Watch out NBA, Portland’s dynamic duo is coming for the throne.
When discussing current NBA backcourts, thoughts immediately turn to the Splash brothers, and rightfully so. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are NBA Champions and two of the best guards in the game, especially when it comes to scoring and the art of shooting.
But recently a new duo has surfaced in the west that has caused many to pause before automatically anointing the Splash Brothers as the absolute best in the game right now. Hailing from the Moda Center (formerly the Rose Garden) in Portland, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have put the NBA on notice that the conversation about the best backcourt in the game might soon be located in the Pacific Northwest.
After a great four-year career at Weber State, Lillard was drafted by the Trailblazers with the 6th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft (another shining example of the “brilliant” strategy exhibited by the New Jersey Nets, who traded the pick in March for Gerald Wallace), and he immediately turned heads once he stepped onto the NBA hardwood.
In his rookie season he averaged 19 points and 6.5 assists and won the Rookie of the Year Award, placing him in elite company with Blake Griffin (2011), David Robinson (1990) and Ralph Sampson (1984) as the only players to win the award unanimously. In addition, he, along with Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson, are the only rookies in NBA history to record 1,500 points and 500 assists in a season
But his awards are only part of the equation.
Damian and Steph (Getty)
Over the next two seasons, Lillard garnered two All Star game appearances while averaging 20.7 points with 5.6 assists and 21 and 6.2 respectively. In his last two seasons, Lillard has averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 dimes and 27 and 5.9 respectively, leading the team to the playoffs each season.
It’s just a shame that he doesn’t play in the East because he would be making annual appearances in the All Star team if he did. Playing in a Western conference that is proliferated with exceptional guards like Golden State’s Curry and Thompson, and OKC’s Russell Westbrook along with the Rockets’ James Harden, Lillard is often overshadowed.
After teaming with All Star LaMarcus Aldridge for three seasons, two in which Lillard made the All Star team (2014 and 2015), Aldridge decided to head to San Antonio to hopefully fill the huge void left by future Hall of Famer, Tim Duncan.
While that could have spelled trouble for Lillard and the Blazers, management was ahead of the game and went searching at another non-traditional basketball program for another big time player, and they honed in on Lehigh University’s C.J. McCollum.
No one would ever label Lehigh as a destination for NBA ballers, but if you watched the 2012 NCAA Tournament, which I’m sure the Blazers did, then you already know. Led by McCollum’s 30 points, the No.15 seed Mountain Hawks shocked the mighty No. 2 seed, the Duke Blue Devils, 75 – 70.
Taken by the Blazers with the 10th pick in the 2013 Draft, McCollum’s first two years differed vastly from Lillard’s. He averaged single digits in points both years and underwhelmed fans who expected more from a March Madness star and first round draft pick.
But then Aldridge left for the Spurs, and instead of searching for a big man to fill his void, coach Terry Stotts looked to the backcourt and opened the door to the passenger seat in Lillard’s car for McCollum. He hasn’t looked back ever since. Over the last two seasons, CJ has averaged 20.8 points and 4.3 assists and 23 and 3.6 respectively.
Portland’s Dynamic Duo- Lillard and McCollum (Getty)
This past season, Lillard and McCollum averaged career highs in points with 27 and 23 respectively. And while the Blazers finished with a record of 41-41, the worst since LIllard’s rookie year, they did make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Now letting Steph and Klay that they’ll have a battle on their hands for years in terms of Western Conference backcourt supremacy.
Even if the Blazers get swept by the Warriors in the first round, fans will be watching this new set of sheriffs challenge the current regulators in every game, and it’s no easy task for the Splash Brothers. Need proof? Let’s check the regular season match-up statistics.
The Warriors took four out of the five games. Lillard and McCollum averaged 30.8 and 16.8 points, respectively, while Steph and Klay went for 27.6 and 25.2. In Game 1 on Sunday, the Blazers duo came to play, dropping 34 and 41 points respectively. Steph and Klay went for 29 and 15.
Yes, winning is the primary goal of every game and series, but one must also consider the fact that Golden State simply has a better team, while Portland is a player or two away from seriously challenging the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
The Splash Brothers (Getty)
The Warriors’ dominance over the Trailblazers as a team is clearly evident, but these four individual players share many similarities besides their innate ability to score.
They all hail from schools not recognized as traditional basketball powerhouses. Steph went to Davidson, Klay to Washington State, Lillard to Weber State and McCollum to Lehigh.
But basketball at a smaller school has never hindered them as they took Rakim’s lesson, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”, to heart and thrived despite the lacking in seating capacity or TV time. Every year they all improved their scoring in college and posted the best season of their collegiate careers in their final season, boasting scoring averages of 28.6, 21.6, 24.5 and 23.9 points respectively. This resulted in them all being selected within the top eleven picks in the NBA Draft.
While Klay and CJ don’t receive as much shine in regards to their off-the-court presence and activity, Steph and Lillard hold many similarities and connections, leveraging their on-court success. In the 2012-2013 season, Lillard broke the all-time NBA rookie record for 3-pointers in a season with 185, surpassing Currys 166 3-pointers. Curry is the leader in NBA jersey sales for the second straight year, has his own brand of sneakers with Under Armour and has starred in commercials for brands such as Foot Locker and Chase.
Lillard has appeared in commercials for State Farm and is an aspiring rapper who, as Dame D.O.L.L.A, has received sincere praise, recognition and promotion.
Perhaps the best thing about them collectively is that they’re all relatively young and just entering the prime of their careers. This means that NBA fans will have years of enjoyment watching them battle each other four to five times a year, and then possibly again in the post-season.
If you’re a fan of small ball, this year’s postseason must feel like heaven.
With the performances of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, coupled with the All Star caliber backcourts of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, John Wall and Bradley Beal, every night will be action-packed, complete with crazy handles, lots of scoring and dimes raining across the court.
And while these are amazing athletes and pairings, in my opinion the backcourt of Lillard and McCollum is the one to watch now and in the future, and the one that will always bring it when lining up opposite of the Splash Brothers.
So while they might lose another series to the Warriors, imagine what they could do if they could find their own versions of guys like KD and Draymond Green.