Damian Lillard Has Always Been Elite, Now Everyone Finally Knows It

Dame has been doing it for years, but he finally got the shine he deserves.

Damian Lillard has always been an elite player, the problem is that most didn’t know it or recognize it.

Playing in Portland, and in the guard-heavy Western Conference, Lillard hasn’t gotten the props he’s so rightfully deserved. But after last night, it seems that he’s finally arrived.

Only thing is that, like LL, he’s been here for years.

Lillard was selected by the Trailblazers with the sixth pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. The Weber State product averaged 24.5 ppg in his final year with the Wildcats, catching everyone’s eye that season. He was the third guard selected that year, behind Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters, and you could tell he took it personally as he wasted no time in impressing on the NBA hardwood.

In his rookie year, Lillard put the league on notice that he would be a future problem for for opposing teams, averaging 19 ppg and 6.4 apg en route to winning the 2012 – 2013 Rookie of the Year award. In his second year, he made the All Star team by averaging 20.7 ppg and 5.7 apg. and then duplicated that All Star honor the following year with a stat line of 21 ppg and 6.1 apg.

But then the guard heavy dominance of the western conference came into play, and for some reason Dame was forgotten over the next two seasons, his name lost in the discussion of the best guards in the league.

Yet Dame wasn’t going to just sit and fume over the snub. Instead, he went out and improved over the next two years, amassing a two season stat line of 26.4 ppg and 6.8 apg, regaining his seat on the All Star team in each of the last two seasons.

Last night the world witnessed his greatness as he torched Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Thunder to the tune of 47 points. After Portland fought back to tie the game at 115 apiece towards the end of the fourth quarter, Lillard had the ball in his hand and Paul George in front of him. As he slowly dribbled the ball, trying to lull George to sleep, the audience was going crazy in the Moda Center.

Lillard quickly crossed over to his right and pulled up from, basically, the broadcast table and calmly drained the game winning long range three pointer over the outstretched arm of George, sending the Trailblazers and their fans into a frenzy while sending a dejected OKC team home with a simple wave goodbye after scoring his 50th point of the night.

Lillard instantly garnered claims of “elite” status while also becoming a hilarious new meme for Twitter.

But don’t let the highlights of him waving goodbye to the Thunder and overnight fame fool you. Dame has always been an elite player. Real basketball fans know this. Check his stats. Check the clutch shots and numerous game winners in his pro career. Yet casual fans haven’t been up on his talent, mostly because he plays in Portland and in the Western Conference, where the time difference and Steph Curry overshadow his ability to be seen.

Yet even Steph knows about Lillard’s talent, as he and CJ McCollum have been giving Steph and Klay Thompson fits for years. Whenever they go head to head, it’s always an intense battle that many don’t get to see, and that’s a shame because they really are four of the best guards in the league today. While the Warriors have beaten them more times than not, it’s mostly because they have a better all around team as opposed to Lillard not being able to hold his own against Steph.

This is Lillard’s team, and everyone now knows it. Even when they had Lamarcus Aldridge, Dame was the one to watch. He has been a star in the making both on and off the court, going from the hardwood to the booth, finding success in both venues.

I wrote the following almost two years ago to the day:

“In my opinion the backcourt of Lillard and McCullom 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.”

Last night Dame proved me right while also putting the world on notice that he had arrived.

Yet, he’s always been here.

Most of you just didn’t know it yet.

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