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Don’t Fret Over Damian Lillard’s Early NBA All-Star Game Returns

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Lillard’s standout season isn’t reflected by his All-Star fan vote totals, but the vote isn’t what will make or break his chances.

2018 NBA All-Star Game Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is putting on a masterful performance as the team’s No. 1 option. Lillard has torched defenses, broken hearts of opposing fans with clutch play, and set an example for his team with hustle plays night after night. So when the NBA released the first returns from the NBA All-Star Game fan vote, it was jarring — at least to people who follow the Blazers so closely — that Lillard is No. 6 among Western Conference guards.

The West is full of talented guards, no question. There’s a reason Lillard has been a perennial Snub List member: there’s just too much talent and too little spots on the All-Star team. But Lillard’s vote is surprising given he’s below players that aren’t on par with his season.

Klay Thompson is No. 5 in votes, almost 50,000 ahead of Lillard, yet his season has been associated with the word “slump.”

Derrick Rose is No. 2 in votes, almost 500,000 ahead of Lillard, yet his season has been thought of as one to make him a lock for Sixth Man of the Year rather than any of the All-NBA teams, which All-Stars are usually vying for at the end of the season.

Maybe Lillard’s vote total isn’t surprising given it’s a popularity contest. But regardless, the early returns are nothing to look at as a possible indicator of Lillard’s All-Star potential. Just look at last year.

Fan vote, the other criteria and coaches’ impact

In the first round of returns last year, Lillard was No. 7 among West guards. Eventually, he finished the fan vote No. 8 overall. And yet Lillard was still named to his third All-Star team.

That’s because the fan vote plays a big factor only in determining the five All-Star starters.

Fan votes make up 50 percent of the starter formula, along with 25 percent for both the player and media vote. But they have no bearing on selecting the All-Star reserves; instead, reserves are chosen by the coaches of each conference.

For example, both Manu Ginobili (No. 2) and Lonzo Ball (No. 6) finished ahead of Lillard in the fan vote last year, but neither made the team as a starter and they weren’t selected as reserves by the coaches. Lillard didn’t make it as a starter, but he was recognized by coaches in the West through his selection as a reserve.

While it’d be special to see Lillard get voted as an All-Star starter, the fan vote will always weigh him down (until the rest of the world comes to acknowledge his greatness). But it’s important to remember that the fan vote just matters for the starters and has no impact on Lillard’s All-Star chances as a reserve.

It’ll come down to the coaches to determine if Lillard is an All-Star. After they’ve watched his play this year, I’d say it’s a good bet he makes another return.