The third round of NBA All-Star ballot returns does not look especially promising for Damian Lillard. He still ranks just eighth among vote receiving guards in the Western Conference, with an updated total of 162,363 votes. Despite urging fans to vote for younger players, the presently injured Kobe Bryant continues to top the rankings with 844,538 votes in comparison.
Western Conference Backcourt: Third Return
1. Kobe Bryant (Lakers) 844,538
2. Stephen Curry (Warriors) 677,372
3. Chris Paul (Clippers) 651,073
4. Jeremy Lin (Rockets) 471,980
5. James Harden (Rockets) 338,788
6. Russell Westbrook (Thunder) 260,499
7. Tony Parker (Spurs) 195,328
8. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) 162,363
9. Klay Thompson (Warriors) 108,404
10. Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves) 97,265
Western Conference Backcourt: Second Return
1. Kobe Bryant (Lakers) 723,031
2. Chris Paul (Clippers) 533,647
3. Stephen Curry (Warriors) 481,698
4. Jeremy Lin (Rockets) 358,725
5. James Harden (Rockets) 270,476
6. Russell Westbrook (Thunder) 216,070
7. Tony Parker (Spurs) 158,329
8. Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) 105,880
9. Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves) 81,829
10. Steve Nash (Lakers) 81,377
Bryant’s words have not fallen entirely on deaf ears, however, as Stephen Curry has gained nearly 200,000 votes since the second return in order to pass Chris Paul for the number two spot. I will grant that Curry has perhaps outplayed Lillard this season, but not by a margin comparable to their separation in the polls. There are a number of factors keeping Lillard at the bottom.
1. Kobe Bryant is a global icon. It wouldn’t matter if team doctors decided that amputation was the best way to treat his fractured patella, he’d still be voted in. Bryant will undoubtedly be considered one of the greatest of all time when his career is through, and fans from Los Angeles to Madrid won’t allow his 14 consecutive All-Star appearances to be broken up by one season with a bum leg.
2. Chris Paul & Russell Westbrook both deserved to make the team before being sidelined with respective shoulder and knee issues. The votes they have already received will carry them through to February, whether they are healthy enough to take the court or not. If neither can play, perhaps Damian Lillard will have a shot at playing as a reserve.
3. Jeremy Lin represents an entire nation. Remember Linsanity? Of course you do. He had to ask the Taiwanese media to back off of his family so his relatives could leave the house without fans following them. As the only active NBA star of Asian descent, Lin’s appeal extends beyond Taiwanese boundaries to an enormous population of voters. It’s unfortunate that a player’s heritage can play a role in NBA All-Star voting, but 14.1 points per game and 350K+ votes doesn’t veil much.
4. Portland isn’t exactly a large market team. They’re beginning to get more attention, sure, but they cannot rely on the same amount of support that cities/states with a larger populace provide. 7/10 nominees play for teams in either California or Texas. Part of that is coincidental talent dispersal, and the other part is quantity of geographically loyal voters.
5. Damian Lillard just isn’t there yet. I’d certainly place him higher than eight, but cracking three or four wouldn’t be right either. Although Lillard has done amazing things this season, he’s not the only one. The veterans are up there for a reason, as are the youngsters that have emerged to lead their team (Lillard among them). He may yet squeeze his way into the middle of the pack.
There are still plenty of great reasons to vote for Damian Lillard though. He’s the 12th leading scorer in the league right now (4th among guards), he leads the entire NBA in made three-pointers, and he’s only in his second season. I would be a little surprised if he did not make his way to New Orleans as either a wild card selection or a reserve player.
For the All-Star Game, each conference is allowed a 12 man roster consisting of four guards, six forwards, and two wild cards. While the starters are voted by the fans, reserves are selected by the coaches. This means that after the top-two backcourt slots are slated, none of that other stuff matters. Lillard can still make it in on his own merit.
So continue voting for who you think most deserves to play. I suspect that Stephen Curry is enjoying the voter backlash from last year’s snub that has inflated his position. Many of us would like to see Lillard make it this year, but if he doesn’t, he’ll likely receive a snub wave of his own to surf on in 2015. You can vote for your favorite players here, at NBA.com.
*Regarding Jeremy Lin. I recognize that most voters do not actively match their skin tone with a player’s before making decisions on the NBA ballot. That would be silly (though sometimes people do silly things). I intend only to identify a correlation that accounts for the gap between his talent and his ranking.*