A Seat At The Table: What Must Damian Lillard Do To Be An All-Star?

Before this post begins, I must abide by my own principal for players believed to be snubbed for any All-Star game: if a player is believed to be snubbed, that opinion must include removing a player from the team. Damian Lillard should be on the Western Conference team ahead of Gordon Hayward. Lillard is having a definitively better season, even with Hayward playing exceptionally well for a really solid Utah Jazz team, especially after returning from injury.

Lillard’s already a two-time All-Star. He doesn’t have to wait his turn. (Credit: Fox Sports)

This is more about Lillard’s place in the Association. This is the second consecutive year he’s been wrongly left off the team. And there are no fans to blame for this decision. The NBA coaches—the 32 men charged with knowing and optimizing the skills of multiple players, as well as scouting and devising strategies against opposing players—believe that Damian Lillard is not deserving of an All-Star nod again. I would never call any coach dumb, not even the ones currently inept at their jobs. But Lillard has earned the right to be there in Charlotte New Orleans. This is at best incorrect and at worst, disrespectful.

The biggest factor keeping Lillard from acquiring enough of the popular vote to start the All-Star game is simply because there are better players whom the fans decide are more likable them him–and Lillard is extremely likable. If Russell Westbrook couldn’t be voted to start over Steph Curry, and the reason comes down to fan votes, then Lillard’s chances are slim to none to surpass either of those players if they’re healthy and effective. That’s why the onus is on the coaches to make sure the best of the best are selected.

Dame is not just good, he is a great player. (Credit: Sporting News)

However, if we assume Russ, Steph and James Harden make up that highest tier of Western Conference guards, Lillard is certainly in that next tier down. Arguably the best of the next, with apologies to Chris Paul. I believe Lillard has arrived at a point in his career where his place as an All-Star reserve should be a lock, provided he’s healthy and playing at a similar level to the past two seasons.

Lillard is having the best season of his young career. Still only 26 years old, Dame is posting career bests in points per game and field goal percentage, and is in the top ten in both statistics for the second straight year. Lillard continues to trend upward. In a sport where accolades seem to have a era-type divide to them—younger players raise their games and replace consistent star veterans, rinse and repeat every few years—Lillard is a part of that next group, along with the likes of DeMarcus Cousins and soon-to-be Karl-Anthony Towns. “Lillard Time,” a name given to label how Dame plays amazingly well in the fourth quarter, also applies to selecting him to the midseason exhibition. It is Lillard’s time.

Put him on the team, coaches. (Credit: basketball insiders.com)

Even if the coaches do not yet believe Dame is a consistent All-Star, there is another path that could be taken to put Lillard on the team. Chris Paul, who should also have been selected ahead of Gordon Hayward, could have been chosen. Then, due to his injury, his actual roster spot could be given to Lillard, and the Western Conference team would have a little more rightness to it.

If he wants, and if he chooses the same course of reaction he did last year, he has a lot to be mad about. This may result in a second straight Getback Tour, fueled by the bitterness we believe Russell Westbrook is using this season. One thing is for sure: Damian Lillard is an All-Star, whether or not the coaches give him the title. He does not have to do anything more besides be his excellent self on the basketball court. He even does amazing things away from hoops that other players don’t do. I mean, Gordon Hayward can’t rap!

3 Replies to “A Seat At The Table: What Must Damian Lillard Do To Be An All-Star?”

  1. The answer to the title question–both for last season and this–is clear.

    Win. More. Games.

    Unless your stats are MVP-level (hello Demarcus Cousins), it is basically mandatory for your team to be above .500 when the coaches submit their votes in order to have a chance at being selected as a reserve. During the Blazers’ recent 50-win seasons, Lillard was considered the second-best player on a good team, and that was enough to (barely) get him in. In the post-Aldridge era, he’s the best player on a lottery-level team (last season’s second-half surge notwithstanding), so it was not just unsurprising, but completely reasonable for him to be left off.

    A quick look at this year’s all-star voting makes it easy to see what the various segments of interested parties value: Fans want players who are entertaining and likeable; other players vote for guys who put the most pressure on the opposition; and coaches value contributors to winning teams. Until a Lillard-led squad wins the majority of its games in first three months of the season he can expect to continue to be “snubbed”.

    Now, is it fair that he is repeatedly denied this honor as a result, arguably, of being surrounded by inferior teammates? It certainly doesn’t seem so. As you noted, Gordon Hayward, or even more seemingly undeserving Draymond Green (10/8/7 with a PER of 17?) certainly aren’t having as impressive statistical seasons as Lillard. But team record aside, there are other significant arguments in opposition to Dame’s inclusion, which also impact his team’s record, chief among them being defense. Lillard is a notorious sieve, and consequently doesn’t help the Blazers’ record as much as he should. Why is Green an all-star? Because he’s on the Warriors, yes, but also because he’s arguably the best defensive player in the league. Why is Hayward on the squad? Because in addition to playing for a division leader, he’s also a slightly above-average defender, as well as at least as efficient scoring the ball as Lillard is. It’s no surprise when comparing the advanced stats of the 3 that Lillard’s win-shares, box-plus-minus, and value-over-replacement falls short of that of the others.

    All-star inclusion clearly matters to Dame; he admitted as much when discussing his motivation for hanging 51 on the Warriors in Portland’s first game post-all-star break last year. However, until he realizes that his defensive deficiencies are at least as relevant to the Blazers’ record as his ability to score is, his team’s record will continue to fall short of expectations, as will his plans for all-star weekend.

    1. Scoring over 25 points per game is MVP level stats. Even if they weren’t, there is precedence for amazing seasons on average teams being rewarded with All-Star nods. Remember Danny Granger? I agree the season has to be outstanding, but Lillard’s season is outstanding and more outstanding than the two players I listed in the past two years. Sure, one could surmise to reward good players on good teams. But not every great player leads his team to great seasons every year. You mentioned Boogie. If wins were that important, the coaches–who pride themselves on generating wins–would never vote for a player on a lottery-esque team. Even coaches know there are great players on not so great teams

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