Well, this is turning out to be quite a day for DeMarcus Cousins.
After being considered one of the most significant omissions from the list of coach-selected reserves for the upcoming 2014-15 NBA All-Star Game, the NBA announced Friday that Commissioner Adam Silver has added the Sacramento Kings big man to the Western Conference squad to take the place of Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers guard was voted to the West's starting lineup by NBA fans, but will miss the game after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff.
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This is the second straight season in which Silver has had to appoint an injury replacement for Bryant on the Western team. Last year, he tabbed New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who was having a monster sophomore season on his way to emerging as a potential MVP candidate, over several other worthy candidates ... including, of course, Cousins. Boogie didn't much appreciate that selection; we're guessing he's much more on-board this time around, as he joins Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson as first-time All-Stars this season.
We probably can't say the same for Damian Lillard, however.
Like Cousins, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard was left off the Western squad by both fans and coaches despite averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game — only six players are putting up at least 21 and 6, and the other five are All-Stars — and leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring for a 32-14 club with the league's No. 11 offense and No. 4 defense.
Unlike Boogie, though, Dame hasn't yet received a special reprieve from the commissioner. For the time being, then — despite all the numbers and records listed above, and despite Lillard ranking as the NBA's third-best player thus far this season by ESPN.com's Wins Above Replacement Player metric and fourth by Basketball-Reference.com's Value Over Replacement Player — he's in line to enter a very exclusive club.
Only four healthy players* have averaged 21 and 6 with a Player Efficiency Rating of at least 21 (Dame's currently at 21.8) without earning an available** All-Star berth — Tiny Archibald in 1971-72, Michael Adams in 1990-91, Stephon Marbury in 2004-05 and Stephen Curry in 2012-13. Lillard would be the fifth.
* Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook missed large chunks of time with knee injuries in 1981 and 2014, respectively.
** Gary Payton and Grant Hill didn't get an All-Star Game during the 1998-99 season due to the lockout pushing the start of the season back to February.
That is, of course, not the kind of history that any player wants to make, and Lillard was justifiably displeased at his omission when he spoke with reporters on Friday morning, according to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:
What was your initial reaction?
"I was surprised. I said it before: I thought I did all I could do individually. I thought my team has been successful. It wasn't something I could control. Everything that I could control to give myself my best shot, I did. It played out how it played out."
Will you use this as motivation?
"I'm definitely going to take it personal. I said I'd be pissed off about it. And I am. I just felt disrespected. Because I play the game the right way, I play unselfishly, I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am toward my teammates, how I am toward the media, how I am toward fans; I think what an All-Star represents in this league, and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I make up all those things. For me to be having the type of season that I'm having, which is better than any one that I've had before, and my team to be third in the Western Conference, I just see it as disrespect. I'm not one of those guys that's going to say, 'Oh, I should be in over this guy or that guy.' I'm not a hater. I've got respect for each guy that made the roster. And I think they deserve to (make the team). But at the same time, I feel really disrespected, and that's just honestly how I feel."
(An angry Lillard adds an extra bit of spice to what was already a super enticing Friday night matchup between the Blazers and the streaking Atlanta Hawks, winners of 17 straight.)
Lillard's feelings are certainly understandable, but I find it difficult to fault Silver too much for selecting Cousins, who's also having a remarkable season.
Boogie ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring (23.8 points per game), third in rebounding (12.3 rebounds per game) and sixth in PER (25.2, comfortably above Lillard's mark) to go with significantly improved defensive work. Sacramento has outscored opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Cousins on the floor, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and has been outscored by a staggering 12.8 points-per-100 with Boogie on the bench. In other words, Cousins' presence is the difference between the Kings playing like one of the five best teams in the NBA and being far and away the worst team in the league.
Lillard's been brilliant, and you can make reasonable arguments for selecting him over Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who has missed 14 games, or Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, although he's been pretty damn good, too. (The real issue here is that the coaches decided to bring reigning MVP Kevin Durant to New York, which on one hand is difficult to justify because he's missed 25 games due to injury, but on the other hand is not because he's Kevin Durant.) But while Lillard comes away as a hard-luck loser, that shouldn't take any of the luster away from Cousins' selection. It's a watershed moment in an at-times tumultuous career, and he's earned it.
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