With the slew of injuries that have taken the East’s guards, it has allowed the borderline All-Stars to finally obtain a legitimate chance of making their first All-Star Game.
Consider it as a silver lining for the likes of certain unrecognized guards out of Orlando, Washington and Toronto. The spots would have typically been doled out to the likes of certain point guards that reside in Chicago, Boston and Brooklyn. Instead, we’re going to get a look at some fresh faces, which is nice for a change.
It helps that those three newbies, at least those who I believe deserve to make it, are young athletes that could end up stealing the show. It’s also led the way for there being a new starting point guard to play alongside Dwyane Wade in the backcourt. Although the voters are in charge of who will make it, it’s still extremely arguable on which of the East’s young dynamic point guards should be earning their first All-Star start. Either way, they’ll be joining a starting lineup that should be made up of players from the East’s first and second-best teams.
This article does not take the voters into account. Consider it as more of an opinion piece, rather than a prediction one. For example, Carmelo Anthony will no doubt be given the start in the East’s frontcourt because of the voters, but is he more deserving, leading a 15-25 team, than a certain Indiana Pacers center that has been the cornerstone of the league’s best defense?
This year’s Eastern Conference All-Stars should serve as a dedication to the best players on teams that haven’t received much attention this year. As bad as the East has been, there are players who are making the best out of bad situations and have been putting up numbers that have gone largely ignored.
Nevertheless, there will still be players who are snubbed, as is the case every All-Star Game.
The lack of the usual All-Star guards made it a struggle to compile the final roster, but the new names will also generate some interest and intrigue into the players we may not have heard much about.
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Backcourt: Dwyane Wade
Safe to say that Dwyane Wade is the league’s best shooting guard? Although he’s averaging only 18.9 points, the lowest since his rookie year, he’s doing it on a career-high 54 percent from the field, the ninth highest field goal percentage in the NBA.
The next best field goal percentage among guards? Goran Dragic and his 49 percent conversion rate. It certainly helps to have LeBron James and Chris Bosh taking away some of the attention, but it also helps to be shooting 40 percent on spot-ups, 48 percent on post-ups, and 81 percent on cuts, per Synergy.
Cutting has become a staple of Wade’s game since James joined the squad. With LeBron attracting double-teams, Dwyane’s greatest adjustment has come by way of cutting through the lane and getting open long enough for the eagle eyes of LeBron.
The Heat have had Dwyane in their maintenance program throughout the year, having played him in 30 of Miami’s 40 contests. While he’s appeared disjointed at times, he’s also had some of the more impressive performances by a Heat player this season, including scoring 32 points on 25 shots against Indiana’s top-rated defense.
On top of averaging nearly 20 points on only 14 shots per game, Wade’s also grabbing 4.8 boards, dishing out 4.7 assists, and garnering 1.8 steals per contest. Per 36, he’s in the 20-5-5 club for the third consecutive season.
Although his numbers have been hindered by a near career-low in minutes per game, Dwyane has solidfied himself as the league’s top shooting guard, because there are two sides of the court.
Backcourt: Kyrie Irving
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a disappointment again, but don’t pin any of that on Kyrie Irving.
With so many of the East’s guards out with injuries (Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose), the other backcourt spot is given to Irving by default, even though his stats have actually taken a decline from last year.
The only increase in his numbers from last year have been his assists per, which has only gone up from 5.9 to 6.0. Otherwise, his overall shooting percentage, three-point percentage, points, rebounds and steals have all dropped from his second season.
Nevertheless, Irving is still one of the league’s premier perimeter players, averaging 21.5 points and 6.0 dimes per contest, while shooting 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.
When Irving isn’t on the court, the Cavs already anemic offense sees its offensive rating drop from 99.9 points per 100 possessions to a meager 95.5. He’s also been one of the league’s best pick-and-roll players, ranking eighth in the league in points per possession, while shooting 47 percent when used as the ballhandler, per Synergy.
Frontcourt: LeBron James
LeBron James is one of the few players in NBA history who could average 25.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, yet still be accused of and criticized for coasting.
Consider it as a testament to his talent. While it’s true LeBron has seemingly taken certain games off, especially on the defensive end, he’s also putting in one of the most wildly efficient seasons in NBA history. Shooting an absurd 59 percent, LeBron ranks third in the league in field goal percentage.
James is one of two non-power forwards/centers to be in the top ten in field goal percentage. The other is Dwyane Wade. The only other small forward that comes close to matching LeBron’s shooting percentage is Chandler Parsons, who is only shooting 50 percent.
LeBron is also attempting to become the first player in NBA history to shoot 60 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc, where he’s currently shooting 39 percent.
His true shooting percentage of 67 percent is fourth in the league among those who average at least 20 minutes per game, while his PER of 29 ranks second, only trailing Kevin Durant, who possesses a larger usage rate and has been a part of some of the greatest shooting performances in recent memory.
Perhaps we should be more frightened that LeBron is still arguably the league’s MVP, despite the rumblings of him possibly coasting. The fact that there’s still three months left in the season also doesn’t bode well for future Heat opponents.
Frontcourt: Paul George
For someone who’s only in their fourth year in the league, Paul George has a grasp and a control of the game that was formerly inclusive to only the game’s most seasoned veterans.
George is challenging that. At the age of 23, George is averaging 22.9 points on 45 percent overall shooting and 38 percent three-point shooting, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game, career-highs across the board.
But it’s how he’s able to secure such robust numbers that impress those who view George on the regular. He has a range that extends well beyond the three-point line, is an elite shooter in the midrange (shooting at least 44 percent from every region on the right side of the floor), and has the handles that can get him to the rim at ease.
He also set a career-high for points this season when he scored 43 points, 7-of-15 from three, on 30 shots in a loss to Portland.
It’s the threat of a stretch of three-pointers, however, that George can hit that put fear into Indiana’s opponents. With the team playing such restricting defense, it doesn’t take much on the offensive end for Indiana to separate themselves from their opponent, and it’s a prime reason why the Pacers stand with a league-best 31-7 record.
Included in that incredible start is a 20-1 record at home. While Roy Hibbert‘s defense has heralded this team on one end of the floor, it’s been George’s elite shooting that’s led the way on offense. He is shooting 47 percent on over four catch-and-shoot three-pointers per game.
Frontcourt: Roy Hibbert
It’ll likely be Carmelo Anthony taking this spot because of the voters reluctance to vote for someone more deserving, rather than just a popular name, but Roy Hibbert has proved to be deserving of a starting spot because of his defense alone.
There are few players in the league who command respect like Hibbert does. He’s averaging 2.6 blocks per game, good enough for second in the league, and is holding opponents to 41 percent shooting at the rim on over nine attempts per contest.
No other center who has played a similar number of minutes to Hibbert or has seen as many shots at the rim has yielded a lower percentage. At 7-2 and having learned how to play without fouling, Hibbert has become a frontrunner for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
Hibbert is also the anchor for a Pacers defense that yields only 92.6 points per 100 possessions. The next best defense, the Chicago Bulls, yields 98.1 points per 100 possessions by comparison. There is a greater gulf between the Pacers and Bulls than there is between the Bulls and the 13th-ranked defenses of Washington and Minnesota.
On top of being an impenetrable force of nature, Hibbert is also averaging 12.4 points on 47 percent shooting to go along with 7.7 rebounds per.
The Pacers are a plus-14.3 when he’s on the court and are giving up only 91.6 points per 100 possessions on defense. When he’s off, however, the Pacers are only a plus-2.3 and are yielding 94.3 points per 100 possessions.
No other player on the Pacers, including Paul George, has a higher dropoff when they’re taken off the court.
He’s experiencing career-lows in points and rebounds per, yet it’s more arguable than ever that Chris Bosh is the league’s best power forward.
Yes, despite averages of only 16 points and 6.7 rebounds per, mainly because of a usage rate of 22.8 percent, it’s legitimately fair to declare Bosh as the league’s top player at the four. Because when you put together games like the one he had against Portland, where LeBron James sat out and Bosh was largely in control of the tempo throughout, it becomes apparent that Bosh’s numbers are only a result of his decreased role, not because of a decline in talent.
He continues to prove to be Miami’s most important player, stretching the floor as well as any other player at his position can and shooting 47 percent on spot-up opportunities, per Synergy. He’s also shooting 54 percent when used as the pick-and-roll man, 49 percent on post-ups, and 57 percent off-screens.
His defense also continues to be a new, underrated aspect of his game. He’s averaging over a block per game for the second year in a row and recently had a five-block game against Philadelphia, making it the first time since 2007 he’s had such a performance.
Despite having Al Horford for only 29 games this year, the Atlanta Hawks have been able to maintain as one of the few teams in the East with a winning record at 20-19. This response to adversity has been facilitated by newcomer Paul Millsap, who has filled in nicely in his new abode of Atlanta.
Millsap is posting up 17.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, while also unleashing a refined three-point shot. After having taken only as much as 39 three-pointers the year prior, Millsap has attempted 101 three-pointers this year and has converted on 39 percent of them.
He also had a shooting performance against Miami this year that rekindled memories of a similar game he had as a member of the Utah Jazz. This time around, he shot 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
He’s also emerged as one of the league’s top pick-and-roll players, shooting 49 percent, and utilizers of the post-up, where he shoots 45 percent.
He has already put together games of 33 points and 13 rebounds in a win over Charlotte, as well as a 34-point, 15-rebound performance in a win over Boston.
Stars who lead extremely underwhelming 15-25 teams don’t deserve starts, but Carmelo Anthony will end up earning one because of his name alone.
It’s been a rough year for Anthony and the New York Knicks. They entered the season with lofty expectations after garnering a two-seed last year and advancing to Game 6 of the semifinals, but have disappointed immensely with vastly uninspired brands of basketball, only aided by Tyson Chandler‘s injury limiting him to 16 games.
