My All-Star ballot
Jim Brighters - NBA Editor|
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Congratulations, NBA fans.
I don't think you did a terrible job in voting for the NBA All-Star Game starters. That was a compliment. With 10 choices, you did brilliantly for nine of them.
The fans chose Golden State's Steph Curry and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant in the backcourt, alongside New Orleans' Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin and Memphis' Marc Gasol.
In the East, it'll be John Wall of the Washington Wizards with Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors in the backcourt. Some guy named LeBron, Pau Gasol of the Chicago Bulls and Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks will be the frontcourt.
Bryant shouldn't start. We all know this. But, fans vote and that's what we get. For a while, I championed an idea of voting spectators being forced to pass a written exam to earn the privilege of All-Star selecting, but it seemed snobby.
I had no problem with Anthony, namely because I don't know an Eastern Conference frontcourt player who was disrespected by not getting the job over Melo, who, by the way, is playing in his home arena for the All-Star game.
With Kobe starting, it takes away the gig from James Harden, who rightfully deserves it. That's not the case with Melo, plus the Bryant injustice will be righted since he tore his rotator cuff and will most likely miss the game on Feb. 15.
The shocker was Lowry getting in ahead of Dwyane Wade. A late push sent the Raptors point guard to his first All-Star game and he'll start, nonetheless.
That makes the Eastern Conference reserves a little trickier. Does Wade still get in or does this open the door for a fourth Atlanta Hawks player, namely, Kyle Korver? (Late spoiler alert - I have three Hawks.)
The other question in the Western Conference is how many old-guard players get the vote? In other words, do the coaches even bother to pay attention or just select Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki out of habit? Both are having good seasons on good teams, but are there are better candidates?
With that, here is who I would vote for if I was a head coach in the NBA. I need two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards. Some were harder than others, feelings will always be hurt, but here's my picks. And remember, this isn't necessarily who I believe will get the nods, although I don't actually think it's going to be far off.
WESTERN CONFERENCE BACKCOURT
JAMES HARDEN, Houston Rockets; RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden is the MVP of the league, so let's save time and not detail why he should go to New York.
Westbrook has played 28 games and it's enough for me. He's averaging a staggering 25.1 points per game at the point guard position, but he's also posting 7.4 assists per game, which is a half an assist higher than last season. Westbrook is dominating games for the Thunder, while still allowing Kevin Durant to be himself. Plus, Westbrook is a premiere defender who can wreak havoc on a game from that side of the floor. He leads the NBA in steals and has done enough to get the call.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FRONTCOURT
LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, Portland Trail Blazers; DEMARCUS COUSINS, Sacramento Kings; TIM DUNCAN, San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge is a no-brainer and the Blazers are having a fantastic season. They deserve representation and Aldridge is having another amazing campaign. He's averaging 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 51.2 percent from 3-point range, although the sample size is small. He's out for the next 6-8 weeks, so he'll need a replacement, but should get a unanimous nod.
Cousins ranks fourth in the league in scoring and third in rebounding. Those are strong positions and the knock on Cousins will be the Kings' record, which is 16-26. However, Cousins missed 11 games, mostly because of a serious illness, and Sacramento's record with him in the lineup is 14-17. That's respectable and his numbers are outstanding enough to warrant inclusion.
Duncan was the toughest choice in the West. Durant only played 19 games to this point and it's just not enough. Plus, are we comfortable having two OKC players in the game when it isn't even a postseason team? Duncan has missed only five games and he's playing the most minutes a night since the 2009-10 season. Duncan is averaging 14.7 ppg, which is down from seasons past, but he's also getting 10.0 rpg and is a legitimate NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Normally, I frown on lifetime achievement awards in All-Star selections, but he's anchoring a San Antonio team still entrenched in the postseason.
WESTERN CONFERENCE WILD-CARDS
DAMIAN LILLARD, Portland Trail Blazers; KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State Warriors
Lillard's scoring is up. His assists are up. His rebounding is up. His steals are up. His field-goal percentage is up. And all those numbers are up after a season in which he made the All-Star team. Portland is great, so it's pretty simple to pencil Lillard into the game.
Thompson is the second-best player on the best team in the conference. Simply put, the Warriors deserve two All-Stars and Thompson deserves to be the other one. He's averaging 21.9 ppg and every other statistical category shows significant increases from last season. Thompson is fifth in 3-point shooting percentage and has become an elite wing defender.
BONUS WESTERN CONFERENCE INJURY REPLACEMENTS FOR KOBE BRYANT AND LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
KEVIN DURANT, Oklahoma City Thunder; MONTA ELLIS, Dallas Mavericks
I feel much better putting Durant in as a replacement. The 19 games is not enough, but his impact on the Thunder is undeniable. Plus, he's the second- best player in the league, thus, a case can be made for his inclusion automatically (plus, I think the coaches are putting him in, no matter what).
You may have noticed there are no Dallas Mavericks previously listed. They are the best team without representation to this point and Ellis, not Nowitzki, is the most deserving Dallas player. Ellis averages 20.0 ppg, 4.5 apg and shoots 33 percent from long range. He's been ignored for All-Star games in the past because of the perception he's just a scorer, but his season and a half in Dallas proved he's more.
