Name: Damian Lillard
Last Week’s Stats: 33.7 PPG, 7.0 APG, 5.3 RPG, 52.8 3PT%
If you’re familiar with NBA history, you know that Clutch City belongs to the Houston Rockets. The nickname was established following the championship runs in 1994 and 1995, and it was created in response to a front-page headline in the Houston Chronicle that deemed the town “Choke City.”
The Portland Trail Blazers have been Rip City for most of the franchise’s history, and nobody is looking to change that anytime soon. That said, Damian Lillard has revitalized the franchise, and his late-game antics make the team more deserving of the Clutch City moniker than any other squad in the NBA.
When the Blazers drafted Brandon Roy in 2006, it quickly became known that they had a new closer. “The Natural” was as clutch as it came, and his confidence was just as important as his ability to put the ball in the basket.
With Roy’s unexpected decline — and eventual departure due to degenerative knees — the Blazers lacked a tenacious scorer late in games who could be a difference marker. Close games no longer went their way, but then they drafted Damian Lillard, and that all changed.
This past week, we got a good look at just how clutch the sophomore can be. Starting with Sunday’s matchup against the Detroit Pistons, he hit back-to-back game winners (the other being against the Cleveland Cavaliers), and he showed that he has a swag about him that this team has lacked for quite some time.
Along with last-second shots, crunch-time statistics support the theory that Lillard is one of the most clutch players in the league. According to Stats.NBA.com, clutch stats are defined as: the final five minutes with a five-point difference (or fewer).
Using that thought, Lillard is downright elite. He (and the Blazers) have played in 16 of those contests — the second-most in the NBA — and he has 13 wins, which is the most by a long shot.
Lillard is just outside the top 10 when it comes to clutch field-goals made, and he’s top-six in three-pointers. This is a guy who has LaMarcus Aldridge on his side to eliminate the pressure of being a top option, but his scoring ability helps do the same for the big man.
At this point in their careers, Lillard and Kyrie Irving are looked at as future stars. Both have incredible upside, but it’s the Cavs’ point man who often times earns the most credit.
Advanced statistics in crunch time show that this simply shouldn’t be the case, and Lillard’s dominant performance against Cleveland (36 PTS, 10 AST, 8 REB, 8-of-12 3PT) and last-second shot gave him the edge.
Clutch statistics aside, Lillard had an incredibly consistent week. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the No. 1 option all season, but in three games against the Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans, Lillard took that title.
After struggling from behind the arc against the Detroit Pistons last week, the point guard more than made up for it. He went 19-of-36 from behind the line in three games, and he kept defenses honest with his ability to drive and kick as well.
Lillard said before the season began that he wanted to be an All-Star, and he’s well on his way to making that happen. Whether he makes it or not has yet to be determined, but it’s clear that he’s earning respect league-wide.