After the Chicago Bulls officially ruled All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler would miss the next three-to-four weeks with a left knee strain, teammate and power forward Pau Gasol was immediately named by the NBA to fulfill Butler’s All-Star Game duties.
The 35-year-old Spaniard Gasol makes the sixth All-Star roster of his career, and he stands as the only injury replacement between the Eastern and Western Conference rosters, a stark contrast to last year’s teams.
In 2015, four players (Dwyane Wade, Blake Griffin, Kobe Bryant, and Anthony Davis) sat out All-Star Weekend due to injuries and that allowed some deserving players to be honored with the All-Star sash.
This year, Butler’s injury currently stands as the only one to effect All-Star Weekend, leaving the five snubbed players below out of the annual festivities.
Here the five best players who won’t participate in All-Star Weekend.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
Starting with by far the biggest snub, Lillard was in line for his third All-Star appearance. But with Bryant winning the fan vote, the Trail Blazers guard is the odd man out in the West backcourt.
Lillard’s currently sixth in the NBA with 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, and his play has kept Portland in the postseason hunt (half a game out of the West’s final spot) despite the loss of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency last summer.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Hornets
Putting up a career-best 20.4 points with 4.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game, Walker’s rise put Charlotte in early playoff contention and the squad will likely be part of the race in the second half of the season.
Now in his fifth season, Walker’s 42.1 percent shooting is his best since the 2012-2013 season and he’s knocking down a solid 36.9 percent from three.
If not for Isaiah Thomas’ success with Boston or Wizards point guard John Wall’s torrid all-around game, Walker would’ve headed up north to play with the East.
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
Parker’s scoring is down to 12 points per game, his lowest output since his rookie 2001-2002 season, but the dip can easily be attributed to his meager 26.7 minutes per contest. That’s by far the fewest minutes of Parker’s career, but he’s become a more efficient scorer and shooter as a result, knocking down 51.6 percent of his attempts.
Parker’s the unquestioned floor leader and spark plug for the Spurs fourth-ranked offense and the NBA’s second-best squad with a 44-8 record. He’s essentially being penalized for head coach Gregg Popovich’s usual practice of resting his veterans.
Nikola Vucevic, PF/C, Orlando Magic
The glut of guards in the East, coupled with the rise of Pistons center Andre Drummond and a decline in Vucevic’s numbers compared to last season, leave the underrated big man without an All-Star pass yet again.
It’s unfortunate because Vucevic has been one of the most consistent low post players in the league. Over the last four seasons he’s shot better than 50 percent from the field, and he’s routinely among the league leaders in double-doubles.
But more importantly, the Magic are only three games back of snapping there three-year postseason drought and the All-Star selections should reward players for winning.
C.J. McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers
The third-year shooting guard saw his role expand after Aldridge left town, and his increase of 15.7 minutes and three starts last season to 35.1 minutes and 51 starts this year has made McCollum one of the league’s most lethal scorers.
McCollum’s blown away his previous career highs with 20.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per contest, but with so many dominate guards clogging up the West’s roster he’ll have to wait another year.