Sunday, July 21, 2024

Damian Lillard hails himself as NBA’s best point guard… but with a Stephen Curry twist

Damian Lillard said a couple things on Tuesday during an appearance on the “It Is What It Is” show that are going to make the aggregation rounds (hi, I’m raising my hand here). One was that he would never consider joining the Golden State Warriors, which we covered

The second is that Lillard hailed himself the NBA’s best current point guard, notably above Stephen Curry, which is what I’m going to cover here in full context. 

But first, the clip:

Lillard said more than this, and I’m going to get to the full answer, but even just this truncated clip tells you that the Blazers star was speaking more about his own confidence in any head to head situation than he was saying he is actually better than Curry … even though, yes, he did, in a roundabout way, say just that. 

Truth is, you could ask any great player this question and they’re going to say they believe they’re the best. It could be debatable; it could be downright delusional. Doesn’t matter. They believe it. And Lillard is great. 

A recent example of this, in fact, would be when Curry told Gilbert Arenas that he believes himself to be the best point guard in history. Better, notably, than Magic Johnson. Some would agree with Curry. Some would disagree. But Curry making this statement is really more about him enlightening the rest of us to the level of self belief a great athlete has to harbor. 

You could’ve asked Curry if he’s been a better player than LeBron James over the course of their respective careers, and he would make a case for himself. Again, you might think that’s crazy. But these guys aren’t in an objective state of mind. They only know how to think one way. In a league this talented, where a Damian Lillard has to try to get the better of a Stephen Curry in a head-to-head situation, frankly, he can’t afford to think any other way. 

So, is this what Lillard was doing? Was he just saying he always believes himself to be the best player on any court he steps on — be it against Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo or anyone else — and Curry just became the proxy for that sentiment? Or does he really, specifically, think he’s better than Curry? My guess it it’s more of the former. 

And here’s why.

When Lillard was first asked about Curry, it was in reference to the aforementioned historical debate that recently popped up about Curry and Magic Johnson. Lillard picked Magic as his top point guard, but he sort of couched it by saying, arguably correctly, that Curry is more of a shooting guard than a traditional point guard. 

“I think Steph is right there [with Magic],” Lillard said. “But I think, just as somebody that plays against Steph, you know, I’ve played against him a lot and we’ve been playing in the league at the same time, I think a lot of the time he’s more in a shooting guard type of role. It’s a lot of movement, off the ball.

“Draymond [Green] is almost the actual point guard of the team, even though Steph is the [listed] point guard,” Lillard continued. “I think if Steph played in an offense like me, where it was required for him to have to have the ball more, we would get to see him do more point guard stuff.”

When you read the whole quote, and then put it into the context of Lillard comparing himself with Curry, you can see that Lillard is qualifying what actually constitutes a point guard, and that Curry might not meet that criteria. So it’s almost as if he’s getting around saying he’s a better point guard than Curry by explaining, in fact, that they play different positions. 

And he might not be wrong. I would still call Curry a point guard, even though he plays the position a lot differently than Lillard does, but you could certainly argue that Curry is more of a shooting guard at this point. And if you did, you could then definitely argue that Lillard is the best of the actual point guards — though I would personally give that honor to Luka Doncic

Either way, am I reading too much into this in terms of Lillard trying to say he’s the best point guard without actually saying he’s better than Curry? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. And I’ll give you one last reason. At the top of this article I mentioned Lillard saying he would never join the Warriors, and when he said that he gave this as his reasoning:

“As far as Golden State, I respect what they’ve been doing over the last eight, nine years or whatever. And I’m from [the Bay Area], obviously that’s home,” Lillard said. “But I can’t go be a part of that. They won four championships. What I look like going to try to do that, saying, ‘I’m joining my home team.’ No, [they got] somebody that plays my position that, behind LeBron [James], is the best player of this era. So to me that don’t even make sense.”

That somebody who plays Lillard’s position is, of course, Curry, whom Lillard flat out calls the second-best player of this whole era. And Lillard doesn’t name himself as the first. So do a little deductive reasoning here: If Lillard believes Curry is better than him all-time, and Curry certainly hasn’t fallen off any, then what good reason would Lillard have to say he’s better than Curry now

There’s no good reason. Because he’s not really saying that. He’s saying that he believes he’s the best player on any court he steps on, and on any given night, and in fact on most nights, he’s probably right. 

But not when he’s on the court with Curry. And I think even Lillard, deep down, knows that. If you listen to the whole answer, you can tell Lillard is trying to convey his own confidence without fully committing to the “I’m better than Stephen Curry” statement that everyone is going to aggregate. 

He did say it. But he definitely put a little Curry twist on his answer. 

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