Lillard About Even In Final Round Of All-Star Reserve Predictions

by Casey Holdahl
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In a few hours, the NBA will announce on TNT which seven players from each conference have been named to the 2018 All-Star Game via coaches vote. And while he's been left off the last two years, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has a good chance of ending that All-Star drought thanks to being one of four players averaging at least 25.2 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds this season, and for a team currently in 7th place in the Western Conference. There are a number of deserving players who will not make the roster this time around, the question is if Lillard is going to be one of those players, again.

Here's the last installment of media predictions and opinions regarding whether Lillard will make the cut (you can click here and here for the previous media roundups). The writers who cover the NBA, who tend to have a better idea on which way the coaches are leaning, seem to lean toward Lillard being left off again, while the TV folks, including a lot of former players, like his chances. We'll know soon enough, but until then, enjoy the best guesses...

• Zach Lowe of ESPN does not put Damian Lillard on his team, though he also thinks the coaches might disagree...

(Paul) George squeaks in on this ballot, though the bet here is that Lillard makes the actual team over him. That would be fine. Lillard is deserving. I wish I could swap him over to the East. But I like rewarding two-way guys, and George has been perhaps the best wing defender in the league this season. He's also averaging 21 points per game -- about four fewer than Lillard -- and shooting a career-best 43 percent from deep. Playing with Russ has its benefits.

Oklahoma City has now jumped both San Antonio and Minnesota in scoring margin. The Thunder have separated themselves from rest of the West, and George's play as their No. 2 is a huge part of that push.

If talent were distributed normally -- i.e., if the Warriors didn't have both Curry and Durant -- George would stand as the league's apex second option. Is that more valuable than a mid-rung first option?

These choices at the back of the roster are mostly a matter of taste. With only straws to grasp and hairs to split, I'll use team performance and Lillard's seven missed games as tiebreakers. In a few hours, we'll find out who the coaches chose.

Two things. First, the Thunder have "separated themselves from the rest of the West"? They're currently one game up on the Pelicans and 1.5 games up on the Trail Blazers! If that's separation, I don't know what would qualify as a close race. And as far as team performance, the Blazers won both games versus the Thunder this season, the most recent being a blowout IN Oklahoma City with Lillard sitting out due to injury. The Thunder, a team with potentially two all-stars that has evidently separated themselves from the pack, lost to the Trail Blazers, a team playing without their best player, on their own court.

• The ESPN former player panel of Paul Pierce, Jalen Rose and Chauncey Billups all have Damian Lillard on their All-Star rosters...

• Ben Golliver of SI.com (or "The Crossover" I guess) does not have Lillard making his All-Star team, opting for Klay Thompson and Paul George instead...

Lillard’s case is held back by injury issues: He has missed seven games, more than Thompson, George and Williams combined. He’s bit by the regression bug too. Portland’s offense is merely average this season—a noticeable drop from 2016-17—and Lillard’s individual accomplishments are slightly off last year as well. Williams has been sensational as both a scorer and a distributing playmaker this season, but LA’s status on the playoff bubble, the one-way nature of his game, and the presence of so many other qualified candidates on winning teams keeps him off.

Should any of the West’s top 12 wind up as injury scratches, this ballot has Lillard as the next man up.

Missing seven games, along with the addition of Jimmy Butler and Paul George, are going to be the excuses this season for leaving Lillard off the team. I think that's what Lillard was trying to get across on the podcast he recently recorded with Chris Haynes and Marc Spears: it's always something.

• David Aldridge of TNT and NBA.com has Lillard on his list of All-Star reserves...

WESTERN CONFERENCE: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs; Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves; Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns; Lou Williams, LA Clippers

Aldridge is one of the few who didn't have the Warriors getting three players in the All-Star Game, let alone four.

• Matt Winer, Steve Smith and Mike Fratello of NBA TV all have Damian Lillard on their All-Star rosters...

• Brad Botkin at CBSSports.com has Lillard making the Western Conference All-Star roster with the last wildcard spot...

Seems like this guy is always getting snubbed in one way or another, but not on this list. Lillard is a star who is keeping the Blazers -- who realistically don't have the collective talent of some of the teams they're keeping pace with -- in the thick of the playoff mix with his 25.2 points, 6.6 assist and 4.8 rebounds a night.

SNUBS: Paul George, Chris Paul, Lou Williams, Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker, Clint Capela, Steven Adams

This is a point that I haven't seen brought up enough: if you're going to knock Portland's support case (and they certainly take their fair share of criticism), then Lillard should get credit for keeping the Trail Blazers in the thick of the playoff race.