Six-time All-Star Damian Lillard is known as one of the most loyal superstars in the NBA. The 10-year veteran is a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team. Lillard looks to return to form after injuries sidelined him most of last year. Should we all set our clocks back to Dame Time to start the 2022-23 season?
Top NBA Players 2022-23: #14 Damian Lillard
A Season to Forget
The 2021-22 NBA season was one that fans of the Portland Trail Blazers will want to forget. The team went 27-55 under rookie head coach Chauncey Billups. Portland struggled mightily throughout the year, ending the season ranked 27th in offensive rating and dead last on defense. Some of this can be dismissed as the team became sellers at the trade deadline and focused on developing young talent.
Lillard also had a forgettable NBA season last year due to injury. The All-Pro point guard last played on New Year’s Eve of 2021. An abdominal injury suffered in November 2021 caused him to undergo surgery in mid-January of this year. Although given an initial timeline of six-to-eight weeks for recovery, Lillard ultimately missed the rest of the year as Portland was kept out of the postseason.
While Lillard’s numbers were down slightly in the 29 games that he played last season, most of this can be attributed to the fact that he was playing through his abdominal injury. He first missed time in Mid-November after aggravating the injury and was kept out of five games prior to being shut down for the season. Lillard maintained his playing level in most regards, but the injury clearly affected his scoring. His field goal and three-point percentages dipped by five and seven percent, respectively. He also scored 24 points per game compared to 28.8 the year prior.
When he went out last November, Lillard claimed that he had been playing with the injury for years. If this is true, then the 2022-23 season could be the first time that we’ve seen him at 100 percent in a while.
Damian Lillard 2022-23 Season Outlook
To better assess what we could expect from Lillard this year, let’s look at the 2020-21 season. The 28.8 points per game average was the second highest of his career. He also shot well in all facets of the game (45% field goal, 39% three-point, 92.8% free-throw). Lillard also averaged 7.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and a steal per game. He entered the All-Star break on a few MVP short-lists and ended the season with a fantastic run. The 32-year-old scored 30 or more points in seven straight games down the stretch and 10 of the last 11 games of the regular season. Despite another disappointing playoff exit to the Denver Nuggets, Lillard was impressive most of the series. He scored over 34 points in four of the six outings, including a 55-point double-double in a difficult loss.
With a clean bill of health and a new supporting cast, it’s fair to expect ‘Big Game Dame’ to return. The Trail Blazers will look for continued development from Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant, who could form a viable trio with Lillard. Josh Hart and Gary Payton II provide depth and defense in the backcourt, and Shaedon Sharpe is the enigma of the 2022 NBA Draft. If Sharpe blossoms into an NBA scorer and Jusuf Nurkic can stay healthy for an entire season, then Portland could be primed to surprise some teams in the Western Conference.
Damian Lillard is undoubtedly the best scorer in Trail Blazers’ history. He holds several franchise records, including the most 50-point games. We can expect a few more of those this year as Lillard fights his way back to the top 10.