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Damian Lillard in Prime Position to Return to the All-Star Game

Diving into the Western Conference All-Star reserve battle, it’s fairly clear that Damian Lillard should earn his third selection.

2014 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Tyler Kaufman/NBAE via Getty Images

While it’s no shock Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was not selected as an NBA All-Star starter last week, with the 2018 All-Star selection process concluding this afternoon, attention now turns to his candidacy as a reserve. After spending two full years making snub lists, Lillard finds himself once again scoring 25 points per game, fueling Portland towards a possible playoff berth, and hoping both will be recognized.

Lillard himself addressed the Portland-metropolitan-area-sized elephant in the room with ESPN’s Chris Haynes this week, saying he is “kind of expecting” to be snubbed. Most media seem to think his chances are strong despite a worthy field of candidates.

Let this be clear: Lillard should be an All-Star this year.

To bolster the point, let’s take a look at those competing against Lillard, with outside material on why they should make it and stats to accompany. First, here’s who we know will represent the West…

The West Starters

Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins

Nothing worth debating here. It’s final anyways. Onto the first tier of reserves...

The Hard Locks

Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler

Westbrook is averaging 24.8 points, 9.9 assists and 9.7 rebounds; Butler is averaging 21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists along with 2.0 steals on a Wolves team ready to make its first playoff appearance since 2004. Yeah, they’re All-Stars. Next is where things start to get interesting...

Pretty Hard to Pass up

Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, LaMarcus Aldridge

Ballots make most of these guys a lock, although you could bump any one of them into the wild card spots if you think unmentioned players are more deserving. Thus, we bring in outside perspective on each player’s performance this season and what makes them All-Star worthy:

Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report on Green (11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals and blocks):

Draymond Green has yet to replicate the statistical heights of the history-making 2015-2016 season, but he hasn’t needed to ... Green’s taking fewer attempts inside the arc per game than last year...[but] the rest of his year feels like a clone of 2016-2017 ... That was good enough for an All-Star selection last season, so why not this year?

Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post on Aldridge (22.6 points and 8.6 rebounds while playing much of the year without Kawhi Leonard):

Aldridge has certainly been that, delivering the kind of numbers...everyone expected from the moment he arrived in San Antonio.

The Spurs have needed every bit of that production. Kawhi Leonard has played only nine games, missing the first two months as he dealt with tendinopathy in his right quad, an injury that the Spurs announced Wednesday will indefinitely sideline Leonard again.

Teams are supposed to struggle when playing without one of the five best players in the world. Instead, San Antonio has cruised along...on pace to win 50 or more games for the 18th straight season.

Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Towns (20.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.6 blocks):

“We could easily say we should have two guys,” Wolves 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said. “Other teams have their cases, too. But I think with the jump we’ve made, we should get two. KAT definitely deserves it.”

“The unfortunate part is somebody or a couple guys who deserve it will be left off,” Thibodeau said. “Usually, the part of the decision that will separate them is how has the guy impacted winning ... Some guys get stats that don’t impact winning.”

The Wild, Wild Card

Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Paul George, Lou Williams

This is the main event. With the two wild card spots left up for grabs after the mild-to-hard locks, a trio of big names and a late-bloomer all vie for the final two spots.

There’s a case to be made for all of them: Lillard is the soul of a Portland team and he’s kept them relevant despite a constantly fluctuating lineup and shaky results at times from key starters; Thompson is enjoying a career year while on one of the NBA’s best teams (again); George has brought defensive intensity while maintaining his offensive output despite integrating with two other stars; Williams is almost the sole reason the Clippers are in playoff contention and his two Player of the Week awards in January show how crazy his last month has been.

That being said, Damian Lillard should be an All-Star. He leads the quartet in points per game (25), assists per game (6.5), win shares (5.3) and PER (22.8); he’s made enough defensive strides to post the second-best defensive rating (108) of his career; he’s the lead man on a team that can only make the playoffs with him; and after two years of not making it, this man deserves some damn recognition.

Who should join Lillard? Let’s take a look at the last wild card spot...

Brad Botkin of CBS Sports on Thompson (20.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists on 48.9 percent from the field and 45.4 percent from three):

And if the Warriors have become a kind of background noise, you know the already-attention-averse Klay Thompson isn’t getting much love -- which is too bad, because he’s quietly having the best season of his career, well within range of joining the exclusive 50-40-90 club -- 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, 90 percent from the line for a season.

”He’s probably in his prime [right now],” Kerr said of Thompson. “Mentally, physically, he knows the league better than he ever has.”

Cliff Brunt of the AP on George (20.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists along with a league-best 2.2 steals):

Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times on Williams (23.2 points and 5.0 assists while leading the team without Blake Griffin):

”My play over the last six weeks or so has been pretty good for our team,” Williams said. “Hopefully the coaches do right by that and just see the body of work that I’ve been able to put together.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Williams “absolutely” should be an All-Star. Snyder was an assistant coach in Philadelphia when Williams was there and the two were together in Atlanta, too.

”He’s led the league in scoring since early December,” Snyder said. “The numbers say it. … He’s shown that’s who he is.”

There you have it. We’ll find out the answer to the Lillard/All-Star question this evening. As we’re waiting, let us know who your All-Stars are? And, is it finally time for Lillard to return?

*All stats accurate as of Jan. 20.