Over the past several years, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has been one of the best players at his position in the NBA, not to mention arguably the league’s most dangerous player come crunch time.
He has made six All-Star teams, and his scoring average topped out at 30.0 points per game in the 2019-20 season.
But after years of losing early in the playoffs, Lillard reportedly asked to be traded in the summer of 2021, and he experienced a down year last season, shooting just 40.2 percent overall and 32.4 percent from 3-point range, which were both career lows.
However, this season, he again looks like the player who many have come to fear over the years.
He is putting up 28.2 points and 7.0 assists a contest, and his shooting efficiency has bounced back, as he is hitting 44.3 percent of his shots and 35.9 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
On Thursday night versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, he had a vintage performance by dropping 50 points on 16-of-28 shooting and 5-of-13 from downtown.
— NBA (@NBA) January 13, 2023
Although Portland lost 119-113, the fact that Lillard did this against a team that is ranked second in defensive rating made it all the more impressive.
The problem for him is that the Blazers still aren’t a good team.
With a 19-22 record, they sit in 11th place in the Western Conference, which means if the regular season ended today, they wouldn’t participate in the play-in tournament.
But Lillard seems loyal to the Blazers, as he has said that winning an NBA championship with another team wouldn’t be fulfilling, and therefore, they have only one choice – build a winner around him, or continue to waste the finite number of great performances the 32-year-old has left.