The starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game were announced last week. As usual, the fans got it wrong: Kobe Bryant (6 games, 13.8 PPG) and Kyrie Irving (42.8% shooting, 16-29 record in the putrid Eastern Conference) have no business being in the starting lineups.
Tonight, the reserves will be announced. Who should be selected?
Let us ignore the East – with all due respect to the likes of Paul Millsap, Arron Afflalo and Kyle Lowry – and skip straight to the ultra-loaded and more meaningful West, where there are far more deserving candidates than there are available All-Star roster spots.
After much deliberation, here are the seven players – three frontcourt, two backcourt and two wild cards – who should join Kobe, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin on the squad:
Stats: 46 games, 24.3 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 blocks, 47.1% FGs, 33-13 record.
Coming into this season, Aldridge was averaging 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds for his career and had missed the playoffs more times than he had made them. In short, he struck me as an ever-so-slightly-richer man’s Shareef Abdur-Rahim. This year, he has blown that perception out of the water by becoming a top 5 scorer and rebounder whilst leading one of the top 5 teams in the league. His mid-range shooting and ability to read and react out of the high screen-and-roll is the foundation of the Blazers’ league-leading offense (109.5 points per 100 possessions).
Stats: 45 games, 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 48.3% FGs, 39.3% 3-pt FGs, 26-21 record (25-20 in the lineup).
Dirk is averaging his highest PER (23.8) since ‘07/08 and has the Mavs sitting 8th in an ultra-loaded West despite his best teammates being Monta Ellis, a 35-year-old Shawn Marion and a 37-year-old Vince Carter. This will be his 12th All-Star appearance.
Stats: 40 games, 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 blocks, 48.8% FGs, 15-29 record (15-25 in the lineup).
Boogie is 10th in the league in scoring, 5th in rebounding, 6th in PER (26.7), and recently correctly called out Chris Paul for being a flopping cheater. The latter alone is enough to earn him a spot in my book. The coaches don’t like to reward players with maturity issues and poor win-loss records, but Cousins has become a less toxic locker room presence is a walking double-double. No player in NBA history has ever missed the All-Star Game whilst averaging at least 22, 11 and a block over at least 64 games. There is undeniable historical precedent here: Boogie belongs.
Stats: 42 games, 18.1 points, 6.2 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 50.9% FGs, 43.5% 3-pt FGs, 33-13 record (29-13 in the lineup).
If you could vote a team system and coaching staff to the All-Star Game, it’d be San Antonio’s every single year. But only the players receive such love, and Parker shall represent the Spurs for the sixth time. He continues to lead them in scoring and assists whilst shooting 52% from 2-point range and a ridiculous-for-his-size 56% in the restricted area, his bread and butter. C’est la vie.
Stats: 34 games, 19.6 points, 11.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 steals, 46.4% FGs, 33-15 record (22-12 in the lineup).
Missing 14 games (29% of the schedule) hurts Cheating Chris Paul’s case, and the fact that the Clips are 11-3 in those games has not gone unnoticed, but he remains the best pure point guard in the league and is putting up the third highest PER of his career (27.4, third behind LeBron and Durant). He was the MVP of the game last year; he cannot be excluded from this one.
Stats: 37 games, 20.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 3.3 blocks, 51.9% FGs, 19-26 record (16-21 in the lineup).
Perhaps the best end-to-end big man in the league and a future MVP candidate, Davis is already a stud. His 22-point, 19-rebound, 7-block game versus Orlando this week was the latest statement of his all-round brilliance. Only Alonzo Mourning as a rookie ever missed the All-Star Game whilst putting up at least 20, 10 and 3 blocks over at least 64 games.
Stats: 40 games, 23.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 44.4% FGs, 32.1% 3-pt FGs, 31-17 record (25-15 in the lineup).
Harden leads the Rockets in minutes, scoring and assists. Despite the addition of Dwight Howard, Houston continues to hang its hat on an offense that is 6th best in the league (107.3 points per 100 possessions) and continues to revolve around the bearded one’s 3-point shooting and ability to create off the dribble and get to the rim.
With apologies to:
Stats: 48 games, 18.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.7 blocks, 57.1% FGs, 31-17 record.
Dwight remains a top 5 rebounder but is no longer the defensive anchor he was four years ago and is just 25th in the league in PER. The historical statistical case for his inclusion is less compelling than for both Cousins and Davis. Four different times a player has averaged at least 18, 12 and a block over 74+ games and not made the All-Star Game. In Dwight’s favour is the Rockets 6-2 record without Harden, and his durability – he has yet to miss a game this season. By all means, Dwight would make the squad in most other seasons – or if he was in the East. And he may still do so if the coaches hold Boogie Cousins’ prior issues against him. Not in Dwight’s favour is that he was thoroughly outperformed by Cousins in two December losses to the Kings.
Stats: 46 games, 20.6 point, 5.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 41.7% FGs, 41.3% 3-pt FGs, 33-13 record.
Lillard has established himself as a ballsy clutch performer, general bad-ass and the emotional leader of the Blazers. He is also just the fourth player in league history to shoot as well he is shooting on at least seven 3-point attempts per game. Don’t feel too bad for Lillard missing the cut though; he will probably end up making the squad by virtue of Kobe being out and requiring an injury replacement.