Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins top list of 2015 All-Star Game snubs
UPDATE: DeMarcus Cousins has been tabbed to replace Kobe Bryant on the Western Conference All-Star Team.
The NBA All-Star Game rosters were finalized on Thursday when the reserves for each conference were announced.
The 24 players who made the cut are listed below. The starters, who were voted in by fans and announced last week, are in italics. The coaches picked the reserves.
Eastern Conference: John Wall (Wizards), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), LeBron James (Cavaliers), Pau Gasol (Bulls), Carmelo Anthony (Knicks), Chris Bosh (Heat), Jimmy Butler (Bulls), Al Horford (Hawks), Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers), Paul Millsap (Hawks), Jeff Teague (Hawks), Dwyane Wade (Heat)
Western Conference: Stephen Curry (Warriors), Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Blake Griffin (Clippers), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies), LaMarcus Aldridge (Blazers), Tim Duncan (Spurs), Kevin Durant (Thunder), James Harden (Rockets), Chris Paul (Clippers), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
Here's a list of 10 players (five from each conference) who failed to make the cut.
Damian Lillard, Blazers: Portland’s 24-year-old point guard has every reason to feel like this year’s top snub. First, he was selected to his first All-Star Game last year, but he’s taken his play to new heights on both ends this season. Second, the Blazers held the West’s second-best record for much of the season, and two teams with lesser records (the Clippers and Thunder) each placed two All-Stars on the West’s roster. Third, Lillard still has not missed a game during his three-year career, whereas Westbrook, Durant and Bryant all were selected to the West’s All-Star team despite missing major time due to injuries.
Lillard is clearly the odds-on favorite to be selected as an injury replacement for Bryant, who underwent season-ending surgery on his shoulder this week. The all-around strength of his candidacy (No. 4 in PER among West point guards, No. 6 overall in Win Shares, a career-high 21.8 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG, Portland’s quality record and his pristine health) is boosted by his exhibition-friendly style of play and his marketability. Given that NBA commissioner Adam Silver will make the injury appointment, it’s worth noting that Lillard paid some serious dues by competing in five different events at last year’s All-Star Weekend. Last but not least, Bryant actually endorsed Lillard as his replacement in 2014, when he was selected to be a starter but couldn’t compete because of a knee injury.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: If Lillard is indeed appointed as Bryant’s replacement, Cousins will be left as the top remaining snub. SI.com argued earlier this month that Cousins was worthy of an All-Star nod due to his monster, career-year (23.8 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 BPG, 1.4 SPG).
As it turned out, Cousins simply had one too many issues working against him. Cousins’ bid was held back by Sacramento’s poor record, a long-standing reputation for immaturity and an illness that sidelined him for 11 games. If Cousins’ rep were better or if the Kings were in the playoff picture, perhaps he gets the nod over Duncan based on his statistical performance. If Cousins hadn’t missed the time due to injury, perhaps the coaches give him the nod over Durant, who has played in only 21 of Oklahoma City’s 46 games to date. Instead, the coaches settled for the traditional favorites, leaving Cousins near the top of the snubs pile for the second straight season.
The tough part for Cousins, now, is that Lillard has posted strong numbers, hasn’t missed a game, has helped lead one of the league’s top teams and has no character concerns. That’s a tough package for Cousins to overcome.
Mike Conley, Grizzlies: Let’s give Conley the “Best player who never really had a chance to make the cut” title. The Grizzlies point guard had everything you generally look for like nice numbers (17.4 PPG, 5.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 20.1 PER), two-way contributions, good health and a winning team, but he was just stuck behind four players at his position with slightly better resumes in Curry, Paul, Westbrook and Lillard.
