On last night’s edition of TNT’s “Inside The NBA,” the discussion among Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson eventually turned to the upcoming postseason. With all of the Western Conference playoff matchups locked in — the only thing still to be decided is whether the Jazz or Clippers get home court in the four/five matchup — the crew went about discussing their expectations for the first round.
Barkley, much to the chagrin of his fellow panelists, noted he thought the Portland Trail Blazers could take “at least” two games from the Golden State Warriors in the one/eight matchup, at least if Jusuf Nurkić is cleared to play after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right fibula two weeks ago. Perhaps sensing how incredulous the rest of the crew was at his contention, Barkley went about extolling the virtues of Portland’s roster, with a specific call out to point guard Damian Lillard…
“McCollum and Lillard do not like those guards from Golden State,” said Barkley. “They go at they head. Damian Lillard is probably the most underrated player in the NBA. He’s a terrific player, McCollum is a stud, the guards to me is an even matchup.”
Barkley then goes on to mention that Portland will need Nurkić as a low-post scoring threat, but that he’s not sure how a player comes back from a broken leg in two weeks. Kenny then proceeds to tell Chuck he’s wrong, Ernie seemed to agree with Kenny and Shaq stays quiet except for agreeing with Kenny about how great Shaq was as a player.
As for Lillard, he’s averaging 27.0 points, ranking 6th in the NBA this season, on 44 percent shooting from the field, 37 percent shooting from three and 90 percent shooting from the line, 5.9 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in 35.9 minutes per game this season. Though he did win March Player of the Month, he was not selected for the Western Conference All-Star team for the second-straight year and is in no way guaranteed of making an All-NBA team for the third consecutive season.
So while you may not agree with Chuck about Portland’s chances versus Golden State, it’s hard to argue that Lillard isn’t among the most undervalued players in the NBA.