Damian Lillard’s All-Star Candidacy Is Too Close To Call
Friday, January 22, 2016
When the league released its most recent voting count on Jan. 14, the Portland Trail Blazers’ point guard found himself sitting in the No. 10 spot among backcourt players out West. That’s a category in which only the top two make the cut, and Lillard trailed Russell Westbrook (No. 2) and Stephen Curry (No. 1) by 504,104 votes and 1,100,670 votes, respectively.
There’s a number of reasons Lillard hasn’t earned the fan vote. Despite his incredible knack for self-marketing, he’s suffering from small-market syndrome. Tucked away in the Pacific Northwest, he’s simply not in the spotlight for casual (and even some diehard) fanatics to recognize on a regular basis.
There’s also the fact that Lillard plays for a sub-.500 team, whereas the Westbrooks and Currys of the world are excelling on both individual and team levels.
Lillard’s last hope, and a legitimate one at that, is to earn the coaches vote.
The question, of course, is: Will that actually happen?
When looking at the numbers, Lillard is unequivocally performing at a top-tier level. Not only are his stats up across the board from a year ago (an All-Star year, nonetheless), but he’s also seamlessly taken on a leadership role following the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge and the rest of that team’s starting unit.
At this point in the season, Lillard is averaging 24.4 points and seven assists per 36 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Combine that with his 37.8 percent long-range shooting, and you find him in a two-man class next to just one other player who’s put up those numbers in NBA history.
That man would be 2014-15’s version of Curry—the league’s MVP that season.
But here’s the problem with looking at individual numbers: Almost nothing in the NBA is analyzed in a vacuum.
For instance, the San Antonio Spurs look like the best team in basketball when you watch them on any given night. The problem with claiming them as such, in spite of their unworldly and often historically great numbers, is that there’s a group from the Bay Area you may have heard of doing everything in its power to become the greatest team the league has ever seen.
Despite Lillard’s impressive 2015-16 showing, there are a myriad of other players who also deserve All-Star nods. Assuming (based on the third return of voting numbers) that the starting lineup comprises Curry, Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, we’re left with a myriad of players who have the talent and numbers to fill seven reserve spots.
Where do guards such as Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and James Harden fall into the mix? How about forwards such as Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Blake Griffin?
And is it possible to ignore young talents such as Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, or even old timers Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan?
If you ask Lillard, as NBA.com did following a recent strong stretch, “I thought I had a good couple games, but I don’t think I solidified a spot.” That statement isn’t surprising considering he was one of the biggest snubs last season before earning his stripes as a backup due to injuries.
Allen Crabbe, on the other hand, has a far more definitive answer to the question of whether or not his teammate deserves to get in.
“I definitely feel he’s an All-Star,” the third-year wing said (linked above). “You look at what he did against [Paul, Westbrook and Curry consecutively] that are top point guards in the NBA; I definitely feel he’s proven himself.”
Unfortunately for fans of Lillard, Crabbe isn’t in charge of choosing All-Star reserves. And there’s a strong chance that being on a losing team (albeit, an overachieving one) ultimately ends up working against him.
But as Oregon Sports News’ Elle Uecker recently penned, the reason he’s being overlooked in so many discussions may actually be the same reason he ultimately deserves his run at All-Star Sunday.
“Lillard doesn’t seem to be getting the support he needs on the court to close out games,” Uecker wrote. “When he’s on, it seems like everyone else is off. The team isn’t jelling quite like it has in the past and it’s getting harder to watch games slip away. But these struggles are what make Lillard’s epic comebacks and scoring streaks all the more dazzling. He refuses to be broken by a disappointing season. He shows up every day and leaves it all on the court, and that’s a characteristic of a true all-star.”
Should Lillard miss out on this year’s festivities, it doesn’t appear he’ll be bothered by it to the extent he was a year ago when he was initially snubbed. "I'm kind of at the point now where I don't need the validation," Lillard said, according to The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman. "It would be great. I want it. But it definitely won't be the same reaction as last year."
Content with the outcome or not, Lillard can take pride (although he certainly won’t if we know him at all) in the fact that he is a perennial consideration even if the label of perennial All-Star disappears with an omission this year.
But then again, that label isn’t out the window just yet. NBA coaches have seen what Lillard can do as a No. 1 option this season, and we’ll find out where they rank his efforts compared to his peers when reserves are announced Thursday, Jan. 28.
*Statistics are accurate going into games on Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time
Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films.
#8 The Longest Yard
Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.
- Matthews Has Lillard’s Back as Blazers Blast Bulls
- Listen to Damian Lillard’s Radio Freestyle
- Jimmy Kimmel, Damian Lillard, and Some Serious Adidas Advertising
- Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard Releases New Rap Song
- Watch Blazer Damian Lillard’s Celeb Filled Commercial
- Why The Seemingly Snubbed Damian Lillard Will Still Make the All-Star Team
- What’s Wrong with Damian Lillard: The Simple Answer
- Damien Lillard: 14 People Who Made a Difference in 2014
- Damian Lillard To Usher In A New Blazer Era
- Clippers Narrowly Thwart Damian Lillard’s Near-Herculean Comeback
- Blazers Media Day: Aldridge to Stay, Lopez is Weird, Lillard’s Diet
- Blazer Fan Eats Shoe After Lillard Left Off All-Star Team
- Damian Lillard And The Trail Blazers Discussing Max Extension
- Damian Lillard Astounds as Blazers Beat Spurs in Triple-Overtime
- Damian Lillard Releases New PDX Carpet Inspired Shoe
- Damian Lillard Ranked No. 24 in Sports Illustrated Top 100 Players
- Adidas Release Four New Versions of D Lillard 1 Shoes