The all Association Most Valuable Player Award is an annual NBA award given since the 1955-56 to the best performing player of the regular season. It cannot be denied that the determining factors of who is the MVP and why this person should be MVP often changes. Unfortunately, MVP is usually given to the most outstanding player or the most exciting superstar of the year. While that should be included in the determination, it should not be the stand only reason. MVP determining factors should also include; the player most valuable to his team, impact, consistency, availability, circumstances, along with availability. If you took away that individual’s contributions and production, would the squad be in the same position? For many of these reasons and more is why Damian Lillard should have won his first MVP in the 2020-21 season or at least have came neck-to-neck with the winner.
Damian Lillard led the Portland Trailblazers to a 42-30 season and sixth in the west. This was pretty impressive considering his co-stars CJ McCollum and Jusef Nurkic jointly missed a huge portion of the season, CJ McCollum playing 47 games and Jusef Nurkic playing 37 games. Portland made a move before the deadline of 10 game less shortened season which brought in Norman Powell for the final 27 games of the regular season. Which left Lillard and Blazers 27 crucial games to make Norman Powell feel acclimated and help find his role with the team and making sure CJ McCollum and Nurkic find their rhythms after returning from injuries. Lillard finished the season averaging 28.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game, leading Portland to finish second in offensive efficiency rating with an elite 117.1. When Lillard was not on the floor the Blazers scored 18.4 fewer points per 100 possessions which is historic-like stats. In February, due to injuries the Blazers were missing CJ, Nurkic and Zach Collins which would ideally seem like a recipe for a disaster month for the Blazers but Damian Lillard make sure that was not the case. During this 14+ game stretch Lillard played out of his mind, averaging a 31.6 points, 8.8 assists, and 4.4 rebounds on a 45.7/39.3/91.2 shooting split. Lillard had consecutive games of 30+ points/10+ assists games, making 38.4% of his 12 3PA and 92.8% from the free throw line while obtaining his highest usage rate and assist rate of his career. Imagine when the game was within five points in the last five minutes a player had a true shooting percentage of 82.7%. Damian Lillard did that. Lillard became the 18th player in NBA History to record at least 40+ points and 15+ assists in a game and tied his career-high in assists with 16 in a must-win game against a Pelicans team.
It can be said that Nikola Jokic was the more consistent player throughout the season but before we say that, can we talk about the circumstances? Damian Lillard’s availability has always been great and that did not change with Lillard missing only 5 games for the season. However, this came during time of Jokic having his best month and Lillard dealing with a list of nagging injuries hindering his play before missing his handful of games. When you look back at the season of LeBron, Steph, Giannis, Jokic and Embiid you have to take into account the availability of and the seasons their co-stars were having. Even consider the complete roster of these teams. Understanding that a player like Lillard who plays PG in a season with highest usage rate of the season is going to have a harder time to score because of opponents ability to trap, double or triple team Damian Lillard. Which is opposed to bigs like Embiid, Jokic and even Giannis who frequently catch the ball in positions for them to score quickly and avoid double teams.
All in all, Damian Lillard’s may just not fit the leagues narrative for MVP winner. They have already had their undersized mid-major MVP winner with Steph Curry, the quiet assassin with Derrick Rose, and the undersized loyal hooper leading his team to an overachieving season with Allen Iverson. Despite of who you think the MVP winner was, we have to question whether or not these voters are taking the time to watch the games and do their homework instead of the player the media is pushing for MVP. Lillard finished seventh in MVP tallying this season, garnering 38 total voting points. 4 point behind Luka and only 18 points ahead of Julius Randle. Regardless of what metric the MVP voters go by, Damian Lillard should have undoubtedly been a top 3 finisher in the MVP race and arguably is the MVP of the 2020-21 season.