The NBA All-Star captains and starters will be revealed on Thursday night on TNT’s NBA Tipoff at 6 p.m. ET, as the final results of fan voting (and player and media voting) are made public. Those 10 players, including the two captains, will be assured of their place on the All-Star roster, while 14 others will await their fate with the coaches and wild card votes still to come.
There are some that are mortal locks to be announced on Thursday night. Those would be the likes of LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, all of whom have been well ahead of the pack in fan voting. The other spots will be a little less assured, although there will likely be few major surprises when starters are announced.
One of the names that will almost certainly not be called out on Thursday by the TNT crew is Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. Lillard is having yet another very good season, averaging 25 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game on a 43/35/92 split. Those numbers put him in the conversation for the All-Star team, but after being left off the roster the past two years, Lillard has grown accustomed to being overlooked.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t frustrate him, but as he told ESPN’s Chris Haynes, when he sees someone like Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball above him in fan voting, he understands the outside dynamics that make that happen.
“He plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most, if not the most, storied franchises in that big of a market,” Lillard explained to ESPN. “So, so many people are going to support him throughout that, and also with his dad and all the attention that’s been surrounding him since college. There’s a lot of people that follow him, so, that’s not really a surprise to me. The market size and what’s going on with his family, it’s no surprise really to me.”
While Lillard is understanding of why he might not make the list in fan voting, he still is frustrated by the feeling that he’s perpetually overlooked for his contributions both by fans and coaches making the final roster decisions on reserves.
“I’ve gotten frustrated just for the fact that it feels like I always got to be the fall guy and every other guy has been deserving,” Lillard tells ESPN. “In the past, the thing has been, ‘All right, my team has been 10 games under .500 or not in the playoffs,’ but every year we’ve found a way to be in the postseason, and this year I think we’re in much better position than we have been in the past two seasons that I didn’t make it. I think I’ve gotten over the emotional part of it the last few times that I didn’t make it. Now I’m kind of like expecting it to go that way, but I feel like I should be there.”
Lillard clearly feels like the goalposts keep being moved on him when it comes to why he’s not being selected. If he’s left off again this year, he’ll once again be asking questions without really good answers. The bigger problem for Lillard may not be that he’s not good enough, but that the Western Conference has a glut of star players, especially in the backcourt, and someone’s going to get left out. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are mortal locks for the All-Star game every year.
One of them will have to be a reserve, taking one of those seven spots and considering guards typically only get three spots on the bench (or, in the case of last year, two) that leaves two spots that Lillard is likely fighting for with the likes of Chris Paul, Klay Thompson and, now, Jimmy Butler. That’s going to be a tough group to crack, although Paul’s inclusion is very much in doubt due to his injury situation earlier in the season, so Lillard might once again be left fighting for a wild card spot and at the mercy of another fan vote.