Most of the country, even NBA fans, didn't know Damian Lillard in January of 2014.
Sure, he'd won a minor event at the 2013 All-Star Weekend, and played in the Rising Stars game. He won unanimous Rookie of the Year, but in a low-key fashion. Outside of Portland, he was simply a player that wasn't seen much unless he was playing your team. On the East Coast, most of his nationally-televised games started near bedtime.
But everything started to change in late April, 2014.
The Blazers surprised the NBA by giving the Houston Rockets all they could handle. Lillard's teammate LaMarcus Aldridge put the Blazers on his back in the first two games to put them in position to win their first series in 14 years. The Blazers clung to a 3-2 series lead, but were down 2 with less than a second left. If you're reading this, and you're even a casual NBA fan, you already know what happened next.
And that's why Damian Lillard is no longer just a name known in Portland.
(But we'll show what happened again anyway)
Two years ago, Stephen Curry was just a really good player in Oakland, playing for the slowly-rising Warriors. His star was on the rise, but he hadn't become a player truly seen by the mainstream. That started to change in the Spring of 2013. First, in an unforgettable game on national TV, he dominated the New York Knicks. Anytime you have a highlight reel against a major metropolitan center on national TV, it's noticed in the NBA. He followed that up by leading his Warriors out of the first round against an injury-plagued Nuggets team.
The result? Curry took a huge leap in All-Star voting. In 2013, he amassed a meager 169,083 votes. Just one year later, he finished with 1,047,281 votes, tops for Western Conference guards.
Could the same thing happen to Damian Lillard? Not only did he hit the shot that was seen all over TV for months afterward, EA Sports highlighed him across their advertising campaigns, appearing in commercials for Madden 2015 and becoming the cover athlete for NBA Live 2015. Every person who picks up the game sees Lillard on the cover.
Last year, Lillard's 280,966 votes ranked 7th in the Western Conference, ahead of former Finals MVP Tony Parker, but behind players like Houston's Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Many those voters may have seen Lin and Harden beaten by the same player they didn't vote for. So I ask you, the commenters:
What Do You Expect from All Star voting in 2015? Will Lillard make a huge leap, or will this all be a side show with minimal impact?
Further, teammates may get a voting "bounce" off teammates who are popular. LaMarcus Aldridge was fifth in voting, and one player above him (Kevin Love) has moved to the Eastern Conference. Will the Blazers success, combined with Lillard's popularity, give Aldridge a chance to leapfrog a player like Dwight Howard into the All-Star starting lineup?
Give your thoughts in the comments! In the meantime, here is a list of the 2014 voting results for your consideration.
1. Stephen Curry (GS) 1,047,281
2. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 988,884
3. Chris Paul (LAC) 804,309
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 628,818
5. James Harden (Hou) 470,381
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 317,338
7. Damian Lillard (Por) 280,966
8. Tony Parker (SA) 258,751
9. Klay Thompson (GS) 162,984
10. Ricky Rubio (Min) 124,230
1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 1,396,294
2. Blake Griffin (LAC) 688,466
3. Kevin Love (Min) 661,246
4. Dwight Howard (Hou) 653,318
5. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 609,172
6. Tim Duncan (SA) 492,657
7. Anthony Davis (NO) 286,247
8. Andre Iguodala (GS) 266,611
9. DeMarcus Cousins (Sac) 255,005
10. Pau Gasol (LAL) 247,323