DALLAS (105.3 The Fan) - On Thursday night, NBA Twitter was in an uproar after discovering that Mavericks' superstar guard Luka Doncic was named a starter in next month's NBA All-Star game while Portland's superstar guard Damian Lillard was not.
This exercise was not created as a way to bash Lillard, who undoubtedly is an exceptional player, but to rather point to the facts as to why we believe the fans got it right by voting for Doncic over Lillard.
We present to you our three cases.
Case 1) - Doncic is putting up better numbers
In just his second NBA season, at an age of 20-years-old, Doncic had an out-of-this-world campaign, averaging 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. His performance earned him a starting role in the 2020 All-Star Game and First-Team All-NBA honors.
Fast forward to this season and Doncic is putting up even bigger numbers. The now 21-year-old is averaging 29.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.4 assists per game.
And when you take a deeper dive into the numbers, you'll see it gets even better.
Thus far, Doncic is shooting at a higher clip from the field (47.5% to 46.3%), from three-point range (33.5% to 31.6%), and from the free-throw line (79.5% to 75.8%) this season.
But how do those numbers compare with Lillard's? Let's take a look.
Lillard is averaging 29.8 points per game, 7.7 assists and only 4.4 rebounds per game. On the surface, Doncic is beating Lillard by a large margin in the assists and rebound categories, while Lillard is beating Doncic by less than a point per game in scoring.
Let's dive deeper: Lillard is shooting 45.1% from the field, 38.4% from three, and 93.3% from the line. So when comparing the numbers, you'll see that Doncic is out-shooting Lillard from the field, but is behind the Blazers' star in both 3-point shooting and free-throw percentage.
We're not going to lie, the numbers are close, but Doncic gets the advantage with the much larger assist and rebound totals, and because he's less than a point behind Lillard in scoring average.
Case 2) - Luka is carrying a far heavier load than Lillard
The simple fact of the matter is, the load Doncic has been forced to carry for the Mavericks has been a far greater burden than that of Lillard. From the start of the season, the Mavericks have been a shell of their potential, due largely in part to their injury and COVID-related team issues. Whereas Lillard has had the luxury of his supporting cast remaining mostly intact, Doncic has been forced to play with a piecemeal roster, in which each of the starters has missed at least nine games. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke have been the only players able to see the floor as much as Doncic has this season.
Even when both teams are healthy, Lillard carries a much more dynamic supporting cast, that surrounds him with efficient scorers, three-point shooters, and players who can carry a bit of the load during Lillard's time on the bench. Doncic, on the other hand, cannot rely on the same
Couple that with the fact that the Mavs's only other true scorer in the starting lineup, Kristaps Porzingis, has had significant issues with his consistency all season long, and it is easy to see why Doncic has such a tall task in carrying the Mavericks on a nightly basis. And yes, it is true that Lillard's running mate CJ McCollum has been out of the lineup since mid-January.
But while McCollum was on the floor, he was performing at an All-Star level on a nightly basis, whereas Porzingis has struggled to justify his max contract paychecks through his first 17 games of the season.
Case 3) - The Mavs strength of schedule has been substantially more difficult
Putting aside the statistics and the supporting cast, Doncic also wins the argument based on the strength of schedule comparison between the two teams. Per the Basketball Reference database, Dallas has the second-toughest strength of schedule through their first 28 games, just behind the Detroit Pistons.
In fact, the Mavs already had to play 18 games against playoff contenders, including matchups against both the Lakers (22-8) and the Clippers (21-9), as well as the Phoenix Suns (17-10) three times, and the Warriors (16-13), Nuggets (15-13), and Jazz (24-5) two times each.
The Trailblazers, on the other hand, have been able to coast through the first 28 games of their schedule, facing the league's 24th toughest schedule, with just 13 games against playoff contenders. They have also already faced a multitude of teams with records below .500, such as the Knicks (14-16), Wizards (9-17), and Thunder (11-17) multiple times, as well as the Bulls (12-15), Magic (11-18), Kings (12-16), Cavaliers (10-19), Pelicans (12-16), Rockets (11-17), and Timberwolves (7-22).
Again, this exercise is not meant to slight Lillard, but to point to the facts. We believe the facts speak for themselves.
And if you choose not to look at them, well, blame the NBA because they're the reason Doncic is starting. League rules for the All-Star Game call for the fan vote to be the tie-breaker in any instance where a player has tied when combining the fan vote (50%), media vote (25%) and players vote (25%).
Sorry, folks. Rules are rules.