentioned by almost anyone outside Portland (again, not like Jordan) to also carry an entire team on his back through an 8-2 stretch. If the Blazers stay red hot, all of this will change within the next few months. Because…

5. The NBA’s MVP narrative is one that rewards a star who plays for an actual or soon to be or would-be league champion. MVP voters and both casual and avid fans also know that with award winners, it’s an unpredictable but somehow, by its conclusion, inevitable seeming arc as well. The only sure thing about the NBA’s MVP award is that we know it is one which typically sets aside whoever the scoring champion is and who the best defenders are to promote one very clear, consistent theme: winning. And winning a lot. Winning the most. One cannot know how many games any NBA team will win in advance – and that’s why the field and conversation and hype machine are wide open and churning for so long. Giannis Antetokounmpo surpassed LeBron James in the MVP vote tally last season because, not only was the Greek Freak the best weapon in the league, but the Milwaukee Bucks posted the league’s best regular season record. As of late, the Portland Trailblazers are the second hottest team in the NBA behind division rival Utah. And they’re near the top of the Western Conference, recently as high as fourth. The primary difference between the Portland and Utah is no shock to anyone watching the Blazers: the Jazz are fully loaded with talent, shooters, bigs, vim, vigor, and a lethal weapon as any in the NBA: depth. They have more than just one titanic talent. Whereas, at least lately it seems, as though Lillard is carrying the whole of a wounded, hobbled and short-handed Portland TrailBlazers on his back. He’s the only consistent scoring star night in, night out. That’s MVP stuff. Herculean. Cold blooded. It’s ‘Bout Dame Time the supremely smooth, clever and mellifluous Dame D.O.L.L.A. takes center stage with some hardware – though many soon will try to snatch the crown. 

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About Jackson Pappin 51 Articles
Jackson Pappin is a freelance writer. A 2018 WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication alumni, he writes fiction, journalism, columns, essays and poetry. His work has been published in Anastamos, The Oregonian, The Spokesman Review, The Seattle P.I. Reader Blogs, The Daily Evergreen, The Central Circuit, LandEscapes and at the Spectra Art Gallery. His writing is available at https://jacksonpappin.blogspot.com