OTHERS UNDER CONSIDERATION: DIRK NOWITZKI, Dallas Mavericks; CHRIS PAUL, Los Angeles Clippers; MIKE CONLEY, Memphis Grizzlies
EASTERN CONFERENCE BACKCOURT
JIMMY BUTLER, Chicago Bulls; JEFF TEAGUE, Atlanta Hawks
Butler is an obvious choice. In just a minute more per game, Butler's scoring is up 7.4 ppg, his assists are up 0.6 a night and his rebounding is 1.1 better. His shooting percentages are 46 from the floor, 35 from 3-point range and 83 from the foul line. Butler is a stout defender, plays the most minutes in the league and has been the best thing about a Bulls team that is in line to host a first-round playoff series.
Career highs in scoring, assists, rebounding and field-goal percentage make Teague an attractive option. The fact his team is six games ahead in the Eastern Conference helps. Atlanta's dominance is going to send a lot of Hawks to New York and Teague is the most undisputed of them all. He's also a solid defender.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FRONTCOURT
AL HORFORD, Atlanta Hawks; PAUL MILLSAP, Atlanta Hawks; CHRIS BOSH, Miami Heat
This group is admittedly thin. Preseason, we all assumed Kevin Love would be in this mix, if not starting, but the Cavs have underachieved, and, despite very solid numbers (17.7 ppg/10.4 rpg), Love can't be voted in here. There's no rational justification for having three Cleveland players on the roster. Damn. Spoiler alert for the wild cards.
Horford missed most of last season and it was easy to forget he's a two-time All-Star. Upon his return, Horford's numbers are down from seasons prior, but that's because head coach Mike Budenholzer employs a more passing-friendly offense than previous Hawks head coaches. Horford has very good scoring and field-goal percentage stats; however, his rebounding is down considerably from prior campaigns. Still, Horford is the defensive anchor for a team that is first in opponents' scoring.
Millsap is more-polished than Horford offensively and his 3-point shooting has become a legitimate weapon. He's the second-best player on the best team in the conference and that's enough. The Hawks deserve massive representation because they are clearly better than all. Millsap is a guy whose numbers don't jump out at you, but watch him and you'll know he's one of the six best frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference.
Bosh actually emerged as the most obvious candidate. His scoring is up over five ppg since LeBron took his talents home. Rebounding has improved. Assists are better. Three-point shooting is surprisingly strong. Miami still passes for a playoff team in the 2014-15 version of the Eastern Conference.
EASTERN CONFERENCE WILD-CARD
KYRIE IRVING, Cleveland Cavaliers; EH ... I NEED MORE TIME TO THINK
I don't know what to make of Irving's season. With James and Love in town, you'd expect Irving's scoring to go down and his assists would go up. That's false. Irving's scoring is up from last season to 21 ppg and his assists sank from 6.1 per game in 2013-14 to 5.3 in 2014-15. Uncle Drew's field-goal and 3- point percentages are both ahead of last season. It's been a strange campaign in Cleveland, but Irving's numbers and impact are enough to get him into the show, where he won MVP last year.
Wade or Korver?
It's a classic philosophical All-Star debate: Do you reward winning over all else or do you reward better individual achievement, coupled with name recognition?
Here's the case for Wade. He's averaging 21.8 ppg, which ranks 12th. His assists are at 5.5 per game and his rebounding is at 4.0 and those are really impressive posts for a shooting guard. Wade has played 32 games and has Miami in the mix in the Eastern Conference.
However, the Heat are six games under .500. Can we justify having two Miami players with a losing record?
Now, for Korver's case. The Hawks are six games clear of everyone. They've done it in Budenholzer's style, which is Gregg Popovich's style of teamwork and passing. Individually, Korver's scoring is at its highest since the 2006-07 season at 13.1 ppg. His 3-point shooting is an astronomical 53.5 percent, his field-goal percentage is at 51.8 and his free-throw percentage is 92.2. If that continues, Korver will become the second player in NBA history to have a season of 50/50/90 and the other was Steve Kerr, who is, coincidentally the coach of the Western Conference All-Stars. Kerr did it as a bench player. Korver is doing it as a starter. Korver is also the most clutch shooter in the NBA with eye-opening numbers in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Part of me wanted to hedge my bet and get a second Washington player like Marcin Gortat or Bradley Beal in there. Or, maybe Jonas Valanciunas from the Toronto Raptors could justify their strong season with a second selection.
All right, a man has to make tough decisions.
I'm going with KYLE KORVER, Atlanta Hawks.
I can't justify two Heat All-Star players with the team six games under .500, especially in the Eastern Conference. The other factor is Korver's clutch factor in the fourth quarter and overtime. Korver is a better all-around player than he gets credit for, so I'll take four Hawks.
OTHERS UNDER CONSDIDERATION: DWYANE WADE, Miami Heat; MARCIN GORTAT and BRADLEY BEAL, Washington Wizards