Shockingly, the first half of the NBA season is almost done and with it comes the assembly of the All-Star teams. The shortened season has not only led to injuries, but also a myriad of players with All-Star potential that will surely lead to more than a few snubs.
To quickly go over the fan-elected All- Star starters in the West, we have Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant at the guards, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant at the forwards and Andrew Bynum at the center position. The first thing that jumps out on this list is the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers landed two players each, meaning that all but one starter plays in the same city. I would love to say that this is a flaw in the system and big cities hurt All-Star balloting, but the fact of the matter is that the only player of the four that was elected over a more deserving candidate is Blake Griffin, and the two more deserving candidates in LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love will still make the team regardless.
Now, the question that is on everyone’s lips is which players will make up the list of All-Star reserves.
To start, there are a few players that are locks for these spots – two bigs and one guard. First, Kevin Love should be starting on the team, and will no doubt be selected for the reserves. His Minnesota team is having its best season since the Kevin Garnett days on the heels of superstar play from Love and the fine point-play of Ricky Rubio. Love is simply putting up gaudy numbers. Posting 25 points and 14 rebounds per game is just ridiculous, and the fact that he now plays on a contending team just seals the deal. LaMarcus Aldridge also falls under the lock category and should not be snubbed again as he was last year. 23.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds while shooting over 50 percent and being by far the best and most consistent player on a new-look Blazer squad is terrific. Although he might not have as insane numbers as Love, it would be fair to say he’s playing just as well, if not better. Last, and most controversially, is Russell Westbrook. Westbrook puts me through a roller coaster of emotions throughout every game, because he has the athletic ability and team to dominate the league, but he just seems to get in his own head, impairing his ability to truly distribute the ball. The scariest thing about Westbrook, though, is that even though he is not playing close to his ridiculous potential and he is sharing the ball with two other potential all-stars, he is still averaging 21.0 points, 5.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds on the best team in the West. His shooting percentage is still not that bad, and if he manages to turn just one turnover a game into an assist, his numbers will be even more ridiculous. Regardless, these are undeniable All-Star statistics.
Now comes the harder part – the more fringy candidates for these reserve spots. The first spot should be filled by the greatest Canadian in the NBA, Steve Nash, who has managed 15 points and 10 assists per game with Marcin Gortat as the next leading scorer on the team with a 14.9 scoring average. Steve Nash has too much character to demand a trade, but come on. #FreeSteveNash. After Nash, the next spot has to go to Marc Gasol at back-up center. His numbers of 15 points and 10 boards per contest are nice, but the real kicker is the fact that he has kept his weight off and plays stellar defense. He averages 2.2 blocks per game, and is simply a force in the paint. When watching Memphis games, it becomes clear that his existence severely discourages driving to the rim, and that has to be factored in. For the penultimate spot, I’m going to have to go with Tony Parker. Part of it is the San Antonio Spurs fan in me, but the much bigger part is the fact that he is putting up 18 points and 7.7 assists and has the Spurs sitting comfortably toward the top of the West. That’s despite the Manu Ginobili injury, reduced Tim Duncan playing time and the integration of more minutes for young players like Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter. Not to mention that he is one of a few players to top 40 points this year, which he did against the best team in the Western Conference.
The last spot is the toughest by far, as you could make a case for young team leaders like Danilo Gallinari and Paul Millsap, or slow-starting veterans like Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki. The decision was tough, but I think it has to go to James Harden. Harden has solid stats at 16.7 points per game, 3.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds, but he means so much more than that. He has evolved on both ends and now plays a solid defensive game. He would be starting over Sefolosha except for the fact that his bench production is one of the biggest reasons the Thunder are as good as they are, and his ball movement might actually be better than Westbrook’s. He gives the Thunder a huge boost and prevents any stagnation of their offense, all the while nailing clutch threes and continuing to be one of the best in the league at doing so. His numbers are good, but everything else he does on the floor makes him an All-Star.
In regards to Kevin Love’s ‘face stomp,’ I just want to say that I honestly don’t think he meant to do it; it was just a case of stumbling over Luis Scola (who shouldn’t spend so much time flopping to the ground in any case). Also, Jeremy Lin might be the most interesting player of the season. Who needs Baron Davis?
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