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I’m sure by now, we all know the NBA All-Star Game isn’t exactly a showcase of the league’s best talent.
Over the years, plenty of players have found themselves suiting up to represent their respective conferences without putting in the work on the court to earn their spot on the team. (Names like Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson come to mind.)
While I’m sure this year’s game will be no different, I still want to give my input on who should be playing in the 61st NBA All Star Game in Orlando, Fla.
The fans are on the right track thus far with Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul leading among the guards in votes. By leading the league in points per game, Bryant has sent a message to all of the basketball world that he has no plans of hanging ’em up any time soon. The Lakers are currently sitting outside of the top eight teams in the Western Conference, but to eliminate Bryant from the starting lineup would be absurd.
Paul isn’t quite performing at his MVP-quality rate of 2008 or 2009 but his ability to run the young Clippers offense has Lob City in third place in the West only three games behind the first place Thunder. Not many would argue the amount of contribution Paul has provided to put the team in that position.
The forwards aren’t as easy to decide.
Potential league MVP Kevin Durant has the Thunder atop the competitive Western Conference with a record of 13-3. Last season’s scoring leader is arguably the best player in basketball and is a clear shoe-in for the All Star Game.
The other forward spot should feature Timberwolves‘ star Kevin Love who has been the most under-appreciated player in the league over the past few seasons in my opinion. While the Timeberwolves haven’t been able to come out with the best record, Love’s production can’t go unrewarded.
Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league and should be able to lock up a starting spot on the All Star team this year.
Many experts and basketball enthusiasts have dubbed Lakers’ big man Andrew Bynum the second best center in the league after Dwight Howard. I would have to agree even though the Lakers haven’t been able to perform at their typical high level this season. Bynum’s numbers are similar to Howard’s on a game-to-game basis only without the occasional 20-and-20 games Howard pulls off from time to time.
Here’s where it gets a little more difficult and I’m sure plenty of you will disagree with me if you haven’t already.
The reserve backcourt should include the return of Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook who leads his team in assists and steals. As the second-best team in the NBA, the Thunder should be rewarded with two players being sent to the All Star Game and both Durant and Westbrook are All-Star caliber.
Along with Westbrook, Houston Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry should be given the All-Star nod as the Rockets currently hold the eighth spot out West. He sits fifth in assists per game and sixth in steals per game and has been a major contributor to the success of the Rocket thus far. His stellar play should not go unnoticed.
In the frountcourt, Chris Paul’s Lob City teammate and reigning dunk champion Blake Griffin should hold a spot on this year’s team. His athletic abilities have helped propel the Clippers to what many previously thought was impossible—a better record than their Staples Center counterparts. While Love may be the best all-around power forward in the league, Griffin is definitely the most electrifying to watch.
Portland Trailblazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge has been denied a spot on the All-Star roster for long enough. His hard work in Portland has the Blazers right outside the top eight of the Western Conference—a position many believed was unattainable following former All-Star Brandon Roy’s retirement. With consistent 20-and-10 production, Aldridge has displayed his All-Star caliber skill set. It’s now up to the coaches around the league to acknowledge it.
To round out the reserves, Memphis Grizzles big man Marc Gasol should be called upon to represent his team who currently has a record of 9-6, good enough for fourth place in the West. Gasol may not be as skilled as his brother Pau but he is easily one of the best centers in basketball. The All Star Game should feature the best performers at every position and I believe Gasol has earned a spot on an All-Star roster.
Rookie sensation Ricky Rubio should receive the nod for a spot on this year’s team but being that the T-Wolves are on the outside of the top eight in the conference, two All-Stars may be a bit of a stretch.
Instead, Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari should receive his first selection to the mid-season showcase. At 12-5, the Nuggets sit just a game and a half behind the first-place Thunder and therefore should be able to send their best player to Orlando in February.
Even through injuries, the Eastern Conference should feature All-Star regulars Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade in the backcourt. However, only one of them should be given the title of starter this year. Rose has led his Chicago Bulls team to the best record in the league at 15-3. His points are down, but his assists are up placing him fourth in the league in assists per game. His ability to get his teammates easy baskets has resulted in a very strong season for the Bulls and they have Rose in large part to thank for that.
Third year point guard Jrue Holiday has been the team leader in assists per game for the Philadelphia 76ers and is 10th in the league in steals per game. The Sixers have been one of the huge surprises of the season with an 11-5 record good enough for fourth best in the East (three games behind the Bulls for first). Holiday has been a solid point guard for the young Sixers squad and should be given a spot on the All-Star team as a result.
