Damian Lillard’s Crazy-Good, Crazy-Brilliant MVP Month

Perhaps we will look back on February 2016 as the line in the sand Damian Lillard crossed. A very good player is now a superstar player, a top-5 player, having finally arrived at the marble floored penthouse after a NBA life at the luxury suite level. Lillard’s February 9-2 record was an extraordinary accomplishment in his young career, made even more significant because this was the year Lillard had to check all the boxes. Face of the franchise. Check. Go to guy. Check. Offensive leader. Check. Heart of the team. Check. Lillard’s defense still has a way to go but he is establishing himself as the greatest point guard out of Oakland since Jason Kidd and Gary Payton tore up the league. Damian Lillard is establishing himself as the greatest scorer out of Oakland. The number 48 ranked point guard in 2008, according to ESPN, has finally arrived.

Let’s talk about his February month.

Damian Lillard averaged 29.8 points in February. He shot 44.6% and 37.4% from three. He went to the line at an aggressive pace, 90 times, and made 90% of his free throws. The Blazers were 9-2 in the month, their best month since the Blazers 13-2 mark in November 2013.

February Nirvana Points FG% 3-Point% Assists +/-
October-January 2015-16 24.1 42.0% 37.1% 7.07 -1
February 2016 29.8 44.6% 37.4% 6.0 +10.4

Lillard had career highlights as well, a near 30 point per game average which has never happened, a usage rate of 33.7 which has never happened, a 51 point outburst which had never happened.

When Lillard’s numbers are compared with Steph Curry’s February numbers, they do more than meet at the middle, they hover in the same atmosphere when you consider points scored. Curry was responsible for 367 Warriors points and Lillard put in 328 points. Their assists total were pretty much the same, 76 assists for Lillard, 73 for Curry. Curry outrebounded Lillard, 56 to 42. But Lillard went to the line nearly twice as much, 90 to 48.

Curry is the more talented shooter so he’s going to post higher numbers. He took 26 more threes than Lillard and had a higher percentage, 44.6% to 37%. Curry had a better offensive rating 128 to 121. But Lillard had a higher usage rate, the ball was in his hands more. And he had a better defensive rating than Curry in the month of February, 108 to 107.

Curry vs. Lillard (Feb, 2016) Points Scored Assists FT Attempts +/-
Steph Curry 367 73 48 +8.3
Damian Lillard 328 76 90 +10.4

The Blazers don’t have a point forward that generates offense like the Warriors have in Draymond Green. It’s all on Damian Lillard, which makes his February outburst so special. The Blazers are not complete like the Warriors are and still Lillard engineered a victory over Curry, he dropped 51 on him which was headline generating but it missed the point of Lillard. He’s a dynamic scorer, but it was what he has done in leadership this month that has established him in the same rare class as Curry.

A winning percentage of 81% in the month of February to elevate the Blazers in the playoff standings where the 5th seed is possible, after losing the face of the franchise, is a Lillard accomplishment that stands front and center on the Lillard 2015-16 resume. He carried the Blazers in the month of February to 9 wins. They are the hottest team in the league, besides the Warriors. They present match up problems with their two-guard set able to score on anyone.

Before this month and his All-Star snub, the general characterization around the league was that Damian Lillard was a good player. That has changed, as identities often do. Good is now great. Great has expectations to fulfill if Lillard wants to become elite. Elite transitions into champion. And then Hall of Fame.

It’s all possible. Lillard is just getting started.

 

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