The Portland Trail Blazers are in a very unique position this year. No, I’m not talking about playoff contention, though hopefully that will not be considered “unique” for long; I am talking about All-Star selections. Plural. LaMarcus Aldridge has been chosen to participate in the annual NBA All-Star game for two consecutive years now, as the solo Blazer representative, but if Damian Lillard continues to progress, Aldridge may have some home-team company.
It has been 20 years since the Blazers had more than one All-Star in a given season. In 1994, Clyde Drexler and Cliff Robinson were both selected to the team and headed to Minneapolis together. Last year alone the Clippers, Lakers, Thunder, Heat, Bulls, and Knicks sent multiple representatives, but the playing field changes every season.
Now, looking at the guards in the West, chances of Damian squeaking in are still pretty slim. Players like Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrick, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker are shoe-ins; especially with fan voting. But, as proven by the fragility of menisci, ACLs, and Achilles tendons last year, good health is never a guarantee. Brook Lopez would not have seen his All-Star berth without Rondo’s season-ending injury.
It makes sense to me that if any prominent players in the West find themselves unable to compete, Damian Lillard would be among the first in line to join the reserves. If Damian makes any degree of a sophomore leap this season, he will be ready and waiting in the wings. There is even a small possibility of an out-right selection.
Heck, if the competition among the guards is too tight for Portland, a healthy Batum might slip onto the Western Conference roster. He is projected by some to perform very highly this year, and if Luol Deng managed a spot in the East last year, I think Batum has a shot in the West. In 2013, Kevin Durant was the only small forward to represent the western conference, and the spots held by Zach Randolph and David Lee look pretty vulnerable.
On an All-Star team roster, there are twelve spots; (4) guards, (6) forwards, and (2) wildcards. The center position was eliminated last year. Gazing into my crystal ball, I see the Western conference shaping up like so, assuming there are no major injuries:
Guard: Chris Paul
Guard: James Harden
Forward: Kevin Durant
Forward: Blake Griffin
Forward: Dwight Howard
Guard: Tony Parker
Guard: Kobe Bryant
Forward: Kevin Love
Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge
Forward: Marc Gasol
Wild Card: Russell Westbrook
Wild Card: Stephen Curry
Guard: Damian Lillard
Guard: Ricky Rubio
Forward: Tim Duncan
Forward: Nicolas Batum
In a perfect world, voters would recognize Blake Griffin’s ineptitudes, but he’s a human highlight reel based in Los Angeles; he’s going to be a starter. That being said, do you see any fragile players? Paul’s knees, Griffin’s entire body, Howard’s back, Bryant’s Achilles, Love’s hand, Westbrook’s knee, and Curry’s ankles are all weak points. Of course, injuries heal, but basketball isn’t exactly a low-stress activity, and many of those flags could turn red over the course of an NBA season.
If any of those players are not healthy in the month of February, Damian Lillard could find himself participating in more than just the Taco Bell skills challenge, which he won handily last year. There is always a chance that he breaks onto the roster outright, but as much as I like to pull for Portland players, that possibility is still on the outskirts of realistic. If I had to put and early percentage to it, I’d say there is about a 45% chance that Lillard finds his way onto the roster in some capacity, given the number of high-level point guards in the Western conference.