When All-Star voting totals were released last week, there weren’t any real surprises with the leading vote-getters. Kobe Bryant led all players in votes, and mainstays like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul all had a starting spot. And even though he’s only played in five games this year, Yao Ming is your starting center for the West squad, fueled by millions of crazed, partisan Chinese basketball fans.
The real question, though, is who will earn the seven reserve spots on each team. The coaches for each side (likely San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Boston’s Doc Rivers, though Erik Spoelstra could make a run at it) get to choose two guards, two forwards, and one center as reserves, with two more picks being at their discretion. (Injured players are replaced by commissioner David Stern.) While we still have over a month until the game will be played, we’re far enough into the season that we have a pretty good idea who will make it.
Let’s start by looking at the West, which despite seeing its depth decrease this year due to trades (Amare Stoudemire), injuries (Brandon Roy), and decline due to old age (Steve Nash), is still as crowded as ever. Chris Paul will start at point guard, but Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams, and Tony Parker are all nipping at his heels. We’ve probably only got one spot for a point guard; who should it be? We’ll turn to Spider Graphs (for a primer on how they work, click here) for a visual look. The maximum values on the graph have been set to NBA leaders in each category, so think of each value as a percentage of the maximum.
All three of them stack up pretty evenly, so it’s difficult to make a choice. Parker has rejuvenated himself and sparked the Spurs to the league’s best record. Russell Westbrook kept his team flying high even after Kevin Durant’s slow start this year. And Deron Williams is just playing MVP ball and keeping his Jazz in contention. For my money’s worth, Westbrook is probably the most deserving player, but I’d be surprised if Williams doesn’t get the spot, if only because he’s been left out of the game for so many years. (Thunder fans, don’t worry. Westbrook will have his turn.)
So what about shooting guards? Kobe Bryant (shock!) gets the starting spot here, but the West isn’t hurting for viable options at the position. As I see it, the three contenders are Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, and Monta Ellis. Here’s how they measure up:
Despite all the MVP talk we’ve been hearing for Ginobili, this didn’t turn out quite the way you’d expect. Martin’s been doing fine, but Ginobili’s graph almost swallows his whole, and Ellis’ does the same for Ginobili’s. From a raw production standpoint, Ellis deserves this spot. Of course, outstanding players for subpar teams have historically had a difficult time finding their way onto the team. I fully expect Ginobili to pick up this spot and to continue Golden State’s long All-Star drought.
You’d think he might be able to snag one of the two additional reserve spots, but this year, they’re almost definitely going to power forwards. This is probably the deepest position in the NBA right now. By my count, there are five guys with legitimate claims to an All-Star spot at the position. Two of them are locks to get in, and you’ll see their Spider Graphs below.
If you’re surprised to see the names of Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol up there, you probably haven’t seen the Mavs or the Lakers play a game this season. These two have been outstanding and have earned serious MVP discussion. It’s extremely unlikely that either of them miss a spot. So what about the other three contending power forwards? As I see it, there’s probably just one spot to be claimed by either LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, or Kevin Love.
Here’s where it gets tricky. Each is fantastic in their own right, and each has a unique case to make. Aldridge has done this year what naysayers said he couldn’t for his whole career – step up and become the number one option for a team. In the absence of Brandon Roy, he has steadied the ship for the Blazers this season. Griffin has merely electrified the league with high-flying dunks and incredible athleticism. Watching him play is almost like watching someone play NBA Jam for 48 minutes with the turbo button stuck down. And all Kevin Love has done is lead the league in rebounding all year. (You may have heard about that 31 rebound game he had earlier this season.) The real question here is whether the voters will go for a rookie or a player on a terrible team. Love’s probably the best option here, and I feel like he’ll be picked up, but any of these three would be a strong selection.
Unfortunately, center isn’t nearly as deep in the West. With Yao Ming and Greg Oden out for the year and Andrew Bynum already missing significant time due to injury, there aren’t many marquee centers out there. I only found two even worth considering. Take a look and see what you think.
Both are virtually identical, statistically. Tim Duncan has been to about a dozen of these games, though, while Jefferson is looking to make his first. As good as Big Al has been this year, though, I would be surprised if Duncan isn’t chosen over him, purely for familiarity’s sake. (It’s the same reason why Shaq continued to play in All-Star Games well after his prime.) Sorry Utah fans, but this just isn’t Jefferson’s year.
Throw in Russell Westbrook as the final selection, and here’s how I see the West All-Star Team shaking out:
PG: C. Paul, D. Williams, R. Westbrook
SG: K. Bryant, M. Ginobili
SF: C. Anthony, K. Durant
PF: P. Gasol, D. Nowitzki, K. Love
C: Yao M., T. Duncan
And just for grins, let’s say David Stern selects Blake Griffin to replace the injured Yao.
Coming tomorrow: the Eastern team, which has about half the depth of the West squad. Pity we can’t just transfer some of them over there.
You can follow Sam on Twitter at @TheRealSamOrme, or you can just tell him he’s clearly never watched a game of basketball in his life in the comments section below.