The NBA All-Star Game has always had its fair share of snubs, so much so that the moniker has lost a bit of its bite. That's what happens when fans vote—this year was the first time the media and players split the other half—on the starting team every year. The masses don't always make the right call, often relying on a player's retroactive popularity over his actual on-court production in the first half of the season. If history is any indication, those overlooked for the league's annual midseason showcase usually take the slight as motivation to pulverize the competition after the weekend's festivities and then some. Given this history of dominating performances after an All-Star rebuff, the fact that Russell Westbrook just missed out on starting in the Western Conference backcourt, despite his Herculean effort in the season's first half—leading the league in scoring and averaging a triple-double every night—could be the perfect storm that inspires him to even more brain-shattering stat lines.
All-Star snubs taking aim at the opposition is as old as the game itself. True, the players we're looking at are so talented that to somehow equate their omission from All-Star proceedings as the catalyst for that stardom might seem foolhardy. But the performances immediately after getting the cold shoulder from coaches and fans sure does line up nicely with a theory of motivation by personal slight.
Steph Curry may have kept Westbrook off the starting lineup with his dominance in the fan vote, but he knows all too well what it feels like to get the short end of the stick. A pre-MVP Curry was left off the 2013 All-Star squad when the coaches voted for Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, and James Harden as alternate guards. This despite the fact the Warriors were the biggest surprise in the West that year, and Curry was their most valuable player after shooting better than 45 percent on over seven three-point attempts per game. Is it any wonder then, that he had his breakout moment later in February, dropping 54 on the Knicks in the Garden?
The next year, Curry was an All-Star starter and one season removed from an MVP and an NBA title (see?). It was Anthony Davis's turn to be snubbed and respond in kind. Brow was in his sophomore season at that point, and already leading the league in blocks while averaging 20.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in the season's first half—despite being the only Pelicans player opponents needed to focus on. He also missed seven games with an injury and was only named as an alternate because Kobe Bryant couldn't go.
Brow made sure NBA fans and coaches—who select the alternates—knew he deserved to be there with a scorching March, though. From March 4-24, he averaged 31.3 points, 13.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.0 steals per game (per NBA.com), leading the woeful post-Chris Paul Pelicans to a record of 7-2 in that stretch. Like Curry the year before, Davis wasn't left off the team the next season, and he's again the starter this February in New Orleans.
Damian Lillard has been left off the West squad the last two seasons, after earning his first appearance in the 2014 game—where he made history by competing in all five competitions that weekend. Lillard was picked as an alternate in 2015 (only after Blake Griffin went down—DeMarcus Cousins got the first alternate spot), but the disrespect was clearly still felt, particularly when you see what he was doing in crunch time:
The chip on Lilliard's shoulder only deepened the next season when he was again left off the squad in a Western Conference loaded at the guard position, and he wasn't proffered a reserve spot in Toronto, either. So, how do you think it went for Dame's opponents in mid-February? He basically started shooting fire out of his hands like a ticked-off sorcerer leading up to the weekend in Toronto and beyond.
In his first game after the All-Star Weekend, Dame dropped 50 on the 73-win Warriors to hand them one of their ten losses on the year, and led the undermanned Blazers to a 7-4 record while averaging a ridiculous 33.5 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 41.9 from beyond the arc. The Blazers, who had lost four starters from the previous year, somehow made the playoffs, and an angry Lillard led them past the shorthanded Clippers in the first round. The Portland point guard even stole a game off the Warriors in the conference semifinals, where he went for 40 in the Blazers' lone win.
The history of All-Star retribution has already continued in 2017, despite the announcement of All-Star reserves on TNT last week. Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe and Hornets guard Kemba Walker, neither of whom have ever been selected as All-Stars, erupted for big games in wins over the Raptors this past week, a Toronto team with DeMar DeRozan starting as the Eastern Conference off-guard. Maybe Walker and Bledsoe will follow a similar retaliatory trajectory as Curry, Davis, and Lillard.
You might tut-tut that we've highlighted three transcendent stars as examples, but all three were left off the team. Their star wattage just wasn't bright enough yet for voters, and hindsight is always 20/20. All three were snubbed and all three went out and wrecked havoc on opponents as they ascended to a higher tier in NBA's superstar hierarchy.
This brings us back to Russ, who was spurned for a starting spot during a historic season already marked by vengeance. Westbrook will get to be in New Orleans from February 17-19 as a reserve, but looking at the way some players have responded to being left out, the two-time All-Star Game MVP could very well snap after the week is up and obliterate even further what we think is possible for one man in 48 minutes of NBA action. It shouldn't surprise anyone if he guns for a third All-Star MVP, too. On Monday, in his first game since the announcement, he went off for 38, 10, and 10 and hit the game-winner against the Jazz.
At this point, we all know that Westbrook is already averaging a triple-double on the year and keeping his team clinging to a home playoff berth in the West despite (or perhaps because?) Kevin Durant skipped town. What happens when that same guy gets loaded with even more motivational ammo?