Selecting All-Star reserves always proves to be a daunting exercise. It’s definitely an exciting time to see what players get recognized, especially last year when four Atlanta Hawks were honored. With the East being way more competitive, it’s unlikely any team will have more than two All-Stars. The West, however, will most likely give Golden State three total All-Stars. Fans voted on the 10 starters, which leaves seven open spots for each conference.
(Note: All statistics come from the beautiful people at Basketball-Reference)
The West: (Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard)
Let’s start with the visiting conference. Entering this season many labeled the West the overwhelming superior conference. At the top that might be true, but the East has definitely been more competitive from top to bottom. The stars, however, still remain out West. Not that PER is the most accurate statistic, but 11 of the top 15 players in PER play in the Western Conference, including eight of the top nine. Since most of the top stars play out West it’s a little easier selecting reserves for this conference. NBA coaches select two guards, three forwards/centers and two wild cards at either position.
Back court: Chris Paul and James Harden
Paul has been amazing. Paul, Russell Westbrook and John Wall are the only players averaging at least 18 points, nine assists and two steals per game. The Clippers are 13-3 without Blake Griffin. Granted the best team they beat during that stretch was Houston, Atlanta or Miami, but the Clippers didn’t make the schedule. Paul will have to continue to carry the Clippers without Griffin until probably mid-March.
Harden, and his teammates, have regressed big time on defense, but Harden remains one of the best offensive players. He’s a clear All-Star. Harden averages 27.5 points, 6.9 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game. Only Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, John Havlicek and Richie Guerin have averaged those numbers for a season.
Front court: Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis
Only Stephen Curry had a better first half of the season than Green. That’s not a hyperbole. Green has been absolutely incredible. No one has ever averaged at least nine rebounds, seven assists, one block and one steal a game in a season, and Green is more than halfway to being the first. He’s the biggest difference maker on the best team in basketball.
Boogie’s a beast. He averages 27.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals a game. He does everything for a fringe-playoff team. He’s even shooting above league average from three. Cousins continues to get better, which is an incredible thing to watch.
It’s easy to dismiss the Pelicans. Injuries really derailed them early, and their defensive efficiency ranks 27th out of 30 teams. It’s been a disappointing season for Davis, too. He was supposed to win MVP this season. Davis has still put up All-Star numbers, but he needs to be dominant in the second half to earn an All-NBA spot.
Wildcards: Klