DeMarcus Cousins named All-Star replacement for Kobe Bryant
Cousins, 24, joins Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, Hawks guard Jeff Teague and Warriors guard Klay Thompson as this year's first-time All-Stars. Cousins will take Bryant's place on the Western Conference roster.
SI.com had selected Cousins as one of this year's biggest snubs when the rosters were finalized Thursday. Procedurally, a fan vote determines the starters, a coaches vote determines the reserves and NBA commissioner Adam Silver appoints any injury replacements. Cousins earned the nod over former All-Stars Damian Lillard (Blazers), Dwight Howard (Rockets), and Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks).
From an individual production standpoint, few players this season are more deserving of an All-Star nod than Cousins, who is posting career numbers in his fifth year. The 6-foot-11 center is averaging 23.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals this season and he ranks No. 8 overall in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). His value to the Kings is easy to demonstrate: Sacramento is 14-18 (.438) with him on the court and just 2-10 (.167) without him. His +6.4 net rating is the best mark among the team's rotation players.
Although SI.com felt Cousins should have been selected as a reserve, his appointment by Silver comes as a surprise. Lillard was the more "conventional" candidate for Bryant's spot: he was an All-Star last year, he hasn't missed any time due to injury (while Cousins missed an extended stretch with an illness), he has strong traditional (21.8 PPG, 6.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.3 SPG) and advanced (No. 6 overall in Win Shares, No. 6 among point guards in PER) numbers and he has helped lead the Blazers to one of the league's best records (while the Kings are below-.500 again).
The best argument for Cousins over Lillard and the other available candidates is that he's been at the pinnacle of his position this season. Cousins joins Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, who was selected as a starter for the West, as the most productive true centers during the 2014-15 season. The NBA press release announcing his selection also took care to point out that his 23/12 averages put him in a class with David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love as the only players to do so in the last 20 years.
Perhaps Silver's selection should be viewed as an olive branch, too. Cousins has made progress in repairing his reputation, which coalesced as an immature malcontent earlier in his career, and Cousins' selection sends a message that he was being judged on the merits of his performance, and not other history or assumptions that may or may not have played a role in the coaches vote.
For Lillard, who participated in five events at 2014 All-Star Weekend and received an endorsement from Bryant last year, this counts as a tough snubbing. The 24-year-old point guard has raised his game on both ends, guided Portland through multiple injury issues and delivered repeatedly in late-game situations. The Oregonian reported Friday that Lillard was "surprised" and felt "really disrespected" by his omission. Working against Lillard, clearly, was the fact that he was fighting for a selection at this year's deepest position: West backcourt. All of the players selected in that category -- Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and Thompson -- had compelling cases. Once the coaches decided to select Thunder forward Kevin Durant, even though he has missed more than half of the season to date due to injury, the press for roster spots was on and a true snubbing was inevitable.
The 2015 All-Star Game is set for Madison Square Garden in New York City on Feb. 15.