Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

IPPOLITO: Lillard Was Wrongly Snubbed

Beginning with its annual All-Star Weekend in New York City next week, the NBA will become the focus of the sporting world.

The All-Star teams, whose last players were announced Jan. 29, offered few surprise selections. Players and teams alike are irritated by perceived snubs that are bound to happen, especially in the star-studded Western Conference, but the exclusion of Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is unequivocally wrong.

There were essentially three chances to give Lillard a spot: the fan vote, coaches’ selection and injury replacement selections. His omission in the first phase — the fan vote — and third phase — when Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was replaced with Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins — were justifiable. The fan vote only gives two spots to guards, and Cousins, who ranks seventh in the NBA with 23.7 points per game and is third in the league with 12.5 points per game, was also a deserving All-Star candidate.

However, when coaches selected the reserves for each conference, Lillard was once again passed over, and this is truly baffling and perhaps unwise.

The All-Star game is an opportunity to acknowledge stellar performances in the current year, and in Lillard’s third season in the NBA, he has fit the bill. The 24-year-old guard is averaging 21.7 points, 6.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. His scoring average places him fourth in the league among qualified point guards, behind superstars Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.

Nevertheless, when the coaches had the opportunity to insert Lillard into the All-Star roster for the Western Conference, they selected other players, including Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook.

Yes, Kevin Durant is either the greatest or second-greatest basketball player when he is fully healthy. However, as Hall of Famer Charles Barkley rightfully said, “[The all-star game] isn’t a lifetime achievement award.”

While his on-court performance is consistently All-Star-worthy, Durant has not been consistently playing. Injuries sidelined Durant early in the season, and he played in only 21 of the Thunder’s first 46 games. Similarly, Westbrook battled injuries at the beginning of the season and only played in 24 of his team’s first 46 games.

By contrast, Lillard has appeared in every game for the Trail Blazers. According to advanced statistics, he has the eighth-highest win shares, or wins a player is responsible for, in the league with 6.9, while Westbrook has 4.6 and Durant has 3.8.
Durant and Westbrook may lead Lillard in other advanced statistical categories, but the fact that Lillard has started every game and helped his team to a 32-16 record needs to be heavily weighted in the decision-making process.

One can compare Lillard’s defensive statistics with Westbrook’s as justification for the latter’s All-Star selection over Lillard, who has improved greatly on the defensive end. ESPN’s advanced metrics rate him as the third-best point guard in the West in defensive real plus-minus — but he does not have the easily identifiable statistics, like steals, that a player like Westbrook has.

However, Lillard’s value is revealed with his wins above replacement. He is the third best in the West and fifth overall in the NBA at 8.38. This statistic suggests that the Trail Blazers would have nearly 8.5 fewer wins with an “average point guard” instead of Lillard and would be on the brink of missing the playoffs in the West.

While the All-Star snub is problematic in itself, the effects of skipping over Lillard could come back to haunt the rest of the Western Conference in the second part of the season. Lillard, as well as the rest of the Portland team, took offense to his exclusion, but Lillard’s teammates and coaches believe he will use the slight for motivation. Coaches in the West should know firsthand how talented Lillard is — his buzzer-beating three-pointer in the playoffs sent Kevin McHale’s Houston Rockets home last season, and he scored 43 points last week against the San Antonio Spurs.

It is almost impossible to say or predict what any extra motivation will translate to, but one cannot help but think it could matter.

In the long run, All-Star games do not really matter that much, but top-tier players deserve to be recognized for their work. Lillard surely will not be the last snub in All-Star history, but that does not make his omission any less wrong.

Michael Ippolito is a sophomore in the College. THE WATER COOLER appears every Friday.

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