By now, NBA season previews are rolling out. Countless basketball sites, podcasts and television shows are breaking down all 30 teams, projecting how each will fare based on additions and subtractions. I would like to do something different and focus on teams through the fish-eyed lens of their respective most intriguing player or players. I continue with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are not the best backcourt in the Association. While there is more beef in their abilities than John Wall and Bradley Beal, the consensus is that there is a definitive gap between Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and them. But in games between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Golden State Warriors, there is a sense that the Portland backcourt looks to prove it is on par with the Splash Brothers.
(For the record, the Sons of Anarchy fits better as a nickname than the Splash Brothers. Thank me later. Let’s continue.)
Portland spent a lot of new salary cap money this summer. Between Lillard and McCollum alone, there is nearly $250 million in extended contract money. So the franchise’s front office knows those two are special with the potential to be special for years to come. Yet there seems to constantly be an extra motivating factor both of them play basketball with–an added boost of fuel.
For example, Damian Lillard was snubbed for last year’s Western Conference All-Star team (he should have made it over LaMarcus Aldridge). The sixth-leading scorer was not selected as a reserve due to the West being loaded with guards–better guards than Dame. When the regular season returned from break, Lillard went on a scoring rampage. He averaged 26 points per game, up from 24.3 points per game prior. He seemed to especially want to torch his hometown Warriors, lighting Steph Curry up for 51 points on the way to Portland handing Golden State its worst loss of the season. I’m not saying Lillard has personal beef with Steph, but it does appear he wants more respect for his abilities; even if he has to manufacture some of the disrespect.
Lillard and McCollum formed their friendship through multiple bonds. Both are smallish guards and come from smaller schools. As I’ve said before, guards always fall through the cracks of high-level Division I men’s basketball because size matters. Both had similar foot injuries in college — Lillard first — and that sparked McCollum to call Dame to see how he recovered from it and be better after it. The chips on their shoulders might be the size of two-ton iron anvils, but it does not hinder their fantastic isolation playmaking ability or number of jumpers they take.
It fascinates me how professional athletes are driven and what they use for added motivation. Some have even taken the smallest slight and psyched themselves into believing it was downright insulting to their very cores as human beings. I don’t think anyone would say one bad word about Lillard’s game. And McCollum more than tripled his scoring average last year, earning himself Most Improved Player. They each were rewarded with big contracts because Portland expects them to be excellent going forward. There’s respect for what they have done and belief in what they will do.
The beef, I speculate, is in the fact there are players who are definitively better according to consensus. For players as good as them, constantly seeing their contemporaries receive adoration with them being mentioned as a level down feels like an insult. I’m sure the league knows Lillard and McCollum are fantastic, but that same Association knows they are not the best. For them, that can grow tiring. This season, maybe they can play so well that there is no debate, and they can ask if it’s finished or if it’s done yet.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.