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Who To Pick: Lillard or Luka?

Dan Devine of the Ringer breaks down his decision making.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard has been a hot topic of discussion around the league as the Portland Trail Blazers’ star point guard is on a tear ahead of the All-Star Break. With the starters set to be revealed shortly, Dan Devine of the Ringer explains how he decided on Lillard as a starter despite so many excellent backcourt choices in the Western Conference.

The final starting guard spot is a six-way race between Lillard, Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Devin Booker—a choice, essentially, between players putting up remarkable numbers while carrying teams that have been ravaged by injury and illness, and players whose individual production doesn’t pop off the page quite as much but who lead teams at or near the top of the conference. After changing my mind about a dozen times, I went with Lillard, who marries video-game production (29.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game, shooting 38 percent from deep on 10.6 attempts a night) that rivals Luka’s with team success that rests largely on his shoulders.

Losing Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum (who was on his way to an All-Star berth of his own) seemed like a major blow for a Blazers team that already had been scuffling thanks to a bottom-five defense. But Portland’s gone 9-5 without two of its three best players, including five straight wins to climb into a tie with Phoenix for the fourth seed, thanks in large part to its best player: During this stretch, the Blazers are 6-2 in games in which the score was within five points in the final five minutes, with Dame scoring 36 points on 11-for-19 shooting in 25 “clutch” minutes. That includes a number of late-game bombs that offered reminders of how “Dame Time” became a Thing:

Devine notes that despite the performances of Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell, and Mike Conley, Lillard checks all the boxes, earning the starting spot.

You can read the rest of Devine’s All-Star ballot breakdown here.