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Thursday, February 01, 2007

All-Star Reserves Announced on TNT's NBA Tip-Off

The NBA All-Star team rosters are complete now, as the seven reserve players for each conference have been announced. While fan balloting selects the starters, the reserve players are chosen by NBA coaches (who cannot vote for their own players). The Eastern reserves are New Jersey guards Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, Detroit guards Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton, Washington forward Caron Butler, Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal and Orlando center Dwight Howard. The coaches pretty much "cheated off of my paper," so to speak: in my January 25 post about the NBA All-Star starters, I listed who I would pick for the Eastern Conference reserves and came up with virtually the same group. The only difference is that I would take Chicago's Ben Wallace in place of Billups. When TNT's NBA Tip-Off crew (the usual cast of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith plus guest Magic Johnson) discussed Eastern reserves, Magic Johnson objected to Detroit having two All-Stars, although he didn't specify which one he would not have picked. Magic's point is that Detroit has not had a dominant enough season to deserve having two All-Stars when a team like Chicago has none. Using similar reasoning, Barkley said that New Jersey--which has won less than half of its games--should not have two All-Stars, either. Magic correctly noted that Kidd is having an MVP caliber season, so--without saying it in so many words--Magic and Barkley suggested that Carter should not be on the team. Kenny Smith took a different approach, saying "It is disrespectful to say who shouldn't be there." He thinks that all of the selected players are deserving of the honor but that there are also some players who were left off who could be considered to be equally deserving; Chicago is right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and Ben Gordon is the Bulls' fourth quarter closer, so Smith mentioned him as a worthy candidate, without voting anyone off of the island, so to speak. I still think that Ben Wallace should have gotten that spot. Forget the headlines and the headband and everything else: every year since Jordan, Pippen and crew won their last title, the Bulls have gotten off to a slow start. The Bulls are doing better prior to the All-Star Game this year than they have in recent seasons and the major change that the team made was signing Wallace. Critics have sniped at him all year but he is putting up similar numbers to what he did last year; Detroit's record has also gotten much worse without him, so he has actually had a significant impact on two Eastern Conference teams. He should have made the All-Star team this year.

The Western reserves are Phoenix guard Steve Nash, Denver guard Allen Iverson, San Antonio guard Tony Parker, Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, Utah forward Carlos Boozer, Phoenix forward Shawn Marion and Phoenix center Amare Stoudemire. Magic immediately voiced an objection that Phoenix has three All-Stars and San Antonio, Detroit and New Jersey have two All-Stars each but Dallas--the team with the best record in the league--only has one All-Star. Again, Magic did not say who he would take off of the team, but he said that winning should be recognized and that Dallas' Josh Howard should be on the team. Of course, Howard may still end up going to Las Vegas because starter Yao Ming and reserve Carlos Boozer both will not play in the All-Star Game due to injury, which means that NBA Commissioner David Stern will select two replacement players. Barkley insisted that Howard and Denver's Carmelo Anthony must get those two spots. Magic agreed, going so far as to say that Anthony was the best player in the league this season prior to his 15 game suspension--that suspension cannot be ignored, though, and no doubt played a part in why the coaches left him off of the team. Ernie Johnson brought up two interesting facts: the first fact is that the leading scorer in the league at the All-Star break has always made the All-Star team; the second fact came in the form of a question: how many double-doubles does Anthony have this year? Barkley guessed 17, which indicates that he has not watched too many Nuggets' games this year (or followed their boxscores). The correct answer is Gilbert Arenas' number: 0. Melo is a one dimensional scorer and that is why, even though he is leading the league in scoring, I don't have a problem with leaving him off of the team. In the post that I mentioned above, I again agreed with the coaches on six of the seven selections; I would substitute Howard for Parker. With Boozer and Yao out of the mix, though, I would not have a problem with Howard and Melo being the replacements; Melo, Parker and Ray Allen were the top three players I mentioned as alternate choices, so with Parker already on the team and two spots opening up I would have room for Melo now.

TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge weighed in with his take, saying "It's a travesty that Melo did not make it" and adding that Melo "should have made it instead of Allen Iverson" because "Carmelo's season has been more successful than Allen's so far." Aldridge, who saw Iverson up close as a Philadelphia based writer, pointed out that Melo and Iverson both have missed a lot of games and that they have not played too many games together so far: Melo put Denver in the playoff hunt before Iverson arrived, while Iverson's Sixers were well off of the pace even before they dealt him to Denver. Both players have good individual numbers, but the difference in team success is why Aldridge would take Melo over Iverson. Ernie Johnson responded that Anthony probably lost votes because he missed his games due to suspension. Aldridge replied that he understands that but that Melo is leading the league in scoring, which means that he has been productive on a consistent basis. The irony is that the final decision will rest in the hands of Stern, who suspended Anthony in the first place. Will he "forgive and forget?" asked Smith. My guess is that Stern will choose Howard and Anthony.

The Tip-Off show included an interesting "fundamentals" segment on rebounding, featuring Dwight Howard. He talked about the importance of boxing out, locating yourself on the opposite side of the court from where the shot is taken and having the desire to pursue the ball. He also demonstrated the swim move (pushing down the arm of someone who is boxing you out and then stepping in front of them; Howard noted that sometimes you will be called for a foul when doing this) and the tap move (tapping the opponent on one side and then going around him on the other side). Barkley, one of the game's greatest rebounders, enjoyed the segment and liked the fact that Howard understands the importance of positioning. Barkley also joked that when people tell him how good a rebounder Dennis Rodman was that he replies, "Dennis was great and if he gets a few thousand more rebounds he'll catch me." That is a funny line--and Barkley added that he likes Rodman--but in reality Barkley only had 592 more career rebounds than Rodman, who averaged 13.1 rpg compared to Barkley's 11.7 rpg.

While Barkley and Magic are Hall of Famers, Smith is an excellent college player who became a solid pro. He has a different perspective on the game--and I suspect that he would be a very good coach. Smith recalled that when Bill Russell was his coach in Sacramento that he used to instruct that team's big men about rebounding by saying "just go get it." Smith astutely observed, "For a great player, certain things are so simple that he can't even explain them. Everybody can't just 'go get it.'" That is why some of the best coaches--Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich--are guys who were not NBA superstars. They have playing experience and may have even been good players at levels below the NBA, but they had to spend time analyzing the step by step process for doing certain things on the court. That gives them the understanding and the patience to be good teachers. Jackson has always been commended for how well he has done coaching superstars like Jordan, Pippen, Shaq and Kobe but I think that ESPN's Greg Anthony makes a good point when he mentions that Jackson gets the most out of his role players and that his teams never underachieve. The fact that Jackson was a role player during his NBA career and that he spent a lot of time talking strategy with his Hall of Fame coach and mentor, Red Holzman, no doubt has a lot to do with that.

posted by David Friedman @ 11:36 PM

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