You’ve only got a few more days to vote for LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum to be starters on the 2014 Western Conference All-Star team before polls close on Jan. 20. Both Aldridge and Lillard are in the Top 10 in voting at their respective positions, but neither would make the Western Conference starting lineup if the vote where to end today.
But according to Sam Amick of USA Today, Aldridge should be a starter by virtue of being the best power forward in the Western Conference this season …
Speaking of MVP candidates, the Portland big man who was already considered one of the best in the game has never been better. He’s sixth in the NBA in scoring (a career-high 23.6 points per game) and rebounding (a career-high 11 per) and is averaging a career-high 2.9 assists per game to boot for this Blazers team (28-9) that is the surprise of the season.
Amick lists Aldridge alongside Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard as his Western Conference All-Star starters.
Amick also lists Lillard as one of his “wild-card” reserve picks …
From an out-of-nowhere Rookie of the Year honor last season to the first All-Star appearance that should be coming his way, the player who was drafted sixth overall out of little-known Weber State has exploded on the NBA scene. Beyond the 21.4 points, 5.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, he has fast become one of the most clutch players in the game. Lillard trails only Curry, Harden and Durant in fourth-quarter scoring (6.7 points per in the fourth) and has become a regular at game-winning shots (three this season). His inclusion here will likely depend on Kobe Bryant, who is second among all vote-getters but could – and should – decline the honor so that a deserving talent can take part.
Kobe already told fans they should vote for guys like Lillard rather than for himself, so it stands to reason that Bryant, who has only played in six games this season and is currently sidelined with a knee injury, would pass on the All-Star invite, opening up a spot for Lillard.
Starters for both the West and East starters will be announced on Jan. 23 with reserves, who are voted in by NBA head coaches, will be announced a week later.
Everyone knows that Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was not named to the 2016 Western Conference All-Star team. And most agree, considering his play since being passed over by both the fans and coaches, that Lillard’s snub was by far the most egregious. But Lillard has put it behind him and, with the Trail Blazers fighting with four teams for five available playoff spots, he’s got much more important matters to attend to.
But there’s still the matter of All-NBA teams, which are announced after the end of the regular season. While fans don’t tend to pay as much attention to the All-NBA teams as they do the All-Star teams — which makes sense considering the months of hype that go into promoting All-Star and its associated events — All-NBA teams are much selective, with just 15 spots up for grabs compared to 24 for All-Star teams. And players have to be voted in one of three positions — guard, forward and center — for All-NBA while All-Star positions are broken out only by frontcourt and backcourt players, which makes it more difficult to slip in a deserving player who happens to play at a deep position.
So while it doesn’t get marketed as well, making an All-NBA team is much more of an accomplishment than making an All-Star team. So Lillard might feel a bit of vindication in ESPN’s Kevin Pelton is projecting that the 6-3 point guard out of Weber State will make an All-NBA team this season…
The last All-NBA spot will probably go to Damian Lillard, who is also eligible for a Rose rule boost to his salary next season and beyond if he makes an All-NBA team. As part of his extension with the Portland Trail Blazers, Lillard agreed to cap his possible salary at 27.5 percent of the cap, according to BasketballInsiders.com, which means a difference of approximately $12 million in future salary if he’s chosen All-NBA.
First team: Stephen Curry | Russell Westbrook
Second team: Chris Paul | Kyle Lowry
Third team: James Harden | Damian Lillard
The “Rose rule” mentioned here, which is informally named after Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, is a stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement that allows players signing their first contract after their rookie scale contract to receive salary increases beyond what they would normally be eligible for provided they meet one of three criteria before their new deal kicks in: being named MVP once, an All-Star starter twice or to an All-NBA team twice. Since Lillard made Third Team All-NBA after his sophomore season, being named to the Third Team again after this season would trigger the incentive. That sure beats a few days shivering in Toronto at All-Star Weekend.
(By the way, the Rose Rule max can be for up to 30 percent of the salary cap, so Lillard taking 27.5 percent is rather generous and, along with having no opt outs, speaks to his putting what’s best for the team over what’s best for his gross earning power.)
Now that the stretch run of the NBA season is officially here, it seemed like a good idea to check in on where the Trail Blazers stand in terms of the weekly power rankings. It’s been well over a month since the last time we surveyed the media’s opinion regarding where the Trail Blazers stack up among their 29 contemporaries, so now seemed like as good of a time as any revisit the rankings, especially with Portland riding the wave of a five-game winning streak.
So without any further ado, here’s your latest Power Rankings roundup, which might be the new high water mark for the Trail Blazers this season after starting the year at the bottom of just about every list.
• Marc Stein of ESPN.com has the Trail Blazers at No. 9 this week, which is four spots better than last week and 19 spots better than their ranking at the start of the season…
Hell hath no fury like a Dame scorned (by Western Conference coaches). So much for that 2-9 career record for All-Star snub Damian Lillard against Steph Curry that we were talking about last week. The conversation now has to be about how the Lillard-led Blazers just became the first of five teams to beat the mighty Warriors this season and follow that up with a win in their next game.
