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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Who Should Be Selected as All-Star Reserves?

The 2014 NBA All-Star Game starters were announced last Thursday. LeBron James led the fan balloting for the third time in his career (2007, 2010,2014), tying him with Kobe Bryant (who received the most votes in 2003, 2011 and 2013) for fourth on the all-time All-Star voting leader list and placing him behind only Michael Jordan (nine times), Julius Erving (four times) and Vince Carter (four times) since fans began voting for NBA All-Star starters in the 1974-75 season.

Here is the list of the 2013 NBA All-Star Game starters:

Eastern Conference

LeBron James, Miami 1,416,419 votes
Paul George, Indiana 1,211,318 votes
Carmelo Anthony, New York 935,702 votes
Dwyane Wade, Miami 929,542 votes
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland 860,221 votes

Western Conference 

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City 1,396,294 votes
Stephen Curry, Golden State 1,047,281 votes
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers  988,884 votes
Blake Griffin, L.A. Clippers 688,486 votes
Kevin Love, Minnesota 661,246 votes

Generally, the fans do a good job of selecting players who deserve this honor but this season the fans chose Kobe Bryant--who has appeared in just six games--as one of the West's starting guards. Many commentators have been griping for years that fans should not be given the opportunity to choose the All-Star starters but, as I noted in my Februray 2012 article about this issue, "starting in an All-Star Game is a subjective honor (unlike, for instance, the distinction between making the All-NBA First Team and the All-NBA Second Team or the All-NBA Third Team) and when we look back at a player's career we do not consider how many times he started in an All-Star Game but merely how many times he was selected overall; as long as the fans choose five players who are worthy of being ranked among the top 12 players in each conference there is not a problem, because the league's coaches will fill out the roster by selecting the other seven All-Stars."

Bryant clearly has not earned All-Star status this season but even though the fans erred by giving him some kind of career achievement award the end result is still going to most likely turn out all right; Bryant has stated that he does not plan to play in the All-Star Game, which means that NBA Commissioner David Stern will select a worthy replacement player (and then the West Coach will decide who takes Bryant's spot in the starting lineup). I still think that it is fine that fans have a say in the All-Star selection process, particularly because checks and balances are in place to make sure that deserving players who do not receive starting nods will be tapped as reserves when the coaches make their selections; speaking of which, the coaches will now complete the All-Star rosters by choosing seven players: three frontcourt players, two guards and two wild cards (coaches are not permitted to vote for players from their own teams).

Last season, the coaches agreed with all 14 of my All-Star reserve selections and in 2012 the coaches concurred with 12 of my 14 choices. Here are my picks for the All-Star reserves, with brief comments about each player:

Western Conference

(FC) LaMarcus Aldridge: He is posting career-high numbers in scoring (24.3 ppg, fifth in the league), rebounding (11.5 rpg, sixth in the league) and assists (2.8 apg) while leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the third best record in the West.

(FC) Dwight Howard: Howard has not quite regained the explosiveness and dominance that he displayed prior to injuring his back during the 2011-12 season but he is still a powerful presence in the paint at both ends of the court. He is averaging 18.0 ppg, just slightly below his career average of 18.2 ppg, though well short of his career-high 22.9 ppg in 2010-11 (his last fully healthy season). Howard remains a productive rebounder (12.5 rpg, fourth in the league after winning the rebounding crown in five of the six previous seasons) and shot blocker (1.8 bpg, ninth in the league but his lowest average in this category since the 2005-06 season). He also ranks fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage (.577).

(FC) Tim Duncan: Some "stat gurus" might scream in protest but Duncan is the primary post presence at both ends of the court for a San Antonio Spurs team that has the second best record in the West and the third best overall record. The Spurs rank second in field goal percentage and eighth in defensive field goal percentage in no small part due to Duncan's contributions. Duncan's per game numbers are no longer as gaudy as they were during his back to back MVP seasons (2002, 2003) but despite playing limited minutes he still ranks sixth in blocked shots (2.0 bpg) and 15th in rebounding (9.8 rpg).

(G) Damian Lillard: The 2013 Rookie of the Year is the second most valuable player for the much improved Trail Blazers. His assist average and two point field goal percentage have declined this season but he has increased his scoring average (from 19.7 ppg to 20.8 ppg) and three point field goal percentage (from .368 to .419). His free throw percentage is up and his turnovers are down, so overall he has become a more mature and efficient player.

(G) Tony Parker: Duncan's post presence has been the foundation for San Antonio's success since he arrived in the NBA but Parker's speed, penetrating ability and shooting touch make him the catalyst for the Spurs' offense. His statistics are not as spectacular as the numbers posted by some NBA guards but Parker plays a key role in a winning program. He is not what TNT analyst Kenny Smith would call a "looter in a riot," a player scoring a lot of points for a bad team.

(WC) Chris Paul: The 32-15 L.A. Clippers are 10-3 without Paul, so perhaps he is not quite the indispensable leader that he is made out to be, but--even considering the fact that his assist numbers are artificially inflated--Paul is a first rate playmaker who remains on the short list of top NBA point guards.

(WC) David Lee: This two-time All-Star provides inside muscle for Golden State to complement the outside shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. He ranks 12th in the league in rebounding (9.9 rpg) and 18th in field goal percentage (.522).

If Russell Westbrook were not out indefinitely due to his knee injury (and thus presumably unavailable to play in the All-Star Game) then he would be my top reserve guard and I would bump everyone else down a notch (meaning that Lee would not be on my reserve roster in that case). Oklahoma City went 21-4 with Westbrook in the lineup, as the dynamic scorer/passer/defender averaged 21.3 ppg, 7.0 apg and a career-high 6.0 rpg. Kevin Durant is playing extremely well while picking up the slack for Westbrook but the Thunder are 15-6 sans Westbrook--Durant's greatness has kept the Thunder in the mix but they are only a dominant team when Westbrook is healthy.

James Harden is not an elite or "foundational" player; he is performing at an All-Star level--ranking seventh in the league in scoring (23.7 ppg)--and I would put him on the team to take the injured Bryant's place but I think that the seven players listed above are more valuable than Harden. Put it this way: Harden would not start ahead of any of the aforementioned guards if they were on the same team, nor would a good general manager trade Aldridge, Howard, Duncan or Lee for Harden (contract status and age notwithstanding but looking only at current on court impact).

Dirk Nowitzki is playing very well for a Dallas team that is clinging to the eighth playoff spot but his numbers and impact do not match the performances posted by the frontcourt players and wild card players who I selected.

Eastern Conference

(FC) Chris Bosh: Bosh is underrated by many fans and commentators but coaches realize his true value: he is an eight time-All-Star, though he has only been voted in by the fans three times. Bosh scores inside the paint and from the perimeter, he ranks second on the Miami Heat with 6.7 rpg despite playing out of position as an undersized center and his defensive versatility is vitally important to the two-time defending NBA champions.

(FC) Roy Hibbert: Hibbert is the cornerstone piece of Indiana's dominating defense and he has come a long way from when his awkward gait reminded me of "Anakin Skywalker taking his first halting steps after being entombed in the Darth Vader suit." His numbers do not jump off of the stat sheet--though he ranks second in the league in blocked shots (2.6 bpg)--but his impact is undeniable.

(FC) Paul Millsap: Millsap is the best, most consistent player on the fourth seeded team in the East; that is not much to write home about this year but it is good enough to earn an All-Star selection in 2014.

(G) John Wall: The fourth year Wizard is finally healthy and he is having a career year, averaging 20.0 ppg (16th in the league), 8.5 apg (fourth in the league) and 1.9 spg (fifth in the league). Washington is below .500--like most of the Eastern Conference--but the Wizards would be even worse without the contributions of their versatile point guard.

(G) Lance Stephenson: In his rookie season with Indiana four years ago, Stephenson scored just 37 total points but now he is a key all-around threat for the East's top team: he leads the Pacers in assists (5.3 apg) while ranking second in scoring (14.2 ppg) and rebounding (7.0 rpg). He has authored three triple doubles, topping the NBA in that category.

(WC) DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan ranks 11th in the league in scoring (21.8 ppg) and he is the best player on a Toronto team that surprisingly has the third best record in the East.

(WC) Joe Johnson: The Brooklyn Nets' big name starting five has not produced many wins but Johnson is the one star on the roster who has at least come close to meeting expectations; he leads the team in scoring (15.7 ppg) and three point field goals made (83 in 42 games).

Outside of Indiana and Miami, the East is a vast wasteland this season. It is difficult to rave about individual performers on sub-.500 teams; no one on the sorry Eastern teams is playing like Pistol Pete Maravich in his prime or like Kobe Bryant in the Smush Parker-Kwame Brown years, carrying decrepit squads to the brink of respectability. Many former Eastern Conference All-Stars are either out of action due to injuries (most notably Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo) or have declined dramatically due to age, changing roles and/or other factors. The situation is so bad that TNT's Charles Barkley could not even come up with seven worthy reserve candidates; he picked Hibbert, Bosh, Stephenson, Wall, Millsap, Johnson and "a Raptor."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:58 PM

11 comments

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11 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 28, 2014 4:36:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Interesting that not one of the East reserves would even make a 15-man West AS roster.

David, you often say record doesn't matter, but yet Duncan and Parker are both AS. The spurs team is extremely well built and the deepest in the league. Duncan is clearly not better than Davis. Duncan's minutes are way down. Davis is much better offensively, and at least as good defensively, plus has a larger impact. Cousins is a headcase, but has certainly been better as well.

I know you have a personal vendetta to prove the stat gurus wrong. But, Harden is a top 10 player, top 15 at worst by even his biggest haters. He's been pretty much 25/5/5 guy the past 2 years. He's the top SG in the league so far this season. There's only 5 positions, and he's the best at his position, and he's not a AS? What? Just think about that for a second. Lee has been worse this year, and talk about a guy playing no defense. Harden is much better offensively, and at least plays a little defense from time to time. There's no comparison there.

Should be Davis, Duncan, Aldridge, Harden, and Lillard for sure. Paul and Westbrook, if healthy, would be locks. It's between Dirk, Parker, and Cousins for the last 2 spots.

 
At Tuesday, January 28, 2014 5:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

Davis is posting better individual numbers than Duncan this year but Davis is also doing this for a sub.-500 team; there is often a bit of a "looter in a riot" syndrome associated with such numbers. Duncan's impact at both ends of the court is not well reflected by his statistics. I would not take Cousins over Duncan because Cousins has not proven that he can be a reliable leader on a team that makes a deep playoff run. Cousins has done some major "looting" for a 15-29 team but--considering his track record of unreliability--that does not make him an All-Star in my book, certainly not over a proven winner like Duncan.

I do not have a "personal vendetta" against "stat gurus" or anyone else; I disagree with the assertions made by some "stat gurus," one of those assertions being that Harden is an elite or "foundational" player. He is an All-Star caliber player but when I looked at the top Western players I felt that the seven I selected are having more impact than he is. As I noted, he would probably be my next choice and I would not have a problem if he makes the team as Bryant's injury replacement.

 
At Tuesday, January 28, 2014 7:28:00 PM, Anonymous AW said...

I don't think its always fair to always select players based on heir team's record. Some players are just more impactful than others.

Duncan is still that good of a post player at his age. But he is on a deep Spurs squad. I don'tbelieve the Kings would be any better than they are with Duncan instead of Cousins.

Some players don't really deserve to be selected as all stars. They are just fortunate to be on a team with a good record.

 
At Tuesday, January 28, 2014 9:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

AW:

I don't think that players should be selected (or rejected) "solely based on their team's record" but I think that their team's record is a factor that should be considered.

You may be right that the Kings would not be any better with Duncan than they are with Cousins--it is asking a bit much of Duncan to just carry a bad team at this stage of his career--but I strongly suspect that the Spurs would be worse with Cousins than they are with Duncan. Duncan has a proven track record as a prime contributor on championship teams, while Cousins is Kenny Smith's proverbial "looter in a riot" until he proves that he can sustain his half season of high level play and also make a significant contribution in the context of a winning program.

 
At Wednesday, January 29, 2014 12:04:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

By the way, Harden has not "been pretty much 25/5/5 guy the past two years." He averaged 25.9 ppg, 5.8 apg and 4.85 rpg last season--numbers that will likely turn out to be his career highs in all three categories; this season, he is averaging 23.7 ppg, 5.5 apg and 4.85 rpg. Harden is not even close to matching Kobe Bryant, who averaged legit, big-time (i.e. scoring well above 25 ppg in addition to averaging at least 5 rpg and 5 apg without rounding/exaggerating) 25-5-5 numbers in seven seasons.

Harden is a good player and he was an excellent third option for the Thunder--but the Thunder have been doing just fine without him and the Rockets have hardly become an upper echelon team even after bringing in Dwight Howard to play alongside Harden. Harden is just not an elite player. I said the same thing about Gilbert Arenas years ago and caught a lot of flack, particularly when I said that Arenas would never lead a team past the second round of the playoffs, but events proved me right about Arenas and the same thing will happen with Harden.

 
At Wednesday, January 29, 2014 1:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Marcel

Def harden top ten nba player he easily
A lock for a all star team. 24 5 5 its not even a question. Harden aldridge howard counsins paul lillard davis my reserves. If kobe westbrook and paul healthy we not talking bout half these guys injuries play a factor. East my squad johnson bosh derozan wall hibbert lowry. Rose rondo and a few others healthy some of these guys wouldn't make the squad.

 
At Thursday, January 30, 2014 10:32:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I am not convinced that Harden is a top 10 player in the West, let alone the entire league. OKC is doing great without him and Houston is not exactly setting the world on fire with him so I don't understand why you think that he is that valuable. Yes, he can score and he was a good third option for OKC but he would not start ahead of any of the All-Star reserve guards I selected.

Your other All-Star selections are reasonable. Perhaps I should have given Davis some more consideration but I am impressed by Duncan's contributions to a winning program.

 
At Thursday, January 30, 2014 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous Aw said...

David,

I agree that a teams record should be a factor if that player contributes enough.

But I believe a true all star will be selected as an all star reguardless how good or bad his team record is. Kevin Love has been on a not good team since ebtering the nba. Yet he's elected an all star three times.

Before arriving in miami bosh ade the all star team several times despite the raptors not even being in the playoff picture midway through the seasons.

Guys like Hibbert, noah probably couldn't get elected and stand out as true all stars on much inferior teams.

 
At Friday, January 31, 2014 5:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goran Dragic is having a better season than either Parker or Lillard, and he's a much stronger defender than either. They have better records, but they also have other stars, whereas Dragic's second best teammate is Eric Bledsoe, who's missed nearly half the season so far, and his third is Miles Plumlee or Channing Frye. Despite that, he's a total of five games behind Parker and Lillard's teams.

Statistically, only Dragic and Lebron are averaging 20 points, 6 assists, and 50% shooting. I think that ought to count.

In fact, the Suns have only lost four games in which they were not either a) playing without Dragic or Bledsoe, b)playing the second night of a back to back, or c)playing with an injured Dragic/losing Dragic partway through the game.

 
At Saturday, February 01, 2014 12:56:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Dragic is having a very good season but I don't agree that he is having the same impact as Parker and Lillard. Dragic is an All-Star caliber performer this season but in most years there are more All-Star caliber players than there are All-Star spots so tough decisions have to be made.

The Suns were 16-8 with Bledsoe and they are just 12-10 without him, so perhaps the coaches who selected the All-Star reserves took that into account.

 
At Saturday, February 01, 2014 4:05:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Bledsoe point is a good one, but at the same time OF COURSE a team is going to lose more games when its second best player is out, and it seems silly to punish Dragic for that. Much like Durant, he's jacked up his own production since the injury and kept his team in games they had no business winning, in addition to single-handedly beating Indiana twice… the second of which was their fourth road win in five nights.

Parker always seems to get too much love, as pundits tend to ignore his shoddy defense since he plays for a team that's strong defensively overall thanks to Duncan and Pop. While I disagree with you on his being a more legitimate pick than Dragic (their numbers are similar on offense, though Dragic gets two more points per game on the same number of shots, and Dragic is a far superior defender), if nothing else the fact that the Spurs are a 2 seed and voters generally give every top three team at least one All Star makes it unsurprising.

For Lillard, however, the mind boggles. Clearly the second best player on his own team, Lillard is a defensive sieve (while Dragic is a strong defender who can guard two positions), and his numbers stack up very unfavorably against Dragic's; Lillard scores .7 more points per game, but Dragic gets his number on over 8% higher shooting while also dealing out more assist and racking up more steals. I just don't see any reasonable argument for Lillard being a better or more impactful player, especially when considering how much more help he has than Dragic does.

Similarly, I'd take Dragic over Harden, who's also a defensive punchline and much less efficient scorer (and again, the second best player on his own team).

Honestly, I think the real reason for Dragic's snub is a lack of exposure; the Suns have yet to play a nationally televised game, and without a marquee star, aren't high on most casual viewers' list. I'm aware the reserves are picked by coaches (who presumable all have League Pass), but I would assume that even coaches mostly watch games featuring either teams from their own division, or teams they consider a potentially dangerous playoff opponent… and the Suns are (rightly or wrongly) not usually considered as being on that list.

 

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