In the world we currently reside in here in 2023, everything is about content. Clips and sound bites dominate the 24-hour news cycle, and with a plethora of said “content” to go around attention can quickly move on to the next item that catches our short-term attention spans. It is why social media channels where second-long videos are so popular. We simply as a society cannot be bothered to stay in a moment for too long.
Stop and smell the roses? Only if they have someone lip-syncing Taylor Swift or Youngboy in the background.
On an NBA All-Star Saturday Night that seemed largely forgettable before the show began, two stars displayed a level of greatness that should be remembered. And yet, it seems as if their impacts may be fleeting – like the messages of forgotten online do-it-yourselfers or the last cute cat video you watched while doom scrolling.
Both Damian Lillard and Mac McClung have both done truly remarkable things. But aside from the crowd posting those accomplishments on their respective feeds, how will they be viewed not just later this year…but later this month, or even week?
In the case of Damian Lillard, by most measures he is posting the very best season of his already impressive NBA career. He is scoring at an extremely efficient rate (130.2 points per 100 shot attempts – 97th percentile in the entire NBA). He is above average to elite as a shooter/scorer literally everywhere but the corner three, and Portland’s offense is nine points better with him on the floor as opposed to without him – 96th percentile for the league this season.
He is doing all this while posting the highest usage rate of his career, meaning Portland is depending on him more than ever before. And the ever-loyal Lillard refuses to forget where he comes from, even as his wins the NBA Three-Point Shooting Contest.
It’s a shame such a season likely will go to waste – at least in terms of postseason play.
At the All-Star Break, the Portland Trail Blazers – led by Damian Lillard’s elite campaign – are an NBA Draft Lottery team. If they are trying to make the play-in tournament, much less the playoffs, they have a funny way of showing it. Their trade deadline deal bringing Cam Reddish and a 1st round pick to Portland in exchange for Josh Hart, looks more like what a tanking team would do – not one open to postseason competition. And the other moves – Matisse Thybulle arriving, Gary Payton II departing – don’t do nearly enough to change that appearance.
The Trail Blazers are 19th in the NBA in efficiency differential per Cleaning the Glass and their defensive issues that have haunted the Trail Blazers have no dissipated. The two players other than Lillard that had the team’s highest efficiency differentials were just traded (Hart 1st, Payton II 3rd in a small sample size). Lillard may well be one of the NBA’s top 15 or so players.
And he may well miss the playoffs. Again.
Since Portland made the Western Conference Finals in 2019, they have a losing record as a franchise. Last season largely without Lillard is a major reason for that. But since Terry Stotts was not brought back two seasons ago, the coaching staff has struggled to establish a defensive identity and the front office has been unable to build a contender around “Dame Time”. While Saturday’s shooting display and showing of competitive fire was a reminder of Lillard’s greatness, the fact remains that the prime of arguably the best Trail Blazer ever (next to Clyde Drexler) may be wasted by organizational failure.
Unless Damian Lillard is traded, he may never see a brighter spotlight than All-Star Weekend again.
In a very different way, Mac McClung likely is able to relate to Lillard’s potential return to relative NBA anonymity. While Dame is likely a Hall of Fame-level player regardless of how his team performs, McClung fighting for his NBA life could lead to his remarkable Slam Dunk performance being the Social Media Era definition of a professional basketball career “flash in the pan”.
That won’t be at the fault of McClung’s work ethic. He has shunned more prolific deals overseas to chase his NBA dream, seeing the value of the G-League as essentially the developmental channel for the best basketball on the planet. He has played in 4 NBA games in his entire career, and despite a solid college career at both Georgetown and Texas Tech he has not been able to hold down a spot among the top 450 basketball players in the world as an NBA athlete.
He has worked to improve his game, showing a tighter handle and stronger understanding of team defense as he’s worked through the G-League. And his athleticism has never been in question – the young man went viral as a dunker in high school. So when he finished the dunk contest representing his hometown of Gate City, Virginia, few who have followed McClung’s career were surprised.
Every dunk by MAC MCCLUNG in his almost flawless victory at the 2023 NBA Dunk Contest
Tap the glass over 2 people: 50
360 windmill: 49.8
Double Pump Reverse: 50
And made every dunk on the first try
SHAQ: “He saved the dunk contest” pic.twitter.com/5RGjujUCMU
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) February 19, 2023
But while placing odds on Mac McClung to win the Slam Dunk Contest was relatively easy (he was the clear betting favorite just about everywhere entering Saturday night), how much more difficult is it to predict his NBA future? Is it probable that McClung cracks the rotation of the NBA Finals hopeful Philadelphia 76ers? Is it even possible, outside of injury crippling the Sixers roster – and in turn their title chances?
McClung’s “one shining moment” may well have been Saturday night. And that doesn’t make what he did any less impressive. Perhaps he really did save the dunk contest. Maybe the league, instead of hoping stars like Ja Morant and Zion Williamson change their minds about participating, should lean in to the McClung fringe G-League and young NBA rotation players like Trey Murphy III for these contests moving forward. Mac’s performance was certainly one for the times, perfect for the era we are in.
But that’s the rub – and the issue for Lillard as well. For a short time, McClung ascended to the national consciousness. And soon, that thought process will be on to the next thing.
What is next for the two biggest stars of NBA Saturday Night, however? That’s not to say their accomplishments shouldn’t be lauded. But both Lillard and McClung want more – another playoff run for Dame, a chance to prove himself as an actual NBA player for Mac. Will they get those chances? The odds are against them. But for one night, these two unlikely co-stars shared one of the NBA’s biggest stages…unsure of whether or not they will ultimately get what they truly want.
And those that witnessed those performances will be on to the next highlight by Tuesday.