Lillard had at least 20 points in his first three games, matching Grant Hill for the NBA record set in 1994. He is averaging 18.8 points, best by far among the NBA's first-year players, along with 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a labor-intensive 38 minutes per game.
He is the only Blazer to start in all 23 games and he had at least one 3-pointer in his first 20 pro games, tying an NBA record. Lillard was the league's Rookie of the Month for November.
“It's almost like he glides with the ball. He has a high basketball IQ,” Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “The thing you love about him more than anything else is he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's one of those underdogs who went to a small school who is out to prove to everybody he's an NBA player.”
The Blazers' last rookie sensation was Brandon Roy, who was the Rookie of the Year in 2007 after averaging 16.8 points, 4.0 assists. He was the third Trail Blazer to win the award, joining Geoff Petrie in 1971 and Sidney Wicks in 1972. Now Lillard is making his case.
Portland has leaned on him of late while the Blazers ride out a wave of injuries. Batum has struggled with back pain. Matthews' streak of 250 straight starts ended because of a hip injury. Most recently, Aldridge sprained his left ankle in the final minute of the victory over the Hornets.
Matthews and Aldridge are uncertain for Thursday night's game against the Denver Nuggets. So the Blazers might have to turn to Lillard again.
Lillard, for his part, just wants to keep it simple.
“My main focus is to keep trying to help us win games,” he said.