This year’s NBA All-Star Game is quickly approaching, with voting ballots for the starters up and running in their usual explosive fashion. For Portland Trail Blazers fans, Damian Lillard represents their only chance at sending someone to New Orleans come All-Star weekend. C.J. McCollum may well be having a great year and was delightful to watch in Lillard’s week-long injured absence. However, he is still yet to leave as prominent a mark on the Blazers as Lillard has, in terms of both his leadership and his stats. Moreover, it is unheard of for two players from a single team with a losing record to both be All-Stars. So the question becomes: is Damian Lillard All-Star worthy?
Is Damian Lillard All-Star Worthy?
Who He Can’t Surpass
Of the 12 roster spots, six are up for grabs among the Western Conference guards. Essentially, he is competing to be a top six guard in the notoriously stacked West. Within this group of players competing for spots are MVP candidates, dark horse MVP candidates, and players on teams with winning records. It’s extremely clear that some players are simply in an echelon above Lillard’s quality as a player, and there is no problem with this.
The Cream of the Crop
The most elite of guards in the entire NBA this season, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, will surely go on to bag themselves the top two guard spots on the roster. They may be on deeper teams, but the stats they put up are unbelievable. They are both MVP caliber players, and in all fairness, deserve to be the starting backcourt.
The Next Two
The next rung of guards above Lillard are those playing elite basketball on winning teams. Stephen Curry and Chris Paul fall into this category. Once again, these are two players who were essentially guaranteed All-Star basketball before the season even began. While the addition of Kevin Durant to the Warriors may have hurt Curry’s chances of a third straight MVP award, and Paul’s Clippers began 2017 on a six-game losing streak, both players show leadership and acumen on their respective teams. Lillard has shown patches of these qualities, but he has yet to fully master them. Add that to Curry’s and Paul’s great winning records, and you have two more sure-fire All-Stars.
Those four names represent the best in the West, and Lillard only just misses this cut. Here’s how close he compares with them, stat-wise:
Player: Points – Assists – Rebounds
Stephen Curry: 24.6 – 5.8 – 4.3
James Harden: 27.9 – 11.9 – 8.2
Chris Paul: 17.6 – 9.6 – 5.3
Russell Westbrook: 31.4 – 10.3 – 10.6
Damian Lillard: 26.8 – 6.3 – 4.5
Evidently, the numbers are comparable. The two factors in particular that bring Lillard down are his team’s lack of success and that he is less established in the league than the other players.
The Real Competition
There are four names in the next tier of guards including Lillard, but only two more spots on the All-Star roster. This is when the 15 Western Conference coaches, who vote for the reserves, will have to think hard about the quality of each player and how deserving they are of the spots. One of these names is C.J. McCollum, who, to his credit, has displayed the capability and tenacity that an All-Star should. But realistically, two members from the same sub-.500 team are almost certainly never going to both make the cut.
Klay Thompson should also be considered as a viable candidate. After all, he’s been an All-Star two seasons running and is a valuable member of the league’s best regular season team. However, while his stats are very solid (21.1-3.7-2.0), they don’t really scream “All-Star”. He’s also the third scoring option and fourth best starter on his team. Even though the Warriors are stacked, it does appear that Lillard offers a whole lot more to the Blazers as a leader and as a floor general than Thompson does to his team. Lillard was snubbed for Thompson last year, but the crucial difference this season is Kevin Durant’s presence on the Dubs. Thompson’s role, while still important, has been minimized. On the other hand, Lillard’s importance to his franchise just keeps on rising.
Another guard to watch out for, who may well sneak in, is Mike Conley. The Memphis Grizzlies are having a great season. They are right where they need to be – knocking on the door of home court advantage in the difficult West – and the deadly duo of Conley and Marc Gasol has worked wonders. While Conley’s stats once again fall short of Lillard’s, he’s also on a team with a limited squad that has still managed to play great basketball. Many expected Portland to be up there competing for home court advantage spots, but that really hasn’t gone as per the plan so far.
Coaches seem allergic to vote in players from teams with losing records. It’s happened before to Lillard himself, and could happen again. The numbers all show how well he plays in comparison to his competition, but that not be the primary consideration that the coaches take. All in all, it appears that one of Thompson, Conley, and Lillard will have to sit out of the game in New Orleans. Is Damian Lillard All-Star worthy? The answer to that question is yes, but whether that will translate to votes remains to be seen.