Thank you NBA fans. You’ve officially destroyed any drama that I ever got out of the All-Star voting. Not that it really matters. Almost every year, you can bank on certain names garnering the most votes and a starting spot in the Sunday capper of the best midseason weekend in basketball. Kobe Bryant could do his whole “watch what happens when I don’t shoot, world” routine for four weeks straight, and his fans would probably declare he’s the best passer in the world and should be in the game. LeBron James could act like a train off its tracks, and keep up that weird “I’m here, but don’t ask me to do anything heroic” face he’s had on since last June, and fans would still call him the most talented player in NBA history. Blake Griffin could blow out his knee or decide to never dunk again as long as the refs continue to screw him (Watch him complain on every call. Hubie almost had a heart attack last night: “GET BACK ON D! YOU GOTTA GET BACK!”), or he could have both happen, and Quake would still be in February’s ultimate showcase.
By opening night, I could’ve named at least seven or eight of these starters. But you can’t blame me for feeling like I missed out. All I wanted was one voting race, maybe Kevin Love pushing Griffin or Rajon Rondo giving Dwyane Wade or the MVP a run for their money.
Alas, it’s not happening, and you can basically pencil in your All-Star starters right now:
Guards: Derrick Rose (1,040,210 votes), Dwyane Wade (972,015) … next highest â€“ Rondo (394,672)
Forwards: LeBron James (Mia) 972,580; Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 779,945 … next highest â€“ Stoudemire (281,617)
Center: Dwight Howard (Orl) 1,161,797… next highest â€“ Noah (141,683)
Guards: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 1,110,379; Chris Paul (LAC) 835,026… next highest â€“ Rubio (248,423)
Forwards: Kevin Durant (OKC) 973,152; Blake Griffin (LAC) 619,913… next highest â€“ Nowitzki (354,434)
Center: Andrew Bynum (LAL) 777,365… next highest â€“ Jordan (214,883)
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, eventually the real drama will come out of who fills out the rosters. People love to complain about the fan voting â€“ they love to complain more than they love to watch the actual game it seems sometimes â€“ but it’s quite often the coaches who are the ones screwing things up. Remember Jamaal Magloire? Or Dale Davis? Or how about B.J. Armstrong? No one needs to tell Monta Ellis or LaMarcus Aldridge about this either.
If it was up to me, here’s how I would fill out the rest of the lineups:
Easy pick. The Celtics are fighting over ping-pong balls if they didn’t have the cockiest point guard in the league. Rondo’s scoring numbers are way up across the board (15 points a night), and he’s already had a few nights (Christmas Day against New York comes to mind) where he’s shown a somewhat-legit (or at least improved) jumper. Without a healthy Paul Pierce, he’s had more thrown on his plate than ever before. He’s the only thing on that roster standing between the second round and the retirement home for Boston.
He’s been the best player for Atlanta all season, and without Al Horford manning the middle, Smith has had to be consistent and do more of the dirty work. His PER is up to 20.77, partly because he’s shooting better than he ever has (51 percent) and rebounding over nine boards a game for the first time in his career. Smith has been on the edge of getting invited into the showcase for years. His problem all along? Joe Johnson was a legit All-Star, and Horford would normally get invited because of his center status. Smith was always left out because no one wanted three players from a team that hardly anyone took seriously as a contender.
The NBA’s whipping boy has been the one constant for the Heat all season. Wade has been out, LeBron has disappeared in a couple of late games. But Bosh â€“ who proved himself over and over again in the playoffs last season â€“ is putting up slightly better numbers than last year. 20 points, eight rebounds and both of his primary defensive stats (steals and blocks) are each above one per night.
He might not be having the best season for a young Eastern Conference center. I’d give that to Greg Monroe. But Hibbert has finally emerged for a Pacer team that really should be 10-3, except that they checked out after the third quarter last night in Sacramento. The former Hoya is going for 14 points, nearly 10 boards and 1.6 blocks a night on a team that miraculously has seven guys averaging double figures. The numbers aren’t eye-dropping, but he’s had a huge impact on one of the best up-and-coming teams in the league. Plus, he’s a center. That helps.
It wasn’t even two weeks ago that I was ready to march if JJ got chosen into the All-Star Game again. He began this year playing like complete garbage, but over the past week, he’s back to the all-purpose threat ATLiens are used to. 18, four and four a night sounds good, but as his game picks up and with his responsibilities growing without Horford, I don’t see how he doesn’t make it.
This is the worst start he’s had since he was a puppy. He had a stretch last week where he combined for 30 points and 11 rebounds in three games. No one has had a more disappointing start than New York, and STAT is the face of that. He’s struggling to fit in now that Tyson Chandler is crowding the middle, and now that Carmelo Anthony appears poised to challenge Kobe for the record for “Most forced shots/Most possessions turned into a 21 game.” But still, this is a perennial star with a lot of pride, who’s already pissed off he didn’t get named to the USA Team. I’m expecting him to break out of this funk soon and let’s face it: Have someone else throw up 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds and you’d be singing their praises.
Cut to the Toronto fans pumping their fists. While I think if it eventually came down to Bargnani or Deron Williams, the coaches would take the point guard, Bargnani has been balling (22.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 22.38 PER). He even has the Raptor coaches singing his praises as a vocal defensive leader, something I never thought I’d see happen. Eventually, I think D-Will gets in based off his rep, which I can’t completely argue. Everyone knows who the better player is. Right now though, Bargnani has been better, and with both guys playing on terrible teams, that’s all that should matter. So for now, I’ll say Bargs, but without much confidence he’ll get in over the former “Best point guard in the world.” Paul Pierce could also sneak in here if we were sure he was healthy.
He’s the lynchpin for the NBA’s most exciting young team, and has rounded out his game to now include three-pointers (1.9 a game). To me, he still doesn’t get enough credit. I tried to trade Blake Griffin for him straight up in fantasy (I know. It was all a dream…
I used to read Word Up! magazine), and was laughed at. In real life, the difference between the two might be even greater. Love spends his nights bulldozing opposing power forwards, running pick-n-pops with Ricky Rubio and grabbing as many of Wes Johnson‘s wayward jumpers as possible.
My claims early in the season that the Blazers were the best team in the West seem a little too sunny now. But I still believe in the playoffs, no one wants to see Portland. A major reason is Aldridge, who’s become one of the best power forwards in the West almost by default: Dirk is playing every game like he mixed beer and whiskey the night before; Gasol is playing like he was traded, and then forced to come back to the team that didn’t want him anymore (Oh yeah, that actually happened); Z-Bo is out for a while; and Tim Duncan is officially old. Aldridge is scoring 22.5 points a night, with a PER of 22.6, and is sort of owed a selection for last year.
His team sucks? Only 5-9? That didn’t stop me from calling him an All-Star last year, and he’s having arguably the best season of his career this time around. While Stephen Curry is spraining his ankle more often than I used to (and the sounds my ankle makes can be heard across the room), Ellis has kept Golden State’s head above water. He’s still scoring 23 points a night, but his dimes are up to over seven a game. His shooting percentages are down â€“ and normally, I’d have a hard time showing love to someone shooting below 41 percent â€“ but with the way offense has dropped faster than 50 Cent sales, it’s not like he’s alone in his struggles to find the bottom of the net.
The man just got paid, and for good reason. You know you can play when you’re averaging 20.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds for, up until last night, the best team in the league, and still everyone is on you for a slow start to the season. Westbrook was arguably the Thunder’s best player during the regular season last year, and even now, Ric Bucher isn’t the only one saying this man does more to help his team than Kevin Durant does. After a VERY slow start, look at Westbrook’s last five games: 27 points on 52 percent shooting and two steals a night.
The man who picked up an All-Star rep over the summer is now finally starting to actually play like one. Lost amidst the slow start and injuries in Memphis, Gasol is averaging 14.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks as the centerpiece for a team that’s now won four games in a row. People forget: Last year, the lil’ bro only averaged seven boards a night. But in his last 10 games, Gasol has reached double figures every single time.
Yesterday, I made the case that Paul Millsap could be â€“ or should be â€“ an All-Star this year. And while Dirk might not be playing like one right now (17.9 points, 5.5 rebounds a night), I just can’t see one of the best players in the NBA not being there. Nowitzki â€“ who complained earlier today that he’s having trouble bending his knees â€“ will step it up. Dallas has already lost three games in the final seconds. Take away those, and no one is saying a damn thing about the Mavs struggling. A month from now, I can’t see Dirk and Dallas plodding along as slowly as they are right now.
Kyle Lowry/Steve Nash/Millsap
I really couldn’t decide on one of these three. Lowry has had the best season so far â€“ putting up 17, seven and nine, plus 2.2 steals a game – for a Houston team that’s suddenly .500 and looking like a viable threat to sneak into the playoffs. But as my man Aron Phillips says, “He’d be in the Dana Barros category one day.” Nash might have lost another step somewhere along the way, but he’s still skilled enough to toss in 15 and 11 every night while leading the league in assists. And Millsap’s case was outlined yesterday (Pau Gasol? I’m not sure he’ll getting enough touches). All three have something that sticks out about them:
Lowry: He’s been the best of the three
Nash: He has the rep
Millsap: He has the best team
Who do you think will make the All-Star Game?
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