By Joe “Cartright” Cardoso
|When the NBA season started and you talked Western Conference, you probably did not use the words Portland Trailblazers and playoffs in the same sentence. They lost all-everything big man LaMarcus Aldridge, and without him the rebuilding project was underway. Surely, Damien Lillard and company would be have a tough road ahead.
Fast forward to March 1, 2016. The Blazers are 32-28, and sitting in 7th place in the big bad West. How, you ask? With two players who are throwbacks in so many ways. In my opinion, they form the second best backcourt in the NBA, only behind the brothers Splash. No silver spoons here, folks: just two 4-year college players who got their degrees both on and off the court.
As a hip-hop fanatic I love what Dame Dolla does off the court. His music is deep, very personal, and he brings that same fire to the court. His social media push #4BarFriday is genius. Backcourt sidekick C.J. McCollum hosts his on music show and sports show. Even Lillard’s new adidas commercial is covered in dopeness, thanking his haters and naysayers for the motivation. Not getting selected for the All-Star team clearly fueled his efforts when Golden State came to town. The Dubs walked into the arena, only to have 51 dropped on them.
Hailing from Oakland, Lillard is the prize pupil of frequent NBS contributor Anthony Eggleton and his legendary ASTI gym. While his talent and desire were never in question, Lillard was a late bloomer, and was not on the radar of many major programs. Quietly getting the reps at Weber State, Lillard blossomed to 6’3″ and a chiseled 195 pounds before taking the League by storm in his 2012-13 Rookie of the Year campaign. Lillard is coming off a February to remember, averaging almost 30 a contest, and bringing an infectious relentlessness night in and night out.
Let’s examine the stats of the duo who have propelled Portland to eighth in offensive team efficiency:
Damien Lillard: 25.4 PPG, 7 APG, 5 RPG, 87% from the free throw line.
CJ McCollum: 21 PPG, 4 APG, 3 RPG, and 81% from the line.
Rip City has been on fire since the All-Star break. Winners of 13 out of 15, these two guards have been in hyper attack mode. McCollum is a strong contender for most improved player. Yes, the MVP is all but wrapped up by Steph Curry for the second year in a row; however, Lillard deserves to be mentioned in conversation.
In addition to what they bring to the great pick and pop, rim attacking style they exhibit, I love them off the court as well. McCollum is putting his journalism degree to good use, hosting his own radio show. Lillard is a hip-hop lover and makes music that can be played in front of mom and the kids; a rare feat in today’s rap scene. Both men have an Us Against the World approach, and it is evident on a nightly basis. They are also great role models for anyone: if you are willing to get your grind on and stay the course, big things can happen. I think we all have needed that from time to time in today’s world. People will keep doubting them both, but this duo will continue to have their play and professionalism silence the critics.
The way the NBA game is played today, predicated on quick ball movement and team philosophy, both Lillard and McCollum are the prototypes. The Rip City Rebuild is off to a fast start and the future looks very bright in the Pacific Northwest. Given the year that the Warriors have had to date, the Blazers may seems light years away, but the way these two are balling, it won’t be long until even the casual fan will take notice. As the NBA season winds down, I for one can’t wait to see what two of my favorite players in the league do.