The Sensitivity of Damian Lillard

It’s not that surprising that Damian Lillard bristles at being compared to Kyrie Irving as an example of a non-MVP player leading a team. The comparison was made by ESPN writer Tom Haberstroh and Lillard didn’t find it complimentary. Haberstroh was trying to make the argument that Kyrie leaving a championship team to go solo and perhaps go rouge was to set himself in the same kind of situation like Lillard. Lillard though, took it as a diss, and to his credit, he laid out all his team accomplishments, as if he has to scream from Oakland and back I ain’t no scurb.

Bro’ I’m really tired of y’all throwing my name around. Maybe you should check my track record. Over 500 and in the playoffs ever yr (Damian Lillard)

Lillard’s response reeks of huge chip on the shoulder disease for the Oakland native, but it is not the first time Lillard has been pissed off by a comparison. Before Irving, it was Steph Curry Lillard was compared to. He and Steph are three point shot makers, point guards, leading teams in the West, similar in age, though Lillard is younger, so the comparisons begged to made.

Lillard isn’t an outlier here, the first person to be compared to someone else. During the draft season, every player was compared to an established player. Markelle Fultz was James Harden-like. Lonzo Ball was Jason Kidd 2.0. It’s how we understand, digest and explain a player. We try to put it them in a like category. It’s math.

Kobe Bryant heard for 20 years, about him and MJ, when the only things they had in common were the triangle, 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. Or Kyrie will be the same as you when he gets his own team. 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 and Irving are pretty small. Curry and Irving have won titles. Lillard has never made it past the second round. All three excel at three point shooting. Curry and Lillard entered the league after attending small colleges. All three were lottery picks, Lillard 6th in 2012, Curry 9th in 2009. Irving 1st in 2011. Curry and Lillard both play on the west coast. Lillard and Irving are from urban areas. Perhaps it is lazy to always drag them into the conversation with one another.

2016-17 Points 3-Point % PG Rank (Real Plus-Minus) Season Highs Offensive Rating
Damian Lillard 27.0 37.0% #7 59 Points; 16 Assists 118
Steph Curry 25.3 41.1% #2 46 Points; 11 Assists 119
Kyrie Irving 25.2 40.1% #12 49 Points;  14 Assists 116

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 a Kevin Durant. Lillard hasn’t been past the second round of the playoffs.

Irving is one of the best finishers the league has ever seen. He finishes at the rim like a magician. He is creative in air, changing hands, changing directions. He is a dominant perimeter scorer and a clutch player who has on his resume game winner. The Cavs won their only title because of a shot Irving made under pressure. Steph Curry cannot say that. But Irving asking to be traded has taken his reputation and put a hole in it. He comes off as weak. Curry had a marginal team at one point and never asked to be traded. Neither has Lillard. They stick. They are loyal.

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 comparison. So respect me for being what I am.” (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.

Curry is a MVP and a champion. Irving is a champion. Any comparison to them, for whatever reason, 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 or Kyrie.


photo via llananba