The 2016 NBA All-Star starting lineup for the Western Conference features an interesting blend of familiarity and freshness. It also will include a legend hoping for one more shot at All-Star glory before he ends his illustrious career.
Yes, Kobe Bryant is here as the West's leading vote-getter. Bryant has shown his age for an awful Lakers team, but fans want to see him on the league's biggest midseason stage one more time before he retires at the end of the season. One interesting twist: Bryant will start as a frontcourt player for the first time in his career, as he's switched positions to account for young teammates D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.
There is also some new blood in a last-second shocker. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard came from behind to displace Blake Griffin and Draymond Green to earn the final spot. Stunningly, Dallas' Zaza Pachulia, thanks to a even stronger late push from his international fanbase, was the next man in line behind Leonard. Imagine if that came to fruition.
Here's the voting breakdown. Any surprises? pic.twitter.com/iqOWrfRVXK— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 22, 2016
Here is the Western Conference starting lineup
GUARD: Stephen Curry
GUARD: Russell Westbrook
FRONTCOURT: Kobe Bryant
FRONTCOURT: Kevin Durant
FRONTCOURT: Kawhi Leonard
Not only is Curry the clear front-runner to repeat as MVP, but you could make a Most Improved Player argument for him as well. He's putting forth one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time and he's doing it in a way nobody's seen before thanks to the abundance of three-pointers. He's on pace to make 386 threes, which would shatter the record he set last season by nearly 100. But Curry is obviously much more than "just a shooter," and the show he puts on nightly is must-see TV.
As good as Westbrook has been in his career, he's received criticism for nebulous terms like "poor shot selection" and "not making his teammates better." The electric point guard has proved many of his critics wrong this year by becoming one of the most prolific assist men in the league. His scoring hasn't missed a beat, though, even with his uptick in assists, and his field goal percentage is the best it's been in years. There will always be some questionable shots and bad turnovers, but this year is the best evidence yet that we should just "let Westbrook be Westbrook."
Bryant isn't going into the All-Star Game based on merit in his 20th and final NBA campaign. He's putting forth one of the worst shooting seasons of all time and he's struggling to stay on the court as his body continues to break down. But fans want to see Kobe play in one last All-Star Game before he retires, so here he is as the league's leading vote-getter. Even if he doesn't deserve the starter spot based on his performance, having him there will be a great moment for one of the NBA's most compelling figures ever.
There were questions about how Durant would return from three foot surgeries, but he's resoundingly answered those in advance of his free agency this summer. While the 2014 MVP has dealt with a few minor injuries, he's been as good as ever when he's on the floor. His raw numbers aren't quite at the level of his MVP season, but that's only because Russell Westbrook has been around all year to pick up the slack. Durant's efficiency is on par with his best seasons, and his return has the Thunder playing at an elite level, even if a title seems like a long shot thanks to Golden State and San Antonio.
A silent assassin, the reigning Defensive Player of Year continues to terrorize wing scorers around the NBA, spearheading Spurs defense that's best in the league by a wide margin. However, it's Leonard's offensive development that's vaulted him into the "best players in the league" conversation. He leads San Antonio in scoring and is successful from just about everywhere on the floor, including from three-point range, where he ranks near the top of the league on the highest volume of his career. Not only is Leonard the best wing defender in the league, but he's also one of the most efficient scorers.
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