On Thursday the NBA will announce the starters for this year's All-Star game, as voted on by the fans. People often ridicule the voting process, but they do so for the wrong reasons.
In the end it doesn't really matter if 62,000 people thought Jeff Green should make the All-Star team or that Andrew Bynum got more votes than Brook Lopez. It's hilarious and wrong, but it's not the end of the world either. People vote for all kinds of stupid things and if that's the price of living in a democracy, then so be it, dammit!
It's not like finishing ninth means anything. There's not a game on Saturday for guys who finished 7-15 in fan voting, which come to think of it wouldn't be a half-bad idea. Even better: Have a League-Pass All-Stars for players who don't make the final cut and let them play after the rookie/soph game, but only make it available for viewing through cut-ups on Synergy. (Seriously, I'd watch the hell out of that.)
All the fans are asked to vote for is the starting five and by and large they often get it right.
Here are the leaders for the East as of the latest returns:
Backcourt: Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo
Frontcourt: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett (with Chris Bosh close behind).
We can quibble about the last frontcourt player -- and we will -- but it's not as if there's one dominating big man who has been unfairly screwed. The obvious one is Lopez, who has had a breakout season with the Nets. But we're also talking about a fourth-year player coming off two disappointing years including last year when he missed almost the entire season and who up to now has played for bad, anonymous teams. That's how this stuff works.
We can argue about Rondo if you like -- you'd be wrong, but you're welcome to it -- but there's not much of a case to be made that any of these players don't deserve to be included. Also, D-Wade, LeBron and Melo are no-brainers.
As for the West:
Backcourt: Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul (with Jeremy Lin close)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin
Let's forget about the Lin scenario for a moment. Outside of Howard -- and his inclusion isn't that egregious -- that's basically the first four.
In short, the fans haven't voted anyone close to the top who isn't at least deserving of consideration -- again, Lin excepted -- and the voting isn't really that close with only two spots that are up in the air. It certainly helps that the biggest names in the sport are having obviously great seasons and are healthy, but all in all that's not a bad bit of work.
Here's our picks for this year's All-Star starters.
Backcourt: Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo
Wade is an obvious selection. Despite concerns about his declining athleticism, he's shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 37 percent from three-point range, which would easily be the best of his career. Wade and LeBron are still the most feared duo in the game and he has admirably and effectively ceded control of the offense to his teammate. Also, there's no other scoring guard in the East that is remotely in his class.
Rondo is less obvious due to the presence of second-year guard Kyrie Irving. This comparison is tricky because while Rondo and Irving are both ball-dominant point guards, they have completely different styles.
Irving grades out much better offensively as a scorer and a shooter. He turns the ball over less despite a much-higher Usage percentage and owns a higher PER -- 22.0-18.5. As bad as they are, the Cavs would be nowhere without Irving.
Rondo is having arguably the best season of his career when his team needs him the most. Taxed with carrying a bigger load both in terms of minutes and shots, he has delivered by shooting a much higher percentage than in years past including a serious improvement in his mid-range jumpers. His passing remains sublime and on a team that needs him to create space, flow and pace he is invaluable.
Rondo gets the nod on the strength of his overall floor game and his defense, which while not up to his All-Defense reputation is still superior to Irving's.
Here's the other admittedly subjective reason for having Rondo as a starter: it would be fascinating. He has no love for Wade, no use for LeBron and recently engaged Melo in a staring contest after the latest affair de KG. Take one of the most competitive players in the league, put him on a team with players he doesn't particularly like and let's see what happens.
If you say the All-Star game lacks an edge and a competitive purpose, how could you not want Rondo as a starter? He's also a brilliant passer and playmaker, which is the other thing the All-Star game desperately needs.
Frontcourt: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh
James is the best player in the world and not much more needs to be said.
Melo is having a fantastic season, worthy of being included in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. That doesn't mean he should come close to winning it, but he has been a legitimate top-five candidate for most of the season and is having a career year. (Dear Mike Woodson, please keep Melo at the four - signed, everybody.)
The last spot is the biggest toss-up. I considered more than a half-dozen players: Garnett, Bosh, Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah, Tyson Chandler, Al Horford and David West and there's a case to be made for all of them.
Garnett is still Garnett, grinding out 30 minutes a night with absurd on/off court splits, playing great defense and knocking down long-range jumpers. Let's not discount those 30 minutes. Lopez plays less and Bosh, Chandler and West don't top 34 minutes. Whether he's voted on as a starter or not, KG deserves a spot somewhere in his 18th season, proving that he still has life in those weathered legs.
Noah is the linchpin for one of the best defenses in the league and has a strong case for making the team as a reserve. As great as he is defensively, he has the weakest offensive resume of the group.
Despite playing in New York, Chandler is still somewhat underrated. He's essentially the Knicks version of KG defensively and he has his offensive role down to a science -- 67 percent shooting! -- yet he is less involved offensively than any of the others.
Horford is amazingly consistent, and plays more minutes than any of the others while averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds. He's also the best player on a surprisingly competitive Hawks team. He too has a strong case to make it as a reserve.
West is the glue that holds the Pacers together. While Paul George has risen to great heights the past month and a half without Danny Granger, West has been consistent from the first day of the season.
Lopez is easily the best scorer of the bunch and his rebounding has returned to respectable levels. This is the breakout season many had pegged for him following his rookie season and right now he's the Nets' best hope for the future.
Then there's Bosh and in many ways he's having a classic Bosh season with the Heat, which is to say everybody's looking at the wrong things. The Heat's rebounding woes have reached Defcon-2 and Bosh is of course taking the blame. Yet he's also having his best offensive season with Miami and seems to have finally reached a comfort zone playing with James and Wade.
Much of the Heat's rebounding problems are by design and Bosh is frequently the only big on the floor. This is Miami's preferred style of play and it won them a championship last season. With the exception of LeBron's all-around brilliance, Bosh's return from injury was the biggest reason why the Heat were able to get past Boston in the conference finals and ultimately win the title.
That doesn't have much to do with this year's All Star team, but in a race this close it counts for something. He's earned it.
Backcourt: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant
Paul is at worst the third-best player in the league and at best the true MVP of the first half. He is also everything you need in an All-Star Game point guard and if matched against Rondo would provide a feisty edge bordering on psychosis. Again, that's what this game needs.
In considering James Harden for the other backcourt spot, what's striking is how similar their two seasons are to this point:
Bryant: 30 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, .582 TS%, 24.7 PER
Harden: 26.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.3 apg, .604 TS%, 23.3 PER
Our own Silver Screen and Roll put Kobe's 17th NBA season into historical context in this must-read post, and he's keeping pace and in some ways exceeding Harden's breakout campaign offensively. Defensively is another issue altogether, but the All-Star spot should be his until someone takes it from him.
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan
Durant is as obvious in the West as LeBron is in the East. In the early part of the prime of his career and having the best season of his life, it's scary to think about where KD will one day end up.
There's a tendency to take Griffin for granted and some of that is probably due to a backlash to his meteoric rise, as well as his penchant for acting like he was hit by a bulldozer every time someone so much as breathes on him. He's also playing fewer minutes so his per-game scoring and rebounding numbers have dipped a bit.
Nevertheless, Griffin is still doing the same things he's always done with a little bit better jumper and an improvement at the free throw line that borders on respectable, as opposed to major catastrophe. Other players, like LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee, are asked to do more, but that doesn't mean they've played better. Griffin averages more points per 36 minutes and has a higher defensive rebounding percentage for the team with the second-best record in the league.
As for the last spot, we're going to have to face it: Dwight Howard is going to be on the All-Star team and there's nothing we can do about it. There have been worse players to be sure and certainly 17 points and 12 rebounds looks the part ... but it's clear to anyone who has watched the Lakers defense flail around that Howard is a shell of his former self. Some nights it's there and others it's like he's Tony Battie. To be fair that's probably what we should expect of a player coming off back surgery.
Duncan won't make it in as a starter, but he should. He's averaging more than 20 points and 11 rebounds per 36 minutes with more blocks than Howard and a PER of 24.2. You know how many players his age have done what Duncan is doing? One. Karl Malone in 1999-2000.
Tim Duncan is destined to leave the game the way he played it: as the most underrated player of his era and maybe of all time.