Dwight Howard, Rockets: This year marks the first time since 2005-06 that Howard (16.3 PPG, 11 RPG, 1.4 BPG) won’t be in the All-Star Game. Howard has missed 14 games this season, so it’s difficult to view this as a real snubbing. Aldridge has enjoyed a better and more consistent season, Duncan has posted similar numbers and played a greater role in his team’s success and Cousins has posted significantly better individual numbers than Howard. From a perception standpoint, Howard’s All-Star chances were likely hurt by Houston’s strong play and Harden’s MVP-like play during his early-season injury absence.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: The 36-year-old Nowitzki has reached the point in his Hall of Fame career where outrage over his omission is unlikely to surface. Still outrageously talented, Nowitzki (18.6 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 APG) has taken a slight step backward from last year, even if he’s still capable of being the No. 1 option on a truly elite offense. Clearly, he isn’t the two-way contributor that Aldridge and Duncan are, and both Cousins and Howard have better all-around numbers. Nowitzki’s best shot at making this year’s team would have been Dallas sitting at or near the top of the standings. Instead, they’re in the West’s crowded third tier, which knocked him down a few spots on the totem pole.
Kyle Korver, Hawks: There has been plenty of discussion recently about whether the Hawks would land three or four reserves on the East’s roster. SI.com’s East picks ultimately matched up seven-for-seven with the official selections, meaning Korver (13 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.9 APG) was left off in favor of Wade while Teague, Millsap and Horford all made the cut.
Korver’s candidacy is really, really unique: It’s not often that a shooting specialist who is fourth on his own team in scoring (taking just eight shots a night) is ever in the All-Star discussion. SI.com ultimately preferred Wade over Korver on the basis of their respective roles. While Korver had a strong case -- historic shooting numbers, Atlanta’s strong record, his excellent advanced statistics and impact numbers -- the degree to which his success was owed to his teammates was a stumbling block.
The “Wade vs. Korver” question could ultimately be headed for a clean compromise. If a strained hamstring forces Wade to miss out on the All-Star Weekend festivities, Korver would be the top pick as an injury replacement. He’s already slated to be in New York City for the Three-Point Shootout, so let’s go ahead and call this a no-brainer.
Kevin Love, Cavaliers: The coaches got it right by selecting Irving and not Love, thereby giving Cleveland only two All-Stars. The Cavaliers’ underwhelming and inconsistent start wasn’t worthy of three starters, even though the East’s frontcourt crop was pretty weak. That Love (17.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.3 APG) could move from the West to the East and not make the All-Star team qualifies as a major surprise, but his production slide, his defensive limitations and his not-quite-right-yet fit all worked against him. His side-by-side cases compared to those who were selected just aren’t very convincing: Millsap and Horford are better two-way players on a better team, while Bosh has put up better numbers in a larger role.
Nikola Vucevic, Magic: Orlando’s young center found himself in the conversation largely on the basis of his strong numbers (19.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 22.1 PER). His omission isn’t particularly regrettable, given the Magic’s poor record and his limitations as a defender. Although Vucevic is a talented and reliable producer on offense, he’s not yet a player who strikes fear in the hearts of opponents and he hasn’t been much of a go-to option late in games. He’s still just 24, earning him a spot in the “Maybe next year” category.
Brandon Knight, Bucks: The major reason that Knight worked his way into the All-Star discussion was because it felt weird for Milwaukee to be the only above-.500 team without a representative. That was especially true when a team with a similar record (Cleveland) was destined to have two or three All-Stars and a team with a worse record (Miami) was on track to get two as well. Knight (17.9 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.2 RPG, 1.6 SPG) has enjoyed the best season of his career, but he is significantly less deserving than the four East point guards who were selected (Wall, Lowry, Teague and Irving).
Al Jefferson, Hornets: Coming off of an All-NBA Third Team selection, Jefferson seemed like a strong candidate to make his first All-Star Game appearance. Instead, Charlotte’s bumpy road and his own injury issues turned him an afterthought. The pretty 20/10 stat line that he put up in 2013-14 has given way to more modest numbers (17.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.8 APG) this year, and the Hornets’ rough overall offensive efficiency numbers pretty much made it impossible to reward either Jefferson or teammate Kemba Walker with an All-Star nod.