LeBron James is the best player in the world right now. In the seven games without Wade, the Heat have gone 6-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. James is in the top 10 in points per game, steals per game and field goal percentage with a career-high of 56.4 percent from the field. I’m pretty sure James is one of the sure-fire guarantees for this year’s game.
James’ frontcourt teammate Chris Bosh should be joining him in the starting lineup as well. In case you weren’t aware, Bosh is averaging 23 points and 7.4 rebounds to along with 55.6 percent shooting over the last five games. His play might suggest that he’s tired of people referring to him as the third wheel of the Miami Trio and plans to remind all of us why he was already a five-time All-Star prior to teaming up with Wade and James in South Beach.
The center spot is another easy decision. Dwight Howard is by far the best and most dominant center in the NBA. As he continues to improve offensively and remain a force on the defensive end, Howard is also a lock for a spot on the Eastern conference roster.
Even through injury and his team playing at a higher level in his absence, Wade still earns a spot on the All-Star team.
Wade’s numbers are slightly down but that’s to be expected from him deferring to superstar teammates in James and Bosh. Wade has had a few key moments throughout the season to show that he’s still a top-tier shooting guard in the NBA.
Actually, it’s without question that he’s the second-best shooting guard right now. While his play hasn’t landed him a deserving place amongst the starters, it would be ridiculous to completely eliminate him from the team altogether.
Rajon Rondo has been the only consistent member of an aging Celtics team. He has proven that he is clearly in control of the top spot on the team’s hierarchy of stars. He is second in points per game, leads the team in steals and is second in the league in assists per game behind Steve Nash. Without Rondo, the Celtics would be in even worse shape than they’ve been this season but his presence has kept them afloat at seventh place in the East.
The Indiana Pacers have been another surprise team this season behind former All-Star Danny Granger. With his team sitting only 2.5 games behind the Bulls in the East, Granger could be looking to reappear in this year’s All-Star game. As the team’s leader in points per game and steals per game, Granger has made a pretty strong case for his reemergence.
Josh Smith should have been an All-Star last season and with this production almost equal to last year’s he should be able to make the team this year. Smith is hands-down the best defender on the Atlanta’ roster and could arguably be the best defender in the league after Dwight Howard. He currently leads his team in rebounds per game and is second in steals per game while sitting ninth in the league in blocks per game. A tenacious defender such as Smith should have a place on the All Star team.
Who should be given backup role for Dwight Howard? There aren’t too many centers available in the NBA let alone the Eastern Conference. This actually might be the most surprising of all the 24 All-Star spots.
Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert has been the most effective center in the East this season. Wizards‘ center Javale McGee has had a very respectable season as the league leader in blocks per game but playing on the worst team in the league eliminates him from the discussion. That leaves us with Hibbert. He leads his team in rebounds and blocks per game and is ranked ninth amongst all centers in player efficiency rating (PER). Hibbert just might be the second best center in the Eastern Conference this season.
With the Bulls’ success thus far, a second All-Star would appear to be necessary. With Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer having less productive seasons, Luol Deng might be the next best option for the team. He leads the team in steals per game and is second in points per game. Deng has been a solid contributor to the Bulls’ success this season, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. Over his last five games prior to his injury, Deng has seen his numbers improve averaging 18.6 points per game, six rebounds per game and 1.8 steals per game.
The final spot on the roster should be given to Hawks’ guard Joe Johnson. Johnson is the Hawks’ leading scoring and is ranked second behind Josh Smith in PER. For the month of January in particular Johnson’s numbers have increased to compensate for the absence of All-Star big man Al Horford. He averages 20 points, 4.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds this month. If he keeps up this level of play and the Hawks stay within the top five spots of the East, Johnson might be able to make his sixth appearance in the All-Star Game.
There shouldn’t be too many snubs in the East this year. However, the New York Knicks have been playing horrible basketball this season which could cause the duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to lose out on possible roster spots. More likely than not, one or both of them will make the team, but I don’t feel they deserve it this year.
Dirk Nowitzki might be the biggest star for the West left out in this year’s All-Star game but his stats don’t provide a very strong case for his inclusion this season.
As stated previously, the Timberwolves’ record would prevent Rubio from joining teammate Kevin Love for the mid-season exhibition this year. Steve Nash would also suffer from his team’s poor performances this season.
The fans have been fairly good at selecting starters this year but it’s up to the coaches around the league to make sure the rest of the deserving players are rewarded for their efforts.
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Jay Reynolds is a Contributing Writer to BleacherReport.com