For the first half of the NBA season, Damian Lillard was playing at an MVP level — maybe not winning the award, but in consideration to be on the ballot in the least. Then came April. Lillard is averaging 22.3 points a game (down from 29.8 through the first 45 games), shooting 37.7% overall and 34.8% on 3-pointers (down from a season average of 37.7% from deep). His above 60 true shooting percentage dropped well below league average to 52.5 in April.
Without Lillard playing at that level, Portland has gone 5-10 in April and fallen back into the play-in games.
What happened? It may be an accumulation of injuries from a condensed season catching up with Lillard, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.
Lillard is giving his all to be available and to keep faint championship aspirations alive in Portland, all while fighting a number of injuries. The 30-year-old has battled a left ankle injury, tender ribs, a lower abdomen strain and knee soreness from continual screen clashes, league sources told Yahoo Sports…
Lillard plays through numerous injuries that go unreported and is one of the most durable players in the NBA.
Lillard’s durability is without question; he has missed just five games this season, three due to a recent hamstring strain.
The larger point Haynes makes in his story is that Lillard needs to be a little less low-maintenance, act a little less like Tim Duncan, and act a little more like a modern superstar that demands a better team be built around him to contend. (Note: Tim Duncan never had to do that, he was drafted onto a team that had David Robinson and had the talent to win 50+ games every season.)
Haynes is echoing a growing buzz around the league that if Portland is eliminated in the first round of the playoffs again, changes could be coming, whether Lillard demands them or not. How much Portland can shake up and improve their roster — what could they get back in a CJ McCollum trade? — is up for debate, but Portland has the greatest Blazer ever in Lillard, in his prime, and he deserves better than a first-round exit roster.