Anthony has done all he can. So much so that it ends up costing his team as he’ll still attempt the wayward jumpers that end up hindering his team late in games, rather than helping. Still, he’s averaging 26 points per game, second in the league behind Kevin Durant, on 44 percent shooting and a career-high 39 percent from beyond the arc.
Many of those points are coming in the paint, where he’s dominating with his back to the basket. Per Synergy, he ranks 16th in the league in points per possession on post-ups and is shooting 47 percent on the play that makes up over 23 percent of his offense.
Because his footwork is so impeccable and he’s so quick off the dribble, Anthony continues to remain as arguably the league’s top scorer and toughest guard.
The nine rebounds he’s garnering is also a career-high, as is the 86 percent free throw shooting. All of these numbers come in a year where Carmelo is leading the league in minutes per game, playing 39 minutes per contest in a season where his team may not even make the playoffs.
You almost want to beg DeMar DeRozan not to go the route of Vince Carter or Chris Bosh and spurn the Toronto Raptors once he’s met with a lucrative contract from a more attractive franchise.
DeRozan could end up being the exception, especially with how well he has performed this year as the Raptors’ new primary scoring option following the departure of Rudy Gay. With Gay no longer in the lineup, the Raptors have emerged as one of the league’s top defensive units, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency, and are no longer bogged down by iso-ball.
Since Gay departed on December 6, the Raptors have gone 14-7, with four of those losses coming to the likes of San Antonio, Indiana and Miami. The losses to the Pacers and Heat came by a combined 12 points.
DeRozan has played a heavy role in the Raptors tunaround since their blockbuster trade. He’s stepped up to the occasion, averaging a career-high 21.2 points on 42 percent overall shooting and a career-high 30 percent from beyond the arc, as well as 4.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
He’s also one of the league’s top defenders, per Synergy, holding opponents to 33 percent overall shooting and 30 percent three-point shooting. He’s also limiting assignments to 31 percent shooting on spot-up opportunities and 34 percent to ballhandlers in the pick-and-roll.
Owner of one of the highest scoring games this year, a 43-point effort in early December, and one of the few reasons why the Orlando Magic are lucky enough to have even ten wins, Arron Afflalo will end up as the most fortunate recipient of a spot that would not be available to a player in his position.
Afflalo’s going to be the one to take full advantage of the injuries in the East. He’s also taken advantage of the lack of scoring options on a Magic team that’s deep in its rebuilding stage.
The former afterthought of Detroit’s has become one of the league’s top perimeter threats, shooting 42 percent and making over two three-pointers per contest and making a name for himself as a feared catch-and-shoot player with range beyond the perimeter.
The 43 points Afflalo scored was the second-most points scored this season by someone not named Kevin Durant. It came in an overtime loss to Philadelphia where he played 52 minutes and made five of his 13 three-point attempts.
He’s gone for at least 30 points four times this season and has hit as many as eight three-pointers in a single game.
It has been a year of improvement and coming into his own for John Wall. After showing only a slight maturation in his game over the first three years of his career, Wall has appeared to finally made the jump to a legitimate All-Star.
And it’s not all because of the injuries to many of the East’s guards, either. Wall has earned this spot. He’s garnering career-highs across the board in a year where he’s attempting to lead the Washington Wizards to their first playoff appearance since 2008.
The Wizards would be a five-seed if the season ended today. It turns out that having a healthy team helps your case a lot, especially in the one involving a healthy backcourt of Wall and Bradley Beal.
Wall, who is averaging 19.8 points and 8.6 assists per game, has shown the most improvement in his jumper. Two years after making only three of his 42 three-point attempts, Wall is shooting a modest 32 percent from beyond the arc. However, he may be taking those shots too frequently, as he’s attempting nearly four per game.
Despite his speed, Wall’s averaging only six drives per game, only 33rd in the league. That hasn’t impared his passing ability, however, as he’s emerged as one of the league’s top passers behind Chris Paul. He’s fourth in the league in assists per game and in points created by assists per game. He also ranks third in the league in passes per game at 73. Wall’s ability to penetrate and move the ball has led to the Wizards ranking seventh in the league in assist ratio.
Once again, the Chicago Bulls are an average team, even though they should be absolutely abominable.
They’re propped up by two factors. One, their coach, Tom Thibodeau, will consistently get his players to exert a maximum amount of effort in their minute-heavy games. Two, one of those players happens to be Joakim Noah, an elite defender and rare talent when it comes to centers.
The rangy big has helped lead the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to an 18-20 record behind averages of 11.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. If he keeps it up, which is extremely probable, it’ll be the fourth time in the past five years he’s averaged a double-double.
Once again, Noah is making a name for himself on the league’s second-best defense. Per Synergy, he’s holding pick-and-roll men to 34 percent shooting, those who post-up to 45 percent, and isolation utilizers to less than 40 percent. He’s also limiting opponents to 44 percent shooting on seven attempts at the rim per contest.
On sheer effort alone, Joakim deserves a second consecutive nod.
Just missed out: Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Andre Drummond, Joe Johnson, Kyle Lowry
Who do you think will make the East All-Stars?
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