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Monday, February 06, 2012

Which Players Should Be Selected as All-Star Reserves?

The starters for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game were officially announced last Thursday and the fans, as usual, did a solid job of picking worthy candidates. Now it is up to the league's coaches to fill out the All-Star rosters for each conference by selecting seven players: two forwards, two guards, one center and two wild cards (coaches are not allowed to vote for players from their own teams). Several pundits have weighed in with their choices, including TNT's expanded Thursday night crew and ESPN's Mark Stein. In the West, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are consensus choices by Mark Stein, Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson. It is obvious that both of those players are locks to make the team. Everyone except for Shaquille O'Neal tapped Russell Westbrook and everyone except for O'Neal and Smith chose Marc Gasol but no other player was picked by more than three of those six commentators. In the East, everyone picked Josh Smith and everyone picked Chris Bosh (O'Neal left Bosh off of his initial list but during last Thursday's TNT telecast he asked for a do-over and replaced Deron Williams with Bosh). Everyone except for Stein picked Joe Johnson. Roy Hibbert received the nod from everyone except for Barkley. Only Smith and Stein omitted Andre Iguodala. Several East players received consideration from only one or two commentators, indicating just how wide open the race is for those seven Eastern Conference All-Star roster spots.

Here are my choices for the reserve All-Star roster spots in each conference, with brief comments about each selection:

Western Conference

(F) Kevin Love: Love ranks first in the NBA in mpg (39.4), second in rpg (13.6) and fourth in ppg (25.0). With Dirk Nowitzki at least temporarily falling off of the map, Love is arguably the best power forward in the league right now.

(F) LaMarcus Aldridge: He should have made the All-Star team last year and he is posting career-high numbers across the board so far this season.

(G) Russell Westbrook: For some strange reason it has become fashionable to criticize Westbrook and nitpick his game but after a slow start this season he is back to performing at an All-NBA level.

(G) Steve Nash: His numbers this season are actually comparable to the numbers he posted in his first MVP campaign (2004-05) so it is funny to watch the shift in public opinion as Nash goes from being somewhat overrated at that time (Shaquille O'Neal deserved to win that MVP award) to being somewhat underrated now (only Stein and Webber picked Nash).

(C) Marc Gasol: The center position has become the NBA's vast wasteland. Years ago Shaquille O'Neal called himself the LCL (Last Center Left) and that is not far from the truth; Dwight Howard is the only current NBA center who would have been a perennial All-Star back in the day. That said, Marc Gasol has long since silenced any snide remarks about the supposedly lopsided trade involving him and his brother Pau; Marc is doing a solid job in the paint for the Memphis Grizzlies, picking up the frontcourt slack for the injured Zack Randolph.

(WC) Tony Parker: Parker is leading the San Antonio Spurs with 18.1 ppg and also averaging a career-high 7.7 apg. The Western Conference standings are bunched together and subject to change but at the moment Parker has carried the Spurs to the third spot despite the absence of Manu Ginobili and the decline of Tim Duncan.

(WC) Danilo Gallinari: Denver's deep and balanced attack prevents any one player on the roster from posting gaudy numbers but so far this season Gallinari is the leading scorer, third leading rebounder and third leading playmaker for a Nuggets team that has not missed a beat since getting rid of the disgruntled Carmelo Anthony last season.

It feels strange leaving Dirk Nowitzki off of the list in the wake of his marvelous performance during Dallas' 2011 championship run but Nowitzki's play so far this season has been embarrassingly bad for a player of his caliber; he has looked out of shape and disinterested and if the reserves are chosen purely based on merit then his string of 10 straight All-Star selections will end. Denver's Nene and Ty Lawson are also contenders for the wild card spot that I gave to Gallinari. Houston's Kyle Lowry has performed well but I am skeptical about making someone a first time All-Star based on 20 or so games played for a team that is right around .500; I know that Westbrook, Nash and Parker are legit All-Star caliber guards but I don't know if Lowry can maintain his current level of play.

Eastern Conference

(F) Chris Bosh: Now that Dwyane Wade is back in the lineup, the Miami Heat have reverted back to their old ways--mysteriously relegating Bosh to role player status as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade monopolize the ball--but Bosh shined in Wade's absence and is having an excellent season overall (19.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, .508 FG%).

(F) Luol Deng: Deng is the second best player on the East's best team, providing consistent play at both ends of the court for the Chicago Bulls.

(G) Rajon Rondo: The Boston Celtics' Big Three are, as Mike Tyson might put it, "fading into Bolivion" (though Ray Allen is still shooting very well and Paul Pierce has recently shown signs of life) and Rondo has emerged as the team's best, most consistent player.

(G) Joe Johnson: Johnson is the leading scorer and second leading playmaker for the surprising Atlanta Hawks.

(C) Roy Hibbert: Al Horford is injured, Joakim Noah is not playing up to his usual standards and it is not yet clear if Greg Monroe is just a "looter in a riot" (Kenny Smith's picturesque way of describing a player who stacks up good numbers on a bad team) so Hibbert receives the nod at backup All-Star center almost by default; Hibbert is an improving young player who is having a solid season but, as mentioned above, the center position is just a giant wasteland now (other than Dwight Howard).

(WC) Deron Williams: The New Jersey Nets are horrible but Williams is still one of the most productive point guards in the NBA.

(WC) Andre Iguodala: Like the Nuggets, the Philadelphia 76ers have a deep team but no designated superstar. Iguodala has posted better individual numbers in previous seasons but his all-around play has been very valuable for Philadelphia this season as the 76ers raced to an early lead in the Atlantic Division.

Josh Smith, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen deserve consideration but I can't quite take the enigmatic Smith over the forwards who I selected nor can I justify putting more than one Celtic on the All-Star team when the Celtics are barely above .500; maybe the Celtics will rally and perhaps Allen and Pierce will then play their way on to the All-NBA Third Team by the end of the season but right now I would not pick either one, though I suspect that the coaches may give one or both of them the benefit of the doubt.

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:00 PM

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