How can snubbed Damian Lillard become an undeniable All-Star?
When the initial list of Western Conference All-Star reserves was released, Blazers fans were undoubtedly disappointed to see the absence of star point guard Damian Lillard. There was a chance he could take the roster spot of the injured Kobe Bryant, who was voted in by the fans as a starter, but NBA commissioner Adam Silver selected Kings center DeMarcus Cousins as the replacement instead.
Getting slighted in three separate rounds of voting (fans, coaches and commissioner) didn’t sit well with Lillard, who was also dropped from Team USA last summer in the final round of cuts before the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Lillard’s all-caps Instagram post on Friday (since removed) indicates that he wants to “be so good they can’t ignore [him],” regarding his future qualifications for the All-Star Game (and any other potential accolades).
So how can Lillard do that and reach, at the very least, the echelon of All-Star reserves Chris Paul (eight consecutive All-Star selections), James Harden (three straight) and Russell Westbrook (four selections in last five seasons)?
Let’s look at the numbers and see how those who were picked over him bested him.
Note: You can click on each player’s name to see their individual page featuring career stats and interactive graphs.
Lillard doesn’t really have any clear weaknesses at this point; not even on defense, where he has vastly improved during his third year in coach Terry Stotts’ system. So Portland fans might feel a bit touchy about some of these upcoming criticisms. But you have to be pretty darn good to be a bonafide All-Star in the Western Conference nowadays, especially as a guard. So the standards Lillard must be held to are accordingly lofty.
There are signs that Lillard is taking the snub quite personally and is now trying to do too much for Portland. The former Weber State standout has logged 12 turnovers in the two games since Cousins was announced as Bryant’s replacement, the most in any two-game span by Lillard this season. He also shot a dreadful 2-of-19 from three-point range (12-for-39 overall) over that span. Granted, Lillard does have 20 assists during that time, but it’s no coincidence that the Trail Blazers have lost both of those contests to red-hot Atlanta and Milwaukee.
It might be nitpicky to criticize Lillard for his accuracy on three-pointers, especially since he’s shooting a solid 35.3 percent and can connect from deep in the most clutch of situations. But this season is his worst yet from beyond the arc, and if Lillard wants to be known as a no-doubt All-Star, he needs to be better than just solid from that range, especially if he continues to launch 7.4 attempts per game.
Of the Western Conference backcourt players who will play in the All-Star Game, only noted human pinball Russell Westbrook (25.9 percent) has a worse conversion rate from downtown this season than Lillard. So he hasn’t exactly earned the copycat moniker of Rain Bros bestowed upon him and Trail Blazers shooting guard Wes Matthews just yet.
It’s easier said than done, but Lillard would be better served to take more of his shots at the rim, where he’s vastly improved his efficiency since last season. After making just 46.5 percent of his shots in the restricted zone during his sophomore campaign, he’s upped that rate to 55.2 percent this year.
Conversely, his mid-range game has lagged after he converted 43 percent of his shots around the elbows last season. He’s also been strangely incompetent on treys in the right corner, though only 2.1 percent of his attempts have occurred there.
As mentioned above, Lillard has unquestionably stepped up his effort on defense.
Last season, Lillard’s defensive real plus/minus (DRPM) was -1.95, which means he basically cost Portland 1.95 points every night on defense. That ranked 49th out of 72 qualifying point guards and was by far the worst mark among contemporaries such as Paul (1.95), Mike Conley (0.42), Westbrook (0.23), Steph Curry (-0.38) and Tony Parker (-0.40).
He has comparatively been in a different stratosphere this year, posting a 0.57 DRPM. That’s good for 7th in the NBA among point guards, above even Westbrook (0.42), Paul (0.22) and Conley (-1.16).
However, that hasn’t translated to an uptick in traditional defensive stats (namely, steals). While Westbrook is leading the league with 2.3 steals per game, Lillard has 1.4, less than any All-Star guard in the West.
That might be why Lillard is below the All-Star threshold in terms of Player Efficiency Rating (PER). His 21.3 PER ranks 17th in the Western Conference, below every backcourt player who will represent the West in the All-Star Game.
Still, one could easily say that Lillard got jobbed this season and wouldn’t receive much pushback from statisticians nor traditional basketball lifers. Small-market veterans have likely been reaching out to Lillard over the past week to console him over the perceived snub.
On a related note, Lillard has decided not to defend his Skills Challenge title in New York. So one year after he became the first player in league history to participate in five different events, we won’t be seeing the pride of Portland at all during All-Star week in the Big Apple. That’s a massive bummer.
The bright side? If Lillard takes another noticeable leap in one of the above facets of his game, or another fan-friendly stat like points per game, we’ll probably have the joy of seeing him compete in the main event for years to come.
PointAfter is part of the FindTheBest network, a research website that’s collected all the information about Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.
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