Second Round Of All-Star Predictions Look Good, Not Great, For Lillard's Chances

by Casey Holdahl
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The starters for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game were announced Thursday afternoon, and as expected, no Trail Blazers made the cut. But there's more than one way to make an All-Star Game, and Portland point guard Damian Lillard still stands a chance of making the Western Conference roster via coaches vote, which will be announced Tuesday, January 23.

But until then, here's how various members of the national media would vote for. This is the second round of predictions, Lillard did much better in the first batch of media predictions. Take that as you will...

• Marc Spears of The Undefeated does not have Damian Lillard making the 2018 All-Star Game. Instead, he predicts that Golden State (Draymond Green and Klay Thompson), Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook and Paul George) and Minnesota (Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns) will each get two reserve spots. By the way, the Thunder and Pelicans, a team that already has two players named to the 2018 All-Star roster in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, have basically the same record as the Trail Blazers. Just think of how good they would be if they had three All-Stars! Or four!

• TNT's "Inside The NBA" crew made their reserve picks and only Kenny Smith has Lillard on the All-Star team, and even then, maybe he doesn't?

• Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer doesn't say one way or another whether he thinks Lillard should/will make the All-Star team, though he does consider the conundrum, and it doesn't sound especially optimistic...

Lillard has been on the wrong end of the cut the last two seasons despite eye-popping numbers. He’s averaging 25 points and 6.5 assists per game on 42.8 percent shooting this season, and he’s playing some of the best defense of his career. The Blazers have the no. 7 defense in the NBA, and their defensive rating is only 0.2 points higher with Lillard in the game, a huge improvement for a player long considered a sieve. Lillard is a 27-year-old at the peak of his game: He might be running out of chances to make an All-Star Game if he misses it this season. Portland is hanging on to the no. 8 seed with a 24–21 record, so one or two games could tip the scales for Lillard either way.

As of January 19 (that's today), the Trail Blazers are actually the sixth seed and are a game behind the Thunder for fifth and a half game above the Pelicans and Clippers for eighth.

• Tim Bontemps at the Washington Post does have Damian Lillard making the All-Star team with his last "wild card" spot...

This last spot was as difficult as in the East, with the choice coming down to Lillard, Chris Paul, Paul George and Nikola Jokic. Paul was eliminated because he’s missed 17 games. Jokic has a tendency to disappear at times.

It comes down to either Lillard or George, and in the final analysis, it goes to Lillard. This is partly because Lillard is the Trail Blazers’ clear leader, whereas George has more talent around him, and yet still the Thunder are only a game better in the standings. But the Thunder are three points per 100 possessions worse with George on the court than when he’s on the bench. While much of that may not be his fault, it’s enough to ensure that — at least in this ballot — Lillard won’t be snubbed for a third season in a row.

The reason I'm somewhat optimistic about Lillard's chances is he has the best case of any of the players fighting for the last two spots. Not sure you could say that the last two seasons.

• Sam Amick of USA Today, with an assist from Gary Payton, has Lillard making the All-Star team...

Amick’s analysis

A disclaimer at the start: If you don’t play defense at a high level, you’d better be spectacular offensively if you’re going to make it on my All-Star team. Two-way talents are no longer a dying breed in today’s NBA, and that has everything to do with my decision to reward players like George, Thompson and Green while omitting players like Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. Case in point, Lillard cements his spot here by not only being prolific offensively but by helping with a defensive effort that has the Blazers ranked fifth in defensive rating (Minnesota is 23rd).

Payton’s perspective

“It's unfortunate that Chris Paul (has been hurt), and I'm agreeing with you on that. I don't think Chris is going to make it. (All Star voters) have been doing a bad job with Damian Lillard, who is a hometown (friend, as they’re both from Oakland, Calif.) and like family to me. I think he deserves to be on one of the All-Star teams ... I like Karl-Anthony Towns very much. I think he's deserving.

Amick rightly points out that defense was always the one area you could point to when deciding to omit Lillard from the All-Star team, but with how much better both he and the Blazers as a whole have been on that side of the ball this year, that argument goes out the window.

• Steve Silverman at Bleacher Report has Lillard making the All-Star Game and being selected for Stephen Curry's team...

The reserves from Team Steph include Al Horford of the Celtics, John Wall of the Washington Wizards, Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves, Lou Williams of the Los Angeles Clippers, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons and Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks.

• Alex Wong of Sports On Earth does not have Lillard making the All-Star team, though he also made his picks prior to the announcement of the starters...

There are so many talented players in the West who are going to get snubbed, starting with Nikola Jokic, who will have plenty of All-Star selections on his resume before his career is over. Damian Lillard is another player who is perennially on the honorable mentions list just because of how deep the field is for guards in the West. You could even talk yourself into guys like Devin Booker, DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin as All-Stars. Chris Paul would be there, too, if it weren't for the fact he's played in only 25 games.

Westbrook is nearly averaging another triple-double (25.0 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.9 assists) and will be there to have his annual awkward pow-wow with his former teammate Durant. His current teammate, George, has been a perfect co-star in Oklahoma City despite the team's up-and-down struggles, averaging 20.6 points and 5.5 rebounds and helping to anchor the Thunder's defense. Thompson (20.5 points, 45.2 percent from three) and Green (11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.3 blocks) are having All-Star seasons, and it helps that the Warriors are once again setting the pace with a 36-9 record.

I wish some of these guys would just write "I like Paul George and I want to see him IN LOS ANGELES." Save us all some time.