On Thursday, the NBA announced the starting five for each conference for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game, and now coaches will select seven reserves for each side. The job for the coaches is a little harder than usual this season, in part because there were no major mistakes in fan voting -- no injured Yao Mings, in other words -- and because there are three top-tier teams (Indiana, Philadelphia and Denver) without marquee superstars.
With those challenges in mind, here's what my mythical ballot would look like.
Finding 12 All-Stars in the East isn't as difficult as some have made it out to be. You just need to look at it a little differently than we're accustomed to doing. I'm not from the camp that desperately finds a way to reward great teams with All-Star bids. But if a team is awesome, chances are it has awesome players. We should figure out what that team does so awesomely, and reward the players who drive that awesomeness if their contribution is more than other players from the conference.
Along those lines ...
FORWARD NO. 1: Andre Iguodala. Iggy's offensive stats are nothing to scream about, but Philadelphia has the No. 1 defense in the league, and while the entire roster is pretty good on that end, the club has one defensive superstar ... and that's Iguodala. According to 82games.com, opposing small forwards are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 36.6 percent against Iguodala. That's ridiculous! If Carmelo Anthony is an All-Star -- he was voted a starter -- than there should be no problem with Iguodala being an All-Star. They just happen to thrive at opposite ends of the floor.
FORWARD NO. 2: Chris Bosh. The Boshtrich is having a fine season, the only third option in memory averaging 20 points a game. (Dwyane Wade's absence, no doubt, has something to do with that.) Last year, Chicago fans groused that Bosh made the team over Carlos Boozer, but those same fans would be laughed out of the bar with similar complaints this season.
GUARD NO. 1: Kyrie Irving. The rookie has been an offensive stud, picking right up on the NBA style and exploding as a scorer and set-up man despite a rather anemic roster to work with. By becoming an All-Star as a rookie, he could accomplish something neither Derrick Rose or John Wall (his contemporaries in the East) did.
GUARD NO. 2: Deron Williams. Williams is a tough case because the Nets have been bad and his shooting percentages have fallen off. He's also turning the ball over a ton. But he's scoring and distributing as well as any point guard in the league with a completely awful supporting cast, and he's been relatively durable. He wouldn't sniff the game in West, but there's no way to account for that.
CENTER: Greg Monroe. Detroit's Monrobocop has been the conference's second best center, no matter how bad the Pistons have looked. He's averaging 16 points and almost 10 rebounds a game on 51 percent shooting while picking up more assists than turnovers. He edges Roy Hibbert, who plays for a much better team. But you can't pick your teammates, unless you're LeBron James or Stephen Jackson.
WILD CARD NO. 1: Paul Pierce. The Truth has been great lately, and has gotten the C's back into a flow as Rajon Rondo has sat. Everyone has different standards on games played to receive consideration, but Pierce has played plenty (18) and beats out the top contenders for the last two spots on impact.
WILD CARD NO. 2: Rajon Rondo. Rondo's played less, and possibly not enough for legit consideration. (He has played 13 games. Others on the team are above 20.) When he's been on the court, he's been the conference's second best guard behind Rose, the usual torrent of deft playmaking and defense. But due to the injury, I'd have no problem with Hibbert or Brandon Jennings here in place of Rondo.
Top injury replacement candidates: Hibbert, Luol Deng (himself injured at the moment), Brandon Jennings, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith.
The West is impossible in a different way than the East is impossible. The West is impossible because I'm sitting here staring at a list 24 deep of legit candidates, and I can pick ... seven. Here goes nothing!
FORWARD NO. 1: Kevin Love. Love is an unquestioned All-Star for the second straight year. The Wolves are an average club, so the "empty stats" B.S. is particularly noxious this time around. No one averages 25 points and 13 rebounds any more. No one but Love.
FORWARD NO. 2: LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge's numbers aren't as uniquely amazing as those of Love, but LMA's consistent, strong production is not to be ignored. Portland should be in the playoffs, barring injuries, and Aldridge is clearly the team's most important player. It seems some fans are ignored in a Love or Aldridge debate; that shouldn't exist, because both guys should be in.
GUARD NO. 1: Russell Westbrook. The fourth-year guard had a slow start, but he's been a beast of late and is playing as well as he did in his All-Star 2011 campaign. This isn't about rewarding the Thunder; it's about rewarding one of the league's very best guards, a guy who would be a legitimate starting option had Chris Paul been traded East.
GUARD NO. 2: Steve Nash. There is a ton of competition for this spot with Nash, Tony Parker, Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio, Monta Ellis and Kyle Lowry receiving support, but Nash is the most deserving option. He's shooting as well as he ever has and sits just a hair under 10 assists per game with a largely mediocre set of scorers around him. If he played for a team with more notorious finishers, he'd be getting dark horse MVP support.
CENTER: Pau Gasol. OK, I have cheated! But Gasol is L.A.'s backup center, and started at the position in the four games Andrew Bynum (the All-Star starter) missed due to suspension. Clearly, Gasol could play center legitimately for any team in the league, and only a few teams have a player legitimately better than him at the position. That said, it's tough not to reward Marcin Gortat for his exemplary production. Pau gets the edge because he'd be of All-Star caliber anywhere. How much of Gortat's success comes because of Steve Nash's playmaking?
WILD CARD NO. 1: Paul Millsap. Millsap has been flown up the charts as the Jazz continue to stun the league above .500. At 17 points and nine rebounds a game and efficient shooting, he's clearly one of the West's best forwards, which is saying something, because this conference is ridiculously deep at the four. But the conference also has so many worth guards, and a reasonable person could leave Millsap out for Kyle Lowry and Monta Ellis.
WILD CARD NO. 2: Danilo Gallinari. The Nuggets' top scorer isn't shooting particularly sharply from downtown, but his overall efficiency is really strong and he's rebounding quite well, a requirement given Denver's typically small backcourts. Gallinari is basically a bigger, younger Kevin Martin. The only difference is that Gallo isn't spending his youth under a coach who doesn't know how to use him. (What up, Reggie and Paul?) Lowry would have this spot if he shot more efficiently (like, above 40 percent from the floor), and Al Jefferson is a legit option.
Top injury replacement candidates: Kyle Lowry, Tony Parker, Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson, Ricky Rubio, Marcin Gortat, Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Nene, Ty Lawson, James Harden, Gerald Wallace, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan ... we could go on forever, really.