Being Damian Lillard in a Steph Curry World

It’s not that surprising that Damian Lillard bristles at all of the Steph Curry comparisons. Kobe Bryant heard it for 20 years, about him and MJ, when the only thing they had in common were three-peats, competitive drive and Phil Jackson. Magic Johnson heard about it with Oscar Robertson every time Magic had a triple double. You know Oscar averaged a triple double one season. LeBron always hears about how many championships he doesn’t have and how many Jordan does have. Greatness incentives comparisons with greatness. But Damian Lillard is still too young to wrap his mind around all of that. All he hears in a Steph Curry universe is that you are like Steph. Lillard doesn’t hear the compliment of it, the awe. What Lillard hears is that he is not unique. He is not loved for being Damian. No one sees the real Damian Lillard.

The commonalities between Lillard and Curry are pretty small. They both excel at three point shooting. They both entered the league after attending small colleges. They were both lottery picks, Lillard 6th in 2012, Curry 9th in 2009. They both play on the west coast. Because Lillard is from Oakland, where Curry now lives and plays, it is lazy to always drag him into the Curry conversation whenever they meet, like tonight. That Lillard torched Curry for 51 points in February only added to the texture of comparing one to another. But there is a huge gulf between them.

Curry is one of the all time great dribblers, taking the mantle from Steve Nash who was Curry’s idol. He uses his dribble in the same way Kobe Bryant used his footwork, to create distance between him and his defender. Curry is one of the best off the bounce scorers the league has ever seen. His range on his shot is otherworldly. Those are things that Lillard will never match; it’s singular to Curry.

Lillard isn’t the efficient scorer that Curry is but he can drain shots in bunches and rack up huge nights. He uses his athleticism to his advantage on blow-bys and finishes at the rim. He’s more physical than Curry, he takes more contact and punishment, he’s more active in the paint than Curry. Lillard is not leading a complete team so he has to do more than Curry does. Lillard doesn’t have a Draymond Green to funnel the offense through in the mid-post or an Andrew Bogut. Lillard is just beginning while Curry has arrived. Lillard hasn’t been past the second round of the playoffs.

People are always looking for something to compare…that’s just the way this works out. I don’t get angry over something like that. But all I’m saying is, respect me for being Damian Lillard. Don’t say I’m impersonating somebody or trying to do what somebody else is doing. Because I’m not. I play for the Blazers. I went to Weber State. I’m from Oakland. There is no comparson. We’re different. So respect me for being what I am and respect him for being what he is.” (Damian Lillard)

Sensitive on this particular issue, Lillard does have one thing wrong. He is trying to do what someone else is doing. Lillard follows a long list of guards with scoring talent. He’s good at what he does, but he didn’t invent the wheel. What he is doing is borrowing from what others before him were doing and they followed someone else. There are no original footsteps here. Furthermore, saying he is Curry-like shows a lot of respect because count on one hand the players you can say that about? It’s a compliment. It doesn’t mean he is a Curry clone trying to copy him. It is only that his game has a similar, though not an exact, look.

Curry is a MVP and a champion. Any comparison to him on any level shows the respect certain members of the media culture and certain members of the coaching profession have for Damian Lillard.

Oakland born Damian Lillard has a chip on his shoulder and its a good thing because that kind of edge is what the Blazers are going to need to move them forward in the years to come with Lillard as their best player. Call Lillard great. Call him clutch. Call him a knock down shooter. Just don’t call him Steph Curry 2.0.


photo via llananba