Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has had trouble making the NBA All-Star game. In 2015 he was only selected as an injury replacement, and last season Lillard missed the game entirely—this despite being named All-NBA both years.
But this year Lillard should be a lock to make the Western Conference team, right? He’s taken his game to new heights, averaging 27.2 points on 45 percent shooting (both career highs) while also adding 6.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, closer examination reveals that although Lillard is clearly an All-Star in caliber of play, a stacked Western Conference and poor play from the Blazers may not translate to an actual All-Star appearance.
To further clarify, take a look at this list of 2016 West All-Stars - only Kobe Bryant is no longer active:
- Russell Westbrook
- Steph Curry
- Kevin Durant
- Kawhi Leonard
- Chris Paul
- James Harden
- Anthony Davis
- DeMarcus Cousins
- Draymond Green
- Klay Thompson
- LaMarcus Aldridge
Of those 11, the first nine are certain locks to make the team. That means Lillard, Aldridge, and Thompson will be fighting for the final three spots along with several other big-time players: Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Blake Griffin.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how the selection might play out:
Little or no chance
Aldridge has taken a clear step back this season, averaging fewer points and rebounds than any season since his rookie year. The Spurs interior defense has also looked questionable all year. Aldridge has shown signs of life recently, but it will be an uphill battle for him to get an All-Star berth. He does have voter inertia and the Spurs’ 2-seed on his side.
Griffin is currently out with injury. Given the competition it will be very tough for a player who has missed 4-6 weeks to make the team.
Hayward and Gobert are both deserving candidates and the Jazz are playing well this season. But with George Hill’s recent emergence it’s still unclear who is Utah’s best player, which makes it difficult to compete with the clear team leaders in front of them. That uncertainty could split the coaches’ vote and keep both Jazz players off the All-Star team.
Who’s the odd-man out?
With those players seemingly out of contention, the following four will compete for only three spots:
Gasol is averaging a career-high 20.1 points and 4.2 assists per game. At 32 years of age he continues to anchor a Memphis team that has defied expectations and is battling for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Towns has been a revelation for the Timberwolves this season. He has generated significant media buzz and will be a trendy pick as an up-and-coming superstar. His stats are superb, and he has a number of “wow” highlight-reel moments, but Minnesota’s poor record may handicap his chances.
Thompson beat Lillard to make the All-Star team the last two seasons and is playing at a virtually identical level this year. The only thing working against him is possible hesitancy to select four Warriors to the team.
Lillard will need to beat out at least one of the other players to get onto the team. Despite the fact that he’s played the best ball of his career, that may be a tough sell given the Blazers’ poor record and the track record of Thompson and Gasol. Things get even tougher if Lillard continues to miss games due to injury. In the end, the final spot could very well come down to Dame vs. KAT.
Readers - who do you think the coaches will pick? Let us know in the comments!
Eric Griffith | @DeeringTornado | GoBlazers87@gmail.com
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