Go ahead and chalk up the NBA All-Star Game taking place in a few weeks (Sunday, February 26, to be exact) in Orlando's Amway Center as the next "feels weird" moment of the NBA season. It feels like the season just tipped off a few weeks ago and yet here we are, about 20 games in, deciding who the best of the best are for the 2011-2012 season.
It's like The Bachelor making Ben decide who he's marrying after the opening cocktail party and one group date. I mean, do we really know who is most deserving? Truth be told, do we really know after the 40-some odd games we get most seasons?
It doesn't matter. On February 26, there will be an All-Star Game, and in it there must be players. Here are my picks if I had a vote for the reserves in each conference:
First, to make one thing clear, I'm not a "must only take guys from winning teams" guy. Too often, for individual accolades, guys are held down by the performances of those around them, and while it is important to recognize players that raise the level of those around them, I don't want to penalize a guy like Steve Nash who can only do so much with the rags that Robert Sarver's finances have left surrounding him in Phoenix. Is winning important to me? In general, of course it is, but for the purpose of selecting All-Stars, the notion that an All-Star has to come from a winning team is bogus.
Also, we're picking reserves in a "two forward, two guard, one center and two wildcard" format, with some league-allowed flexibility built in.
So there, we have that out of the way. Let's do this:
STARTERS: G DERRICK ROSE, Chicago; G DWYANE WADE, Miami; C DWIGHT HOWARD, Orlando; F LeBRON JAMES, Miami; F CARMELO ANTHONY, New York
RESERVES (my picks) FORWARD: CHRIS BOSH, Miami. Last season, I thought Bosh made it because he was the third wheel in the most publicized mercenary collaboration since Hall and Nash teamed up with Hulk Hogan. This season, Bosh truly deserves to be playing in this game. He's had some of his best games with Wade on the sidelines nursing injuries, and in the one game where he flew solo without LeBron and D-Wade, he had 33 points and 14 rebounds and hit the game-tying shot in a 116-109 triple-overtime win over the Hawks, when the Hawks still had Al Horford.
FORWARD: PAUL PIERCE, Boston. As Paul Pierce goes so go the Celtics, and their recent resurgence has coincided with Pierce's best basketball of the season, averaging 23.4 points per game during their recent 8-1 run.
CENTER: TYSON CHANDLER, New York A lot of people are picking Roy Hibbert for this spot, and I admit that Hibbert has turned out to be a much better pro than I thought he would be. (Admittedly, I thought he would be a catastrophic flop -- a slightly more coordinated version of Acie Earl.) But I'll take Chandler every day of the week over Hibbert. The Knicks have not been good, but it's not Chandler's fault that they've had no guard play on this team (until Jeremy Lin came flying in like a superhero, at least). Chandler is shooting over 70 percent from the field, and the Knicks are actually one of the most improved defensive teams in the league, which is why they signed him.
GUARD: ANDRE IGUODALA, Philadelphia. I always thought that Andre Iguodala was the poster child for the sentence "If your best player is ______, then you will never be more than a seven seed in the playoffs," but he is proving me wrong. (Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin can now play "rock, paper, scissors" for that new "seven seed" poster child designation.) The best defender on the best defensive team in the league, Iguodala is a huge reason the Sixers will be a tough out come May.
GUARD: BRANDON JENNINGS, Milwaukee. It wasn't that long ago that Jennings was sulking his way through draft night (Remember when he showed up late to shake the commissioner's hand after being picked?) and having Jay Bilas call his jump shot "broken," which for a basketball player is the equivalent of calling your girlfriend "Khloe-esque." Now, Jennings is one of the up-and-coming point guards in the league and a player who gives yet another mid-to-small market hope if they can lock him up to an extension.
WILD CARD: LUOL DENG, Chicago. Luol Deng has played at an All-Star level in the 20 games in which he's appeared, but this selection is almost as much for the recent games he missed with a wrist injury. In those games, the only hope the Bulls had of scoring baskets, especially against a good team like the Heat, was when Derrick Rose put his head down and drove to the basket. When the ball was out of Rose's hands, the Bulls were a lottery team. They badly missed Deng, and it showed. Deng's role as the second scorer on a championship contender and his consistency filling that role is enough to get him in the game this season.
WILD CARD: KYRIE IRVING, Cleveland. I haven't seen Irving's name mentioned much in terms of overall All-Star accolades (he'll probably be the MVP of the Rookie-Sophomore game), but the turnaround in Cleveland from citywide suicide watch to real hope for the future is all about Irving. If you need numbers, know that Irving is one of two players in the league shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 83 percent from the foul line. The other? Steve Nash. Pretty good company.
STARTERS: G CHRIS PAUL, LA Clippers; G KOBE BRYANT, LA Lakers; C ANDREW BYNUM, LA Lakers; F BLAKE GRIFFIN, LA Clippers; F KEVIN DURANT, Oklahoma City RESERVES (my picks) FORWARD: LaMARCUS ALDRIDGE, Portland. If the Blazers can somehow separate themselves from the rest of the sludge in the 5-seed through 11-seed range, Aldridge could get some dark horse MVP run. (He won't win it, they're already engraving it for Kevin Durant or LeBron James.) Bonus points for stepping his game up to franchise-level player when the rampant knee injuries to Greg Oden and the career-ending knee injury to Brandon Roy could have crippled this organization.
FORWARD: KEVIN LOVE, Minnesota. Statistically, there may not be a better number box-score stuffer than Love (not named LeBron James, that is), and with another star player in Minnesota (Ruuubbbioooo!) and a contract extension in hand, Love should be a fixture at this game for years to come. Here's hoping that now that he's got his deal, he keeps the 30 or so pounds he shed this offseason off. (By the way, Luis Scola should be thankful it was new, skinny Love that stepped on his face last weekend. If it were 2011 Love, they'd have had to get Scola a luchador mask to hide the damage.
CENTER: MARC GASOL, Memphis. Speaking of weight, I thought for sure that Marc Gasol would balloon by 50 pounds once he got paid (and let's face it, there's still time). Instead, he's been able to help the Grizz hang around in the West so they can make a run once they get Zach Randolph back later this season. Gasol is averaging a double-double.
GUARD: RUSSELL WESTBROOK, Oklahoma City. Another Class of '08 extended, Westbrook is labeled as the point guard on Oklahoma City, but he's really just a second dynamic scorer to Durant. He just happens to pass the ball every once in a while. It will be very interesting to see how Durant and Westbrook continue to mesh for the next few seasons because Oklahoma City is all-in on both guys now with huge five-year extensions.
GUARD: STEVE NASH, Phoenix. Yes, the Suns are a mediocre team. Not Nash's fault. Besides, I reserve the right to have one All-Star each year whose main redeeming quality as a player is they will make everyone on their team look better in an All-Star game setting. (Jason Kidd has held this spot for about a decade.) Nash is that guy.
WILD CARD: DANILO GALLINARI, Denver. Gallinari hurt his ankle last night against the Rockets and will miss about a month, which is an absolute killer blow to the Nuggets. Gallo had evolved into a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki this season, showing a tantalizing combination of three point range and unorthodox moves to the hoop. He was one of several pieces the Nuggets received for Carmelo Anthony, and now there is no chance in hell the Nuggets would swap Gallo by himself for Anthony straight up. Not a chance.
WILD CARD: PAU GASOL, LA Lakers. This will be the closest the Rockets get to having an All-Star this season -- a guy who they had for like an hour before David Stern nixed the trade. While it may look weird to have three All-Stars from a 14-11 team, keep in mind that when your other two starters (for most of the season) have been Matt Barnes and Derek Fisher (arguably two of the worst ten starting players in the league), it's actually not that hard to believe. And yes, this would give us the Gasol brothers on the court at the same time! Here's hoping the Lopez brothers (dressed all in black and wearing shades) come out of the crowd in Orlando and attack the Gasol brothers with baseball bats and chairs, NWO-style. Now THAT would be an All-Star moment.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. weekdays, and watch the simulcast on Comcast 129 from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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