Damian Lillard took the NBA by storm last season, making an immediate impact with the Portland Trail Blazers and garnering the Rookie of the Year award. One thing he didn't accomplish, though, was earn a spot in the All-Star Game.
The second-year player has been even better in his sophomore season. He's improved in virtually every area, and he's also commanding a Trail Blazers team that's playing incredibly well, something that couldn't have been said in 2012-13.
Between his individual accomplishments and the team's status as one of the league's best, Lillard should be there in New Orleans when the All-Star Game tips off. But he's facing stiff competition in a stacked Western Conference, so whether he makes it or not remains to be seen.
There's no debating that Lillard's putting up star-caliber individual numbers, which is almost always a necessity to making the All-Star team (unless you make it on the sham that is fan voting).
Lillard's averaging 20.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds. He's also been one of the league's more efficient players, posting a three-point percentage of .422, a player efficiency rating of 19.2 (league average is 15) and a true shooting percentage of .576.
But there's also another component here beyond individual success. The performance of your team matters, especially when it comes to being named a reserve, which is voted on by coaches. This also bolsters Lillard's case, as Portland is having an excellent season.
The Trail Blazers are 33-11 overall. They're tied for second in the incredibly stacked Western Conference with the San Antonio Spurs, and they're only 1.5 games behind the conference- and division-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
The fact that Portland's rolling reflects well on Lillard since he's the point guard and the one leading the charge on offense. And offensively speaking, there hasn't been anyone better than the Blazers.
The team is leading the league in points scored at 109.5 per game. It's also first in offensive rating, averaging 114.2 points per 100 possessions.
The Blazers win because of their offense, and Lillard is one of the main reasons for it.
Beyond simple deductive reasoning, the numbers back up his impact.
According to NBA.com/stats, Portland is much better when he's on the court. It's posting a 112.1 offensive rating and a 105.5 defensive rating when he's in the game. When he's riding the pine, the offensive rating slips to 106.0 and the defensive rating slightly increases to 105.6.
|Blazers with Lillard and without him|
|Lillard on the court||112.1||105.5||12.8%||56.0%|
|Lillard off the court||106.0||105.6||16.4%||54.3%|
So Lillard is a really good individual player who happens to be an integral part on one of the league's best teams. That should equal a spot on the All-Star team, right? Well, it depends on the competition.
The NBA has revamped the All-Star Game this season. Instead of doing traditional positions (point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center), now rosters are comprised of "frontcourt players" and "backcourt players."
In the case of Lillard the shakeup shouldn't affect him too much. The new alignment really hurts centers, of whom there are a select few worthy, but that's for another day.
Where it comes into play with Lillard is he'll be compared with all other guards, not just point guards. Even then, he has a really strong case.
Lillard is third among all Western Conference guards in points per game. He's a bit further down the line in assists, coming in at 11th for backcourt players. As a deep threat, his .422 three-point percentage ranks sixth overall, and he's tied for ninth in points per shot.
With Bryant out of the running, another spot will open up for someone like Lillard.
His toughest remaining competitors are likely to be James Harden, Chris Paul and Tony Parker. You could also throw Isaiah Thomas, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley in the mix, but the three of them have a lower profile and play for teams currently outside of a playoff spot. It'd be an upset to see one of them make the team.
|How the Western Conference backcourt players stack up|
|PPG||APG||3P%||points per shot|
Statistically speaking, Paul and Harden have the upper hand on Lillard. Both have also already made an All-Star team. There's no guarantee that previous experience in the game factors in, but with all things being equal it's a component to consider.
Let's assume for a second that Paul and Harden make the team; after all, it's probably a pretty safe assumption. That still leaves two wild-card spots, of which any combination of frontcourt or backcourt players can be selected (meaning it could be two backcourt guys, two frontcourt guys or one of each).
We don't know how the wild cards will be divvied up, but the potential of them going to frontcourt players could eliminate an additional slot for Lillard, which would obviously hurt his bid. The stacked Western Conference also hurts his odds. If he were in the East, he'd be a shoo-in for one of the spots.
Unfortunately Lillard doesn't make the rules—he only plays by them, and this is the system we have in place. With that being the case, making the All-Star team isn't going to be easy.
A statistical argument could be made for either Lillard or Parker. They both also play on teams with identical records, so that part of the equation goes out the window. In terms of this situation alone, it's a coin-flip proposition.
Of course there is the chance they both make it due to the trickle-down effect of Bryant's absence. Yet when factoring in the potential of the two wild-card spots going to frontcourt players, however slim it is, Lillard's chances of making the team decrease even more.
Whether or not Lillard deserves to be an All-Star is simple: Of course he does. But whether he will or not is a different proposition altogether, and unfortunately there's the possibility he'll be on the outside looking in.
Stats accurate through games played on Jan. 25
Unless noted otherwise, stats via Basketball-Reference.
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