Damian Lillard is the epitome of leadership and loyalty in the modern NBA.
It was heartbreaking having to watch Damian Lillard on the Portland Trail Blazers sideline last season as he couldn’t do anything but suffer and watch his team lose game after game as he was rehabbing from an injury.
Lillard only played in 29 games and it showed how much the Blazers missed him on the floor. However, there was much speculation that Lillard would leave the organization for greener pastures and an opportunity to team up with other superstars in order to chase that ever-so-elusive championship, but he is cut from a different cloth.
With so much to prove this season, Lillard and the Blazers are off to a fantastic start as they are currently 4-0 and playing great team ball. As a result of his recent success, Lillard was awarded with the Western Conference Player of the Week. In the Blazers’ season opener against the Sacramento Kings, Lillard did not shoot well despite still contributing 20 points going 5-18 from the field and 1-8 from behind the arc.
I guess we can all come to the conclusion that Lillard was just getting warmed up as he has been shooting the lights out as he scored 41 points in each of the next two games followed by a 31-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets.
He is currently the third-leading scorer averaging 33.3 points per game and even though it’s early in the season, Lillard appears to be in midseason form already. Never one to back down or shy away from big moments, Lillard is an assassin with a killer instinct.
He lives for those moments and is out to prove that he is capable of carrying this team on his shoulders. It now appears that Lillard has the adequate help he needed in order to keep the Blazers in the win column. They have shown that they can close out games and can come back from a deficit with few minutes left in the game.
Jerami Grant has been playing great and has met all expectations so far and has become a major asset on both sides of the ball. so far he is scoring 17 points per contest and has made some huge baskets himself. Grant scored the game-winner on a baseline line over LeBron James in their victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and just the notion that Grant had the confidence to take the shot says a lot.
It says a lot about the influence Lillard has on this team and the leadership he displays. You have to love what Lillard told Anfernee Simons right before he nailed the game-winner in overtime against the Suns.
“I told him: I trust you, put your big boy pants on. You got the big contract, you got the game.” (per NBA on ESPN).
What Lillard has done is created a monster. He has planted a seed inside the young guard which will carry him throughout his career and will benefit the Blazers moving forward. Not only does Simons believe he can thrive in the big moments, but he also knows his teammates trust him to take those shots.
And with opponents focusing on stopping Lillard in the clutch, Simons is more than likely to draw a mismatch and create his own shot. Now teams will have to pick their poison and decide who they will try and neutralize in clutch situations.
Not to mention what Grant did against the Lakers but they have other players like Josh Hart who can come up big in the clutch as well. Lillard received plenty of criticism when he agreed to a 2-year extension keeping him in Portland through the 2026-27 season.
Many questioned why would so great of a player remain loyal to a struggling franchise and waste his prime years there wondering whether the franchise is ever going to get things in order. Let’s not forget that Lillard has been successful with this team before when he had less to work with.
During the 2018-19 season, Lillard led the Blazers all the way to the Western Conference Finals but ended up getting swept by the Golden State Warriors. Lillard has had some misfortune as well in the postseason from lack of production from his supporting cast and having to play through injuries but Lillard has never complained, never has demanded a trade, and has never thrown a teammate under the bus.
As I’ve watched the Blazers thus far this season, you can tell how Lillard’s teammates gravitate and lean on him for guidance and you can tell that they are willing to learn and follow his lead. If Lillard continues to play at this level all year long and if his fellow teammates continue to buy in and believe that they are truly building and contributing to something special, then the sky is the limit for the Blazers.