By Charlie Gibson
Follow me on twitter @cgibson1619
Cover photo from warriorsworld.net
Starters were picked by the fans, the reserves were picked by me. Actual reserves announced 1/27 on TNT. #RespectTheFans
Kyle Lowry, G: Canada again flexes its (understated) muscles as Kyle Lowry was voted a starter for the second consecutive year. With the game being played in Toronto, and the Raptors holding the two spot in the East, it is hard to argue with this one. Lowry is giving the Raps 20.7 pppg/5 rpg/6.4 apg to go along with 2.2 steals, 2.7 threes, and a 22.8 PER. He fizzled out of last year’s playoffs, but has been both an alpha dog and team player this year. When he’s shared the court with DeMar DeRozan this year the Raps have scored a blistering 110 points per 100/possessions. On the other side of the ball he is second among point guards at ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus. The Raptors, currently on a nine game win steak, have been one of the steadiest teams in the East so far.
Dwayne Wade, G: This will be D-Wade’s 12th All-Star Game, incredible for a player who only played 70 games in five of those twelve seasons. 42 games played so far is more than expected, and he has still been able to score the ball in a career low 30.2 minutes per game. Other candidates have better numbers, and other teams have better records, but Wade is a superstar and the fans have spoken. 13 years after being drafted in the top five, LeBron, Wade, Melo, and CB should all still be All-Stars.
LeBron James, F: My number-2 MVP candidate, LeBron has the Cavs on pace for the 1-seed, which he hasn’t had either of the last two seasons. He has them here mostly without Kyrie Irving, and with inconsistent play from K-Love. Blatt had probably already booked his Toronto hotel to coach the All-Star game when he was fired. You know this team has turmoil. That they are still chugging along, ruling the East is a testament to LeBron.
Carmelo Anthony, F: The power of New York ensures Melo is still a star. He’s a starter despite averaging his fewest points per game and using possessions at his lowest rate in 11 years. He’s rebounding the ball well (7.5 per game) and averaging a career high in assists (4 per game). The Knicks are currently on the outside of the playoffs and Carmelo’s been playing at a high level for a long time. We know he likes New York though so I suspect he’s happy enough with the whole situation.
Paul George, F: Essentially missed his whole age 24 season yet he came back this year better than he’s ever been. The now 3-time All-Star has the Pacers projected to make the playoffs, thanks in part to the offensive burden he’s carried. George is an elite wing in his prime and it will be interesting to see where the Pacers go from here. Right now they rely a huge amount on George and Frank Vogel for their identity and success.
Jimmy Butler, G: Between Buter, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard the NBA has some terrific two-way wings right now. Jimmy has improved on last year, upping his scoring and assist rates. On a team with a former MVP (Rose) and a former champion (Gasol) he has clearly established himself as the top player, along with one of the best in the conference. He’s a top-3 shooting guard in the league and perhaps the best defender at the position.
John Wall, G: Second among guards in double doubles (to Westbrook) Wall is putting up a shade under 20 & 10. He’s continuing his streak of leading the Wizards in total points scored every year he’s been in the league and carries a large scoring burden despite his pass-first tendencies. He uses his athleticism to impact all parts of the game (he has 32 blocks and 25 dunks) and has re-discovered his 3-pt range. He leads the league in touches per game and has carried an injury-ravaged team.
Andre Drummond, C: The East’s best center has a team built around him looking towards the playoffs. 17 ppg, 15 rpg are incredible numbers that put the 22 year old in rare company. He’s teamed with scorer Reggie Jackson and coach Stan Van Gundy to put an exciting product on the court for Detroit. Simply put, he’s one of the most imposing physical physical forces we have. Will we ever find out why he was so bad at UCONN?
Paul Millsap, F: Atlanta’s best player this year, Millsap is averaging career highs with 18.4 points, 3.5 assists 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He also gives you 8.8 rebounds, .8 threes, and 4.6 ft’s. His offensive and defensive versatility have become indispensable for the Hawks. Over the summer they matched a contract paying him $20 million a year over three years and he has responded with a career year at age 30. One of two second round picks in the game along with Draymond Green.
Chris Bosh, F: With a starting lineup of a point guard and four wings, the East bench is stocked with big men. The Heat don’t feel like they deserve two All-Stars, but don’t expect Bosh to suffer for that. His versatile defense doesn’t quite get enough credit, and it combines with his efficient offensive game to make Bosh such a standout. He can protect the rim, move with fours, drain threes, or bang inside.
DeMar DeRozan, Wildcard: His PER of 21.1 is 2.7 higher than his previous career high in ’13-14. He’s having a career year in contract year, but at age 26 he is young enough to expect this level of play as his new norm going forward. He’s ninth in the league in scoring and second in made free throws. He also plays for the two-seed in the East and host city for the event. An All-Star two years ago, this year DeMar is a shoo-in.
Pau Gasol, Wildcard: The future Hall of Famer is on pace to be the first player since Duncan in ’06-07 to average 16 pts/10 rbs/3 ast/2 blk per game. 2nd team All-NBA last year, Gasol is again vital for Chicago. They are an awkward team with Rose at point guard, but it should be clear Butler and Gasol are the pillars.
Steph Curry, G: 30 points and 4.9 threes per game make Curry the favorite to repeat as MVP. The league belongs to him now.
Russell Westbrook, G: Westbrook’s 24.1/7.2/9.7 has only been done for a full season by Oscar Robertson, and Oscar pre-dates Russell’s 2.5 steals. He’s struck a good balance with Durant this year, maintaining last year’s insane intensity but passing the ball more, allowing Durant to lead the team in scoring (but not shot attempts). We haven’t seen Westbrook and Durant in the playoffs together at full strength since 2013, and never with Westbrook at this level. When he and Durant have shared the floor they’ve outscored opponents by 15.3 points per 100/possessions.
Kobe Bryant, F: I’m so glad the fans vote on the starters because it would feel wrong if Kobe wasn’t in the All-Star Game in his last season. The game is about celebrity, and Kobe is a face of the league. He led all players in All-Star votes, and every city he goes to gets a ticket price jump. Kobe’s persona has transcended the game and extended into culture. He will be remembered.
Kevin Durant, F: KD is back, that much is clear. When he plays the Thunder are an elite team. He has a lower usage rate than Westbrook, but has been more efficient. I feel like Durant is using the season to make sure that he’s back to himself after multiple foot surgeries, and is not pushing himself to the extreme limit that he did in ’13-14, his MVP year. When he and Westbrook are both turned all the way up the Thunder do some incredible things.
Kawhi Leonard, F: The Claw is maxing out his efficiency while being the best defender in the NBA and averaging 20 points per game. The former finals MVP and reigning DPOY is the best player on the 38-7 Spurs and a top-5 MVP candidate. I’d like to see the always-serious Leonard have some fun in his first All-Star Game.
Draymond Green, F: Green should have been starting for Westbrook. No player in the league can match his 9.5 rebounds and 7.3 assists, or for that matter, his eight triple doubles. The 6’7 trash talker is able to shut down post players and play center for the Lineup of Death. Draymond leverages the fear that Steph’s shooting creates to find open teammates or points for himself. When he grabs a rebound and sprints up court with it is when you know this guy’s special.
Chris Paul, G: A top-5 MVP candidate for the work he’s done in leading the Clippers without Blake Griffin. Griffin had actually been doing the heavy lifting to start the year, as the Clippers went 17-13, but they have the 6th best record today because they’ve gone 12-3 since Blake’s Christmas day injury. While beating the Spurs last year Paul showed us he’s still one of the elite players in this league, but he needs a healthy Blake come playoff time in a top-heavy West.
DeMarcus Cousins, C: 27/11 (first player since Shaq with those mammoth averages), third in the league in scoring, and the highest single game point total of the season so far: 56. Most importantly, the Kings are in the fight for the playoffs and have outscored opponents by 4.2 when Cousins has been on the floor. His odd pairing with NBA assist leader Rajon Rondo has been working out and at times the Kings have looked quite alright. He’s started shooting threes this year—making over one a game—which exemplifies the amazing skills he has for someone his size.
James Harden, G: His career high 27.7 points/game are second in the League. He’s tied for third in made-threes, and of course is first in free throws. And low-and-behold the Rockets have an 82% chance to make the playoffs per fivethirtyeight. The Beard is a star, Dwight Howard has been looking good, and the Rockets series will probably be the most interesting in the first round of the West playoffs. The only players to ever match Harden’s current season (if he keeps it up) of 27 ppg/6 rpg/7 apg are Oscar (8 times), LeBron (4 times), Havlicek (twice), Jordan, Bird, Westbrook, and someone named Richie Guerin
Tim Duncan, C/F: The Fundamental entered the league the year after Kobe, but at age 39 he’s two years older. He’s on a contract that can end this summer and he’s averaging 8.9 points per game. There is a good chance he could also retire after this season. He was never the cultural icon Kobe was, but he is every bit the leader and player. Instead of getting paid $25M for a team counting lottery balls Duncan is getting paid $5M for a championship contender. I believe that his impact off the court for the Spurs adds more value to his team than plenty of players who will be All-Stars this year. Duncan is the soul of the Spurs, and his team-first attitude is at the heart of everything that makes them so good. I’d like to see Tim Duncan be rewarded for going out in the best possible way.
Klay Thompson, Wildcard: 20 points per game, second most made threes in the league, vital third cog to first place GSW. Slow start to the season but has since had games of 43, 39, & 38 points. He’s shot over 40% from deep every year in the league, and this year is attempting 7.3 per game. His contributions to the historic Warriors should get recognized.
Damian Lillard, Wildcard: Handed the keys to the franchise over the summer, Lillard has responded with 24.3 points, 7.1 assists a game along with three triples—all career highs. It’s fun to see a player get an increase in role and thrive with it. Dame’s increased his usage by 4.1% yet has maintained his efficiency. While he’s been on the floor the Blazers have scored and allowed 109 points per 100/possessions, and while he’s off the floor they’ve been outscored per 100 by 2.3 (with an admittedly better defense). He’s sixth in the league in points per game and is first among non-splash-bros in threes per game. In a league of scoring point guards, Lillard should not be overlooked.
Biggest snubs: Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony Davis, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love
Check out my previous column on the forthcoming new era for the Wizards.