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Damian Lillard’s career with the Trail Blazers has reached a tipping point that cements his legacy. We feel it, the fans feel it, the record books feel it and Dame feels it. On Monday night, Lillard ousted Clyde Drexler to become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Lillard’s career has been an exciting ride, but his chance of remaining significant beyond this generation is fading. For years in the mid-2010s, a contingent of NBA insiders or fans tried to argue that Lillard was on Steph Curry’s plane of existence as a shooter.
Over time, the contrarians have faded. There are a few jerks, but acknowledging Curry as the patron saint of shotmakers has become basketball orthodoxy. However, Lillard has clearly felt overshadowed by Curry’s performances. Two years ago, he noted that Curry struggled without his All-Star castmates and ultimately had to eat his words.
His recent blasphemy could be worse. In his post-game remarks on Monday, Lillard explained where he thinks he should be among the standout shooters in league history.
“I always see stuff on social media where they’re talking about the greatest marksmen of all time, and they always act like it’s just crazy when people mention me,” Lillard said. “I think how many threes I’ve done, how consistently I’ve done them, the difficulty I’ve been shooting threes at over years and years and years, I just think it’s kind of crazy people that don’t mention me in the discussions. “
Lillard went on with his explanation, but it didn’t get any better.
“Obviously I think Steph is the greatest of all time but I think after him I don’t understand why I’m not clear in this discussion, not just by brands but how I shoot it, how I do it all the time, how easy I shoot the ball,” Lillard added. “I’m looking forward to continuing to climb that list, so I’m excited to see what people will say about me as a shooter at this point once I’m up there in the top 2, top 3.”
When Lillard pushes his way into the all-time top 2 or 3, he’s probably referring to his career’s 3-point made list, but booiiiiiiiii… Sometimes that supreme confidence that allows him to go 30 feet without regard, a little too far. Lillard is great, but he wouldn’t even equal the NBA shooter’s Mt. Rushmore.
Even if you stick to the modern NBA, Kevin Durant is the purest elite shooter alternative to Curry. His career three-point shooting percentage of 38 percent matches Lillard’s, except he’s also one of the standout midrange shooters of modern times and making it into the postseason as well. Durant’s lanky arms are longer than most peninsulars, making his shot impossible to block as he rises and extends. There’s a reason his form is the standard by which Victor Wambanyama’s girth shooting is measured upwards.
Durant is overlooked for being taller and not as shady, preferring to occasionally take a midrange jumper than firing drone missiles from the logo. Due to Durant’s immense size and length, he isn’t as limited with drives to the basket, so his scoring profile doesn’t rely as much on the bow. But when he does, he’s a force to be reckoned with.
In honor of Lillard, he has established himself as one of the two most prolific shooters over 30 feet in NBA history. That’s partly because, until recently, getting “bad shots” from this distance was frowned upon. Between 2015-16 and 2021, Lillard’s efficiency was more comparable to Trae Young’s volume shooting as Curry’s wet work. Such is the difference between Lillard and Curry from 30 feet or more that Curry was more accurate on deep threes than Lillard from 24 feet during this period.
Lillard is a pioneer of the intercontinental 3-pointer, but placing him as Curry’s salutator is an Everest-level climb. Lillard’s belief in himself is both hubris and a classic example of actuality rampage. Right now he’s about 1,000 behind Ray Allen and 1,300 behind Reggie Miller. Larry Bird wasn’t lucky enough to compete in the 3-point era, but his shooting skills are almost mythical.
Miller and Allen were imitable shooters from the Mesozoic era of the 3-point arc. Allen in particular was a master of long-distance strikes. Its form had been frozen in amber for almost two decades. His consistency was unmatched and in Allen’s prime he was an elite three-level goalscorer who could finish over the edge.
But all of this is debatable, without Lillard acknowledging the only other player whose individual accomplishments align with Curry’s and who held the cultural stranglehold on the belt of greatest living marksman up until Curry’s rise to power. Larry Bird was an absolute sniper, MVP, and three-time champion whose arsenal included long-distance leaners, fadeaways, and the occasional crunchtime HORSE game.
Six times Bird shot over 40 percent from long range, but during his burgeoning years in the league that coincided with the advent of the 3-point line, he rarely took more than a three-pointer a night and established a monopoly over the first 3-pointer. Trio competitions until he retired from the event.
At a time when long-range shooting was an afterthought, Bird could still join the exclusive
50-40-90 Club twice, while Lillard has only finished one season with a 3-point shooting percentage above .400. Bird deserves respect for its name. But also Kyrie Irving, who stormed the 50-40-90 club, and Irving’s former manager Steve Nash, who has joined the club four times.
Lillard is an exceptional long-distance killer, but considering him as the best marksman of all time without the Wardell name sets the bar high. That’s a busy list that leaves Lillard lost in the crowd.