While I’m not going to entirely discredit the notion that Lillard is playing with an extra edge after missing the All-Star Game — after all, he DID put up his career high in the first game after the break — Portland had been trending up even before Dame’s snub.
Stein has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 8 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 10.
• John Schuhmann of NBA.com has Portland at No. 10 this week, two spots better than last week and 15 spots better than their initial ranking…
Pace: 97.6 (18) OffRtg: 105.0 (7) DefRtg: 104.3 (18) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
Damian Lillard dropped 51 on the champs on Friday, Lillard and C.J. McCollom each went for 30-plus in Sunday’s huge win over the Jazz, and the Blazers have averaged 120 points over their last four games. But they also have the league’s third best defense over the last month, and only two of the 11 games in that stretch were against bottom-10 offenses. They play three this week, but also have another big game against the Rockets.
Portland went 9-5 in January, but many of those wins came at home against sub-.500 teams, prompting some to question whether the Trail Blazers’ success was due to improved play or had just hit an easy stretch of the schedule. But having won five-straight, all against teams with at least .500 records, has rightly quieted that skepticism.
Schuhmann has the Trail Blazers behind the Pacers at No. 9 and ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 11.
• Jeremy Woo of SI.com has Portland at No. 11 this week, five spots better than last week and 17 spots better than their preseason ranking…
League Pass brethren, please, please go back and watch Damian Lillard decimate the Warriors. Even better: The entire team is clicking, they’ve become a chore to defend, and after falling nine games under .500, the Blazers are 14–3 since Jan. 10.
March will provide ample challenge for the Trail Blazers and their playoff aspirations, but the way they’ve played in during the last month and a half has put them in a position to be optimistic of their chances of making their third-straight postseason.
Woo has the Blazers behind the Grizzlies at No. 10 and ahead of the Hawks at No. 12.
• Matt Moore of CBS Sports has Portland at No. 8 this week, two spots better than last week and 22 spots better than the dead last ranking Moore bestowed upon the Trail Blazers to start the season…
Great reminder this week: Never, ever, ever make Damian Lillard mad. His 51-performance vs. the Warriors was the stuff that people talked about for days afterward.
This seems like a great opportunity to thank all of you for checking out our content on this here blog and on TrailBlazers.com over the last week. Strong support from you, our loyal fans.
Moore has the Trail Blazers behind the Raptors at No. 7 and ahead of the Pacers at No. 9.
• Kurt Helin of NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk blog has Portland at No. 10 this week, six spots better than last week…
Winners of five in a row, the Blazers have the best net differential of any team in the NBA over the last 10 games (numbers aided by a 32-point spanking of the Warriors). They are getting it done on both ends. Neil Olshey used the Blazers’ cap space brilliantly at the deadline to acquire picks.
Helin has the Trail Blazers ahead of the Grizzlies at No. 9 and behind the Pacers at No. 11.
• Fox Sports, in rankings posted prior to Portland defeating Golden State and Utah this weekend, has Portland at No. 16 this week, which is one spot better than last week and 12 spots better than their initial ranking…
Ceiling: A whole series against familiar face LaMarcus Aldridge — If Portland can keep pace as the No. 7 seed in the West, they’ll match up with the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. San Antonio emerges victorious in that hypothetical series, of course; the bigger question is whether Damian Lillard will outshine Aldridge, his former teammate who’s been far from his old self with the Spurs.
There are few things I would be less interested in than a “LaMarcus vs. The Trail Blazers” playoff narrative, but I suppose it would be better than missing the postseason all together.
Fox Sports has Portland behind Dallas at No. 15 and ahead of Detroit at No. 17.
• The panel of voters at USA Today has Portland at No. 15 this week, one spot better than last week and 10 better than their initial ranking…
Between his rap song and career-high 51 points vs. the Warriors, safe to say Damian Lillard wasn’t pleased with his All-Star snub.
A lot of people weren’t please with Lillard’s omission, but they all didn’t go out and do something at their job that no one had done before. I guess that’s the difference between professional athletes and the rest of us.
The folks at USA Today have the Blazers behind the Bulls at No. 14 and ahead of the Jazz at No. 16.
• Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report, in rankings post on Feb. 19, has the Trail Blazers at No. 10 this week, two spots better than last week…
The Blazers put their cap space to good use, getting stretch-provision candidate Anderson Varejao and a top-10-protected first-rounder from the Cavaliers in the Frye trade. The move illustrated the benefits of cap room that often go unmentioned: Instead of signing free agents, you can also take on unwanted salary and demand picks for the trouble.
If there’s a criticism to be made here, it’s that the Blazers didn’t do anything to weaken themselves in the short term. Making the playoffs means losing their own first-rounder to the Nuggets.
Still, that’s only a valid complaint if you believe a lottery pick is worth more than the experience a young roster would gain in the postseason—which is a debatable position to take.
Hughes has the Trail Blazers behind the Hawks at No. 9 and ahead of the Mavericks at No. 11.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!