Same rules as yesterday (i.e. ignoring the fan vote and using the same rules for back-ups the coaches use). By my calculation, the West has nine All-Star locks and a bunch of very, very good players fighting for the final three spots. On the advice of some commenters and e-mailers, I’m keeping the Western Conference post shorter than the Eastern post from Tuesday.
Let’s get to it.
PG: Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets): Yes, he has missed seven games, but there is nobody better at playing point guard on planet Earth. He leads the league in assists, records dimes on half of New Orleans baskets when he’s on the floor (the 2nd-highest such mark in the league), all while serving as the go-to second half scorer for his team. And it’s a team Paul is somehow keeping afloat at 21-19. Paul has become a Nash-level shooter, but he beats out Stevie Canada for this spot largely because he is a far better defensive player.
SG: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers): Kobe Bryant is good at playing basketball. Moving on.
SF: Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets): The toughest starting-versus-back-up debate in the league, as selecting Anthony means we have to demote the league’s third-leading scorer to the bench.
This is really a matter of taste between Anthony and Kevin Durant. Both guys have shooting percentages in the high-40s, and both get to the foul line a ton (Nos. 2 and 3 in the league in attempts). Durant has better plus/minus numbers (both adjusted and raw) and grabs one more rebound per game than Melo.
Melo turns the ball over less often and dishes more assists.
Like I said, a matter of taste.
PF: Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks): Just read Kelly Dwyer’s essay. Dirk’s just rolling along, shooting 48 percent and never turning the ball over. He’s #11 in the league in PER, and he’s putting up the best defensive numbers of his career.
C: Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs): Save the “Duncan is a power forward!” stuff. It’s my ballot, I say he’s a center and there’s no way in hell I’m slotting Amare Stoudemire into the starting line-up of my All-Star team.
There is nothing left to say about Tim Duncan. He has the 2nd-best PER in the entire freaking league. He can barely dunk anymore, and he should still be considered an MVP candidate (non-LeBron division).
I mentioned the West has what I consider nine obvious should-be All-Stars. The starters are the first five. Here are the next four, with their positions in parentheses. (Remember, the ballot for reserves must consist of two guards, two forwards, one center and two wild card entries, though coaches can list a player out of position if they believe doing so helps the All-Star team).
Kevin Durant (forward): I largely covered Durant above. He’s having a monster season, and his plus/minus numbers—the cause of so much pre-season math-bashing—now reflect his status as one of the league’s elite.
Steve Nash (guard): I’m aware that he can’t guard anybody, and that his defensive troubles can’t be excused simply because nobody else in Phoenix (save perhaps Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson) can guard anybody, either. But this team is just lost without Steve Nash. He assists on 52 percent of the Suns’ baskets while he’s on the court, the highest assist rate in the league. And this is really something, since he’s also the team’s 2nd-leading scorer (18.7 points per game).
Basically: The Phoenix offense is entirely dependent—perhaps unhealthily dependent—on Steve Nash, and the plus/minus numbers show it. (So do the turnover numbers; Nash leads the league in cough-ups).
Oh, and this: No guard has a better shooting percentage than Nash’s 53.8 percent mark. Not a single one. He’s a lock, warts and all. Plus he single-handedly makes the All-Star game watchable for precious stretches.
Brandon Roy (guard): People seem down on Brandon Roy for some reason. His defensive plus/minus numbers don’t look good (they were basically neutral last season), but there may not be a player in the league carrying a bigger burden than Roy now that injuries have decimated the Blazers. And for all the underwhelmed reaction to his ’09-10 campaign, Roy is still putting up 23 points-5.1 assists-4.6 boards, putting him just outside the 21-5-5 club currently populated by exactly one person (LeBron). And he’s still shooting 48 percent, despite all the attention opposing defenses reserve for him every night.
His turnover rate is absurdly low for a player with his burden. A phenomenal player.
Zach Randolph (forward): The basketball cognoscenti owe Zach Randolph (and perhaps Michael Heisley) a huge apology. We all laughed at Heisley when he signed off on the trade sending Quentin Richardson to the Clippers in exchange for Randolph. We mocked Heisley for dealing an expiring contract for a $17 million out of shape team-killer who does nothing on offense but shoot.
We were wrong. Not all wrong, mind you. Randolph is still a liability on defense, still allergic to assists, and still an occasionally reckless jump-shooter. He’ll still make $17 million next season.
But boy has Zach Randolph rediscovered the glass this season. The guy is (to steal from David Thorpe) beasting it every night. It’s not just the 11.5 board per game (the same number, by the way, as the much-heralded Gerald Wallace). It’s that 4.5 of those boards come at the offensive end, where Randolph is pulling down about 14 percent of all Memphis misses—the 3rd-best offensive rebounding in the league, behind only Kevin Love and Ben Wallace.
The Grizzlies are winning games because they have a top-10 offense, and they have a top-10 offense in part because they lead the league in offensive rebounding. Randolph is the biggest reason for that.
Toss in 21 points on 50 percent-plus shooting, and Z-Bo should be a lock for Dallas. A lock. I said it.
Those are the CelticsHub Western Conference locks. Now things get tougher. We’ve got three spots left (two wild cards and a “center”). These are very tough calls, and someone is going to be wronged no matter how the coaches decide things in real life.
Here’s my best crack at the last three spots:
Chris Kaman (center): This spot came down to Kaman and Stoudemire, and it’s a coin flip, really. Stoudemire has Kaman by a decent margin in PER (about 20.5 to about 18.5) and an even heftier one in shooting percentage (56 percent to 51 percent). The Big Lovefest gets to the line much more often. There is no question that, when motivated, Stoudemire is the more dynamic (and, frankly, terrifying) offensive player.
But here’s the thing: Kaman is an always competent, sometimes very good defensive player, and the numbers show it. Amare Stoudemire, eight seasons into his career, is (at times) a stunningly awful defensive player. There are just too many times when Stoudemire is in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, and too many times when he can’t be bothered to hustle into the right position to do the right thing.
Kaman, putting up 20-9 with solid interior defense, deserves this spot over Stoudemire.
Deron Williams (wild card): With Tony Parker in the midst of a down year, Manu Ginobili playing inconsistent ball and Allen Iverson off getting undeserved votes in the Eastern Conference, it’s time for Deron Williams to make his first All-Star team. Deron’s individual defensive numbers have always been neutral or worse, but he’s holding opposing point guards to a PER right at league average (yes, I realize you can’t give Deron 100 percent of the credit for that), and Utah’s defense has actually inched its way into the top 10 in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, according to Basketball Reference.
Defense aside, there are only two guys in the league who can run an offense as well as Deron Williams, and they are both on this mythical All-Star roster. Only three guys (Nash, Paul, Rondo) assist on a higher percentage of their teams’ baskets while they’re on the floor, and, like Nash and CP3, Deron dishes all of those dimes despite having to carry an enormous scoring burden. Williams leads Utah with 19.4 points per game, and he’s doing it on 50 percent shooting overall and 40 percent from long-range.
He could stand to take care of the ball a bit better, but overall, we’re talking about a pretty damn efficient offensive player. And an All-Star. Screw you, McGrady.
Tyreke Evans (wild card): I deleted the word “Tyreke” and began to type “Amare” and “Carlos” and “Monta” several times each. This was the toughest choice on the ballot, and, I’ll concede, a hard one to defend. But I’ll try.
Tyreke Evans is having a monster rookie season. I’ve mentioned that only one player in the league is currently averaging a 21-5-5 (LeBron). Tyreke is averaging 20.8-5.0-5.0 through Monday night. He’s shooting a respectable 46 percent despite carrying a huge offensive load, he gets to the line a ton (about six times per game) and he can be a defensive menace. His turnover rate is just a tad higher than Chris Paul’s, which means it’s very, very good.
There is one glaring red flag on Evans’ young resume: The Kings offense is, for whatever reason, playing much worse with him on the court; the team is scoring about eight fewer points per 100 possessions with Evans on the court versus with him on the bench.
There could be several reasons for this, ranging from “he isolates too much” to “this is just a wacky small sample size thing” to something else. I’ve watched a lot of Kings games (What else am I going to watch? Leno?), and my personal theories lean toward “sample size” as the key factor explaining this weird trend. The guys at Sactown Royalty and Cowbell Kingdom might be able to tell us more.
But the other candidates for this spot have their own huge blemishes, so it goes to Evans. He’s having a historic rookie season carrying a burden that really shouldn’t be thrust upon any rookie. He’s in.
Omissions in 10 words or less and in no particular order:
• Amare Stoudemire: See above.
• Carlos Boozer: Have a soft spot for his game; defensive stats are ugly.
• Monta Ellis: Huge numbers, skewed by insane volume and pace.
• Chauncey Billups: Can’t get past the poor shooting mark.
• Nené: Love him. Just not enough.
• Marc Gasol: Good defender, uber-efficient, too often 4th banana.
• Rudy Gay: A nice 20-6 season. Improvement. Not quite enough.
• Pau Gasol: Adore him. Too many missed games.
• Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili: Get right by April, please.
• LaMarcus Aldridge: Nope.
• Carl Landry: Among my personal favorites. 27 minutes per game=too few for an All-Star.
• Baron Davis: Stop shooting contested threes.
• Andrew Bynum: Be more consistent next year and we’ll talk.