I'm back in the saddle again after a week spent traveling. I know I'm a little late getting to this Mailbag question but I assume the topic still burns, so let's go for it!
How did Dame not make the allstar team? I get the popular vote getting screwed up by casual fans but what were the coaches thinking? Is this total injustice or the greatest injustice in the history of mankind?
Sean in England
Trying to put yourself in the heads of other people, including NBA coaches, is a dangerous business. We'll attempt it nevertheless.
I'm guessing that every coach in the league would acknowledge that Damian Lillard is a very good guard and deserves to be considered for the All-Star team. At the same time, a half dozen other players around the league can lay claim to that designation, including a couple prominent Western Conference guards who were named over Lillard.
Damian still struggles on defense. More than one coach has probably told their point guard to go right at Lillard until he gives. That's not a mortal sin. Many backcourt players have this weakness, including some All-Stars. (*cough* James Harden *cough*) But the lack keeps Lillard in the pack instead of propelling him above it.
The coaches probably noticed Lillard's offense sputtering over the last few weeks. The Blazers have played 17 games since December 28th. Damian has shot over 40% in just 4 of them. In that same span he shot over 33% from the arc 4 times. Recent events make big impressions.
When LaMarcus Aldridge goes down you'd expect the second All-Star on his team to step up and lead the charge to victory. A pair of Aldridge-free games against Phoenix and Boston provide a small sample, but again the evidence was fresh. The Blazers lost both. Though Lillard scored 22 and 21, his totals came off of 27% and 35% shooting. Fair or not, that'll cause people to infer that Damian isn't the huge solo star he appears to be.
Oddly enough, those appearances may have worked against Lillard. He's getting plenty of publicity for a player in his third season who has never been as far as the Conference Finals and whose game needs to develop more. Some coaches may consider him overexposed...a guy in the middle of the star-laden pack who reads elite to the casual eye. Their voting instinct may have been to correct downward instead of upward.
Even if you discount all of these, Lillard found himself in the same position this year that Aldridge used to find himself in before he broke out. Once upon a time LaMarcus was second to Blake Griffin in team success, second to Kevin Love in statistical production. Though he was as good of a player as either--probably better than both all-around--coming in second twice didn't leave him first on anybody's ballot. Likewise Lillard finishes second to Russell Westbrook in raw stats, second to Klay Thompson in team success (and stats, by a smaller margin). Sorting through the Thompson-Westbrook-Lillard triangle, the coaches went with Westbrook's huge scoring average and Thompson's best-in-the-league record over Lillard's overall portfolio. You don't have to like it, but you can't really argue with it...especially when Klay's stats also look fantastic.
In the end, it's hard to argue with any of the Western Conference All-Star choices save one. Tim Duncan doesn't belong on the team based on this year's performance. You already know the arguments for including him, though. The Spurs are World Champions. The league has a long history of honoring icons long past their most productive years. However much video game covers argue differently, few coaches are going to take the best player of the last two decades off of their ballot to squeak in a third-year player who ended up being their fifth choice at guard.
For all these reasons, Damian Lillard will be the player on the bubble this year. No worries, he won't remain there. Portland's favorite closer has plenty of All-Star appearances in his future. For now, Blazers fans will have to gut out the weekend with only a single All-Star and hope Lillard takes his revenge for the slight when the post-season rolls around.
--Dave email@example.com / @DaveDeckard / @Blazersedge