"I want to be the MVP," he told Trail Blazers beat reporter Casey Holdahl on Sunday. "I think if we come out and do the things that we're capable of doing as a team and we win games, I think that means that my performance will be at a level of the MVP."
Any discussion about Lillard potentially landing his first MVP award starts with the stiff level of competition he will face.
Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James immediately jump out, and that is only scratching the surface of high-quality players in the NBA while leaving out names such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Curry, the two-time reigning MVP, plays for a Golden State Warriors team that won an NBA-record 73 games last season. Durant, who won the award in 2013-14, joined forces with the electrifying playmaker as a free agent in the offseason. Golden State will look to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference for the third year in a row and is likely to put up head-turning numbers in the process.
Westbrook is on his own with the Oklahoma City Thunder and will likely stuff the stat sheet without having to share the ball with Durant. Harden, who finished second in voting in 2014-15, averaged career highs of 29.0 points and 7.5 assists per game last season.
Then there is the best player in a generation lurking in the Eastern Conference—James is a four-time MVP himself. While it isn’t supposed to count in the 2016-17 MVP race, voters may remember his unworldly performance in the 2016 NBA Finals, when he put the Cleveland Cavaliers on his back as they overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors, and subconsciously lean his way in a close race.
However, Lillard isn’t the only one who thinks he can prevail against the strong field.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr suggested as much, per Anthony Slater of the Mercury News: "I think KD is kinda like Gary Johnson, a third-party guy who is going to come in and take a few votes from Steph, takes some from LeBron, and then Damian Lillard wins the election. That’s my forecast."
However, it will take more than just canceling out votes for Lillard to be the MVP.
It starts with the stats, and the Portland guard has been consistently improving in that department as he garners more experience at the NBA level. His scoring has incrementally increased in every season, and he set career highs in points per game, assists per game, blocks per game and free-throw percentage last year:
|Damian Lillard's Per-Game Career Stats|
|Season||Points||Assists||Rebounds||Steals||Field-Goal Percentage||3-Point Percentage||Free-Throw Percentage|
He also proved his mettle in the postseason, with 26.5 points and 6.3 assists per game, as Portland beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games and battled the Western Conference champion Warriors in a five-game series.
The competition in the West is strong with the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Clippers, Houston Rockets and Thunder, among others, but if Lillard continues his ascension and leads the Trail Blazers to a high seed, he would be on MVP voters' radars.