Early All-Star Predictions Look Good For Lillard

by Casey Holdahl
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Voting for starters for 2018 NBA All-Star Game is already well underway, which means the first round of returns should be coming in soon. There are a litany of ways you can submit your votes, from Twitter to Facebook to NBA.com to Google, and while you can only vote for a player once per day, you can vote through every medium once a day and for up to 10 players per day (as in, you can only vote for Damian Lillard once per day on Twitter, but you can also vote for him, and up to nine other players, once per day on Facebook, NBA.com and so on).

So if you haven’t added voting for your favorite Trail Blazers as a part of your daily morning routine, consider carving out a few minutes to help out your local ball club. The NBA might not ever let us host an All-Star Game, but they can’t keep Trail Blazers from showing up, at least if everyone in Rip City pitches in.

Of course, voting is only for the All-Star starters, with the coaches vote filling out the rest of the rosters. And while it shouldn’t discourage you from voting, it’s far more likely that Portland gets a player into the 2018 All-Star Game, which is being held in Los Angeles this year, via coaches vote. Such is life in a small market.

But the good news is there are early indications that Lillard, a two-time All-Star who has been passed over the last two seasons, seems to be one of the favorites to make the West roster as a reserve in 2018, at least if media predictions are any indication. Here’s a roundup of those early predictions so far…

• Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, in a post written on December 2, has Lillard as “probably in”...

The case for: Lillard ranks seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 25.4 points for a team that has gotten off to a surprisingly good start. He has added 6.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds.

The case against: Lillard was left off the last two All-Star teams because the field was too crowded and he’s not a model of efficiency. He’s been slightly worse this year, making 42.0 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from the 3-point line.

Chances: Probably in. Lillard will have to overcome the same obstacles that kept him off the All-Star team before, namely his shooting. His spot likely comes down to a choice between him or Jimmy Butler. We’ll give him the edge because he’s his team’s best player.

I’d argue Lillard’s defense and the record of the team at the time of the coaches vote have had much more to do with Lillard being snubbed than his shooting. And since his defense is much improved and the Trail Blazers sit in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, one assumes those issues might not keep him out of the All-Star Game this time around.

• Matt Moore of CBSSports.com (though he is no longer there), in a post written on December 7, has Lillard in his “Must-Haves, For Now” category

Lillard is in a great position to finally get that spot he's wanted for so long, but the Blazers have to hold. He's only shooting 33 percent from deep. He's been Portland's best player; it falls apart with out him. If the Blazers' defense slides, it's going to get dicey for him again, though. Right now, he should be a near-lock, and not just for his offense. Lillard has given more on defense this season than ever before, and he deserves a share of credit for Portland being second in defensive rating. 

The only other Western Conference player in this category is Lillard’s former running buddy, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge.

• Paul Flannery of SBNation, in a post written on December 19, lists Lillard as one of his “other guards” to make the West All-Star roster

I thought long and hard about putting Jimmy Butler in that other guard spot and I may wind up doing it before the real vote is taken in January. He’ll get squeezed because that’s the way of the universe, but Damian Lillard should absolutely be in Los Angeles. We’ve gone this far and haven’t mentioned Russell Westbrook. OKC has had its struggles, but it would be shocking if he’s not included. Klay Thompson, who we all vowed to not underrate during the Finals, is being underrated again. Chris Paul hasn’t played enough games yet, but he’ll have a better argument in January. Not all of them will go and it will get contentious.

It’s always a numbers game when it comes to selecting guards in the West, and the addition of multiple All-Star players to the conference this season is only going to exacerbate that problem.

• Finally, Adam Fromal at Bleacher Report does a mock All-Star draft, which will be how rosters are put together this season (maybe?). He figures LeBron James and Stephen Curry will be the top two fan vote-getters, and thus, will pick their teams. He’s got Curry taking Lillard with his sixth pick

Damian Lillard isn't getting enough love for his performance this season. His efficiency is down, and the Portland Trail Blazers turn in one of the league's clunkiest shot profiles; but he retains parking-lot range, is a human water wiggly off the dribble and boasts disarming bursts both on and off the ball.

Durant hasn't played with a point guard who can finish lobs for, like, a full minute. He deserves Lillard. Lineups that feature them and Curry will make sweet, unguardable offensive magic. Stir in Butler and Davis, and yeah, buddy, you have yourself a lethal cocktail built to steamroll even a LeBron-Antetokounmpo tandem.

No one is picking Lillard for his defense, but he's getting better on that end. He'll hear Terry Stotts' voice in his head enough times to try coaxing Irving into low efficiency mid-rangers. And if he registers as a liability, Team Steph can always stash him on one of Team James' many non-spacers.

So there you have it. Voting for All-Star starters continues until January 15. Reserves will be announced January 23, with the game being played February 18.