Tuesday, January 29, 2008

All-Star Choices

Given the amount of attention that everyone is paying to the All-Star selection process this year, it would be a shame to remain silent regarding my own choices. While the coaches ultimately get the final say regarding the All-Star benches and will undoubtedly mangle the selections with their flawed alchemy of "team success" and rewards for past successes, that doesn't mean that I can't dream a little.

A quick note on my personal criteria. All-Stars should be the best players in the league and the most likely to perform in an entertaining fashion during the actual game. Period. The All-Star game should not stand in for year-end awards or All-Pro teams or any other method by which we recognize the most "valuable" players in the league. That means no to Ray Allen in the East or Tyson Chandler in the West. It means no to Shawn Marion, who has played at an All-Star level for many years in a row but this year appears to be barely even trying. Deron Williams' play in the postseason last years matters not. Then again, neither does Portland's huge winning streak. None of it matters. All that counts, in my mind, is whether a guy is one of the 12 best players in his conference and will put on a good show.

Also, let me address the starters. There is always much hand wringing over the fan vote and the unfair results that come about via this method of selecting the starters. I would argue that when the dust settles, we will have more true All-Stars represented by the fan vote than by the coaches' selections. Just take a look at the list of starters. You could safely argue that eight of the 10 are the best at their position, in their conference. In the West, Yao and Amare are neck and neck at center, but I have no problem with Yao as the starter. Duncan is the best power forward, Melo is the best small forward, and Kobe is the best shooting guard. Only Iverson comes up short, as A) he's not a true point guard, and B) Chris Paul and Steve Nash are better at the position, but even the Iverson pick has merits given his terrific season (quietly one of the best of his storied career) and great track record as an All-Star performer. AI has two All-Star Game MVP awards and has morphed into a "get everyone involved" passing wizard on more than one occasion. He belongs on the team.

And in the East, four of the five picks are clear choices. Howard, KG, LeBron, and Wade are clearly the best players at their respective positions in the East. In fact, Howard, KG, and LeBron are probably the best players in the entire league at those positions. Only Jason Kidd is undeserving, as Chauncey Billups deserves the starting point guard spot.

So for all the whining about the fan vote, they landed somewhere between 80 and 90 percent. Pretty good. Again, I doubt the coaches do that well.

Finally, here are my choices for reserves:

Eastern Conference

Guard - Chauncey Billups. Billups is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, hands down.

Guard - Joe Johnson. It hasn't exactly been a banner year for Johnson, but he's still the second-best shooting guard in the East, behind Wade. Rip Hamilton plays for a better team and Michael Redd is a better pure shooter, but Johnson can shoot, post, handle the ball, and play defense.

Forward - Caron Butler. People are finally starting to notice just how good Caron Butler is. He's been fantastic for a while now, but with Arenas out, the spotlight now swings his way. Maybe now everyone will remember that the Lakers traded him for Kwame Brown. Had they not done that, L.A. would probably be favored to win it all once Bynum came back. Whoops.

Forward - Paul Pierce. Pierce's numbers aren't flashy, but he does everything for the Celtics. Most notably he plays a lot of the old Scottie Pippen point-forward, takes the big shots down the stretch, and guards the opponents' best perimeter player. That's an All-Star, no doubt.

Center - Chris Bosh. Thank goodness Bosh can be a center, because after Dwight Howard it gets ugly in the East.

Utility - Jose Calderon. Six months ago I thought either the Celtics or Cavs could realistically acquire this guy and round out their rosters. Now he's clearly the second-best point guard in the East behind only Billups.

Utility - Gerald Wallace. There are a ton of guys that could get this last spot, from Josh Smith to Rip Hamilton to Antawn Jamison. That said, I am using "game potential" as the tie-breaker. Wallace has the athleticism of Smith and the scoring ability of Rip or Jamison, so he seems most likely to bring some actual value to the game itself. Plus, while many probably haven't even noticed, he's arguably been one of the 10 best players in the game over the past month (24, 8, and 5 with steals, blocks, and threes).

Apologies to: Josh Smith, Rip Hamilton, Antawn Jamison.

Western Conference

Guard - Chris Paul. Best point guard in the league right now, and it really isn't even close.

Guard - Steve Nash. Well behind Paul, but the best of the rest. Nash's shooting ability continues to amaze me and get overlooked due to his passing skills.

Forward - Carlos Boozer. He's a double-double machine and is anchoring Utah's recent 9-1 blitz. If the Jazz had kicked it into gear just a bit earlier, they would have two guys on this list.

Forward - Dirk Nowitzki. His rep has been damaged by the last two postseasons and the rough November, but lately he's been back to his old, deadly self, going 24, 8, and 4 while shooting a ridiculous 54% over the past month.

Center - Amare Stoudemire. Chris Kaman has been terrific but gets a ton of stats in garbage time, Marcus Camby can't defend a pick-and-roll if his life depended on it, and Al Jefferson is an even worse defender than Amare. So while the "big man is back" in the West, Stoudemire still gets the nod for his efficient offense (nearly 60% shooting with only two turnovers per game) and underrated ability to catch and finish on the pick and roll (seriously, no other big man can do what he does on the receiving end of Nash's passes). Plus, his defensive shortcomings have become more myth than reality at this point. He still does a poor job or denying his man position and is foul prone, but he does an adequate job of protecting the rim and hitting the defensive glass.

Utility - Baron Davis. These last two spots are sure to be a bloodbath given the depth of quality players in the West this year, however, for me they are pretty easy. Baron in particular is an easy choice. His numbers are great (only 22 point/8 assist guy in the league, second in league in steals, only guy in NBA to average over 2 steals and threes per game, etc.), his impact on the Warriors is undeniable, and his talent is singular. The All-Star game would be robbed without Baron's presence.

Utility - Brandon Roy. Roy is another pretty easy choice for me. I know Deron Williams is deserving, but there are plenty of guys to run the point in the West. Roy gives the squad a versatile player that can man three spots, operate on the block, and play defense. Plus, he's quickly becoming one of the most unstoppable one-on-one players in the NBA. Throw in his remarkable pace and feel for when to take over and he's a no-brainer, in my opinion.

Apologies to: Deron Williams (if only Atlanta had drafted Paul, Williams would be an All-Star this year), Manu Ginobili (deserves a spot, even if he is a faker and a baby), Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Al Jefferson.

No apologies to: Shawn Marion (living on his rep this year and barely trying. Turn that frown upside down, Shawn), Tony Parker (is still being discussed in this context despite approximately 19 consecutive crappy games), Josh Howard (went from underrated to overrated in one season).

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