Damian Lillard is currently enjoying the strongest statistical season of his career, from a scoring standpoint, but it appears that 26.2 points per game may not be enough for him to return to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Zach Lowe of ESPN went through his ideal All-Star selections on Wednesday morning, omitting both members of the Trail Blazers’ backcourt. Lowe’s choices for the reserves were very frontcourt heavy, but he did point out that the Western Conference’s backcourt situation is more muddled than usual.
He explains the circumstances that opened up the selection process here:
The last guard spot got hairy the moment Chris Paul broke his thumb. Paul has missed 11 games, right on the edge of where I start getting queasy about All-Star status, and he is among the league's half-dozen best players when healthy. This is his spot. If the coaches award it to him on ceremony -- and pick a 13th All-Star to replace him -- I'm fine with that.
And suggests that there are a handful of legitimate options with Paul out of the mix:
There are six realistic candidates behind Paul: Conley, Klay Thompson, CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, Eric Gordon, and Eric Bledsoe -- the last putting up monster numbers on a forgotten team.
Portland fans can take solace in the fact that Lowe at least mentioned both Lillard and McCollum as options to make the team, though he eventually makes the case that Thompson and Conley are more deserving of the remaining guard spots on the roster.
McCollum and Lillard are vicious in their versatility as scorers. Portland needs so much more from them just to stay afloat than the Warriors ever need from Thompson. They are also reasons No. 1 and 1A why Portland's defense has cratered to 27th in points allowed per possession. They try hard, but they just aren't very good; Lillard is a screen magnet, and McCollum's size is an issue almost every night.
Neither has been able to lift Portland solo; the Blazers are solid when both McCollum and Lillard are on the floor, but flounder when one plays without the other, per NBA.com. Given Portland's record, it's hard to reward either over Thompson and Conley.
Losing out to Conley and Thompson looks much worse than it actually is.
Conley is proving to be worth every penny of his off-season extension. The former Ohio State guard is putting up the highest points per game average of his career, and he is shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Conley’s stellar season has helped the Grizzlies overcome a myriad of injury issues— some of which were Conley’s— to amass a solid 26-20 record.
Despite being buried on a roster full of stars, Thompson remains one of the deadliest shooters in the entire league. Even with a slight dip in efficiency, he is still producing 21.1 points per game. His 60-point explosion against the Pacers in December certainly doesn’t hurt his resume either. Neither does the success of the Warriors, who are on pace to win 69 games this season (.844) to the Trail Blazers’ 34 (.413).
It looks like the Trail Blazers’ 19-27 record isn’t doing them any favors in their hopes for a postseason bid, or for having a representative in the ASG. Lillard and McCollum will learn their fate Thursday evening, when the reserves are announced.