Why Damian Lillard Should Have Been an All-Star
I'm fully aware that the NBA All-Star Game is about fun and about letting the fans have input on who's on the court. I agree with that -- even if it includes less-than-deserving players.
But in the case of Damian Lillard, it was a bit more robbery than oversight.
Kidding aside, Lillard has been one of the best players in the NBA by nearly any measure, and it's hard to justify any reason why the coaches didn't select him, be it raw production, advanced numbers, big-game ability, or All-Star appeal.
Lillard is sixth in the league in minutes (36.3), 12th in points (21.8), and 15th in assists (6.2). His Portland Trail Blazers are the sixth-best team in the league, per our algorithms, and at 32-14, they have the third-best record in the West.
If you want to look at more advanced numbers, our nERD metric considers Lillard to be the seventh-best player in the league. His nERD score of 12.5 indicates that a league-average roster would finish 12.5 games over .500 with Lillard as a starter. All six players above him in nERD reside in the West, and only DeAndre Jordan (12.8) didn't make the All-Star team. But of all 86 players who average 30 or more minutes per game, Jordan ranks last in usage rate (11.5 percent). Lillard is 19th (26.7).
Further, Lillard's posting a career-best defensive rating of 103, a sharp improvement from his 110 last season, and his win shares per 48 minutes are up to .202 from .157 last season. It's hard to argue that the offensive numbers aren't impressive enough, but his overall impact has increased this year compared to last season, too.
But if you want to look at things from a raw production standpoint, Lillard's got that, as well, as he is just one of five players this season to post multiple 40-point games this season (he's done it twice and scored 39 in another game). The other four who have done it -- James Harden (4 times), Klay Thompson (2), LeBron James (2), and Russell Westbrook (2) -- all made the All-Star Game.
Yet Lillard, an All-Star last year, just didn't quite make the cut. Lillard, who approached All-Star Weekend with the voracity and excitement it can always use -- remember, he took on the Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, and Dunk Contest (and played in the Rising Stars Challenge) -- failed to make the team.
Whether the coaches were looking for big-game ability, overall impact on a good team, or just some impressive offensive numbers, there's really no way to justify excluding Lillard from the list. I'm not saying the Western Conference reserves weren't worthy necessarily, but all we can do is hope that Adam Silver picks Lillard to replace the injured Kobe Bryant. It's the right move.