All-Star Reserves Headlined by Championship-Winning Veterans and Five NewcomersThe 2012 NBA All-Star Game will include an interesting mixture of the old and the new. On Thursday the league announced the seven All-Star reserve players for each conference. Finals MVPs Dirk Nowitzki (2011) and Paul Pierce (2008) are All-Stars for the 11th and 10th times respectively and Steve Nash is just the fourth player to earn All-Star recognition at age 38 or older, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone. At the other end of the age/experience spectrum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Luol Deng, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert and Andre Iguodala each will be making their first trips to the midseason extravaganza.
The NBA head coaches select the All-Star reserves, voting only for players in their own conference and not being permitted to choose players from their own teams. The coaches ultimately selected 12 of the 14 players who I picked, differing only by giving Paul Pierce the nod over his teammate Rajon Rondo and taking Dirk Nowitzki instead of Danilo Gallinari (for what it's worth, my choices mirrored those of the coaches more so than the selections made by any of TNT's analysts). Even in a normal season, the All-Stars are chosen based on less than half a season's worth of work and in this lockout-shortened season the sample size is even smaller both in absolute and relative terms (i.e., the fans selected the All-Star starters based on fewer than 20 games played out of a 66 game schedule, while the coaches picked the reserves based on approximately 25 games played).
Chris Bosh is well deserving of his seventh All-Star selection; he has made the All-Star team more often than any other East reserve except for Pierce and more often than every East starter except for his Miami teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade (eight times each). Pau Gasol--who is posting the lowest scoring average of his career--is routinely called the "most skilled" power forward in the NBA, yet Bosh is every bit as skilled as Gasol and he has earned All-Star nods both as the number one option in Toronto and as part of an All-Star trio in Miami. At least one "stat guru" has already lost his mind complaining about Luol Deng's selection but the Chicago Bulls have the best record in the East (22-6), including an 18-3 mark when Deng starts. Deng's individual numbers are not gaudy but he contributes significantly at both ends of the court. Roy Hibbert was the obvious choice for backup center among the slim pickings at that position. Joe Johnson has quietly earned his sixth All-Star selection, one more than celebrated guards such as Pete Maravich or Reggie Miller achieved during their careers. Andre Iguodala is not having the best statistical season of his career but his all-around contributions have played a vitally important role in Philadelphia's success. Paul Pierce started the season slowly but he has played very well during Boston's recent surge; I would have taken Rajon Rondo but Pierce is not a terrible choice: based on his track record and how he is playing now he could very well be an All-NBA player once again by the end of the season. We know that Deron Williams is not one of Kenny Smith's proverbial "looters in a riot" because we have seen Williams put up big numbers for playoff teams in Utah; that said, the struggles of Williams' New Jersey Nets and Carmelo Anthony's New York Knicks show that the grass is not always greener on the other side for star players who talk their way out of town.
There would have had to be an investigation if LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love did not make the All-Star team. Marc Gasol has played very well and has shown that his success is not dependent on playing alongside Zach Randolph; despite all of the talk about how skilled Marc's brother is, not enough people recognize that Marc may be the "most skilled" center in the league: Dwight Howard is clearly the best and most dominant center--by far--but Marc Gasol can shoot, post up, pass, rebound and defend. Steve Nash has much less talent around him than he did in previous years but his individual numbers are comparable to the ones he posted during his MVP seasons; he did not really deserve either of those MVPs--Shaquille O'Neal should have won in 2005 and Kobe Bryant should have won in 2006--but Nash does deserve to be a 2012 All-Star and his productivity at an advanced age is truly remarkable. Tony Parker has been the best player on a San Antonio Spurs team that has surprised most people (I picked them to finish third in the West). Russell Westbrook, despite all of the nitpicking about various aspects of his game, is one of the top 10 players in the league. Dirk Nowitzki nabbed the spot that I would have given to Danilo Gallinari. I am not sure about the timing of the voting so I don't know if Gallinari's injury--and likely unavailability for the All-Star Game--hurt his cause. I have mixed feelings about the Nowitzki selection; it is obvious that based on the first 20 or so games of the season Nowitzki should not have been chosen but it is also obvious that last June he outplayed Miami's All-Star trio when the stakes were the highest and it is a safe bet that by the end of the season Nowitzki will once again merit inclusion on the All-NBA team. Guys like Danilo Gallinari and Rudy Gay clearly are not better players than Dirk Nowitzki and if you really look at the numbers they have only marginally outperformed Nowitzki thus far so I can understand why the coaches gave Nowitzki the benefit of the doubt; this is a tough break for some West forwards who have yet to make the team but it should inspire those guys to play even better the rest of the way and then carry that momentum into the playoffs and next season so that the voters--fans and/or coaches--simply cannot leave them off of the team next time.
Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett--former champions and regular season MVPs who have earned 13 and 14 All-Star selections respectively--both failed to make the cut and neither is likely to be chosen even if it becomes necessary to replace players due to injury. They are both still solid contributors on good teams--Duncan's San Antonio Spurs currently have the second best record in the West, while Garnett's Boston Celtics have bounced back from a slow start to currently rank seventh in the East--but neither is performing at an All-Star level this season.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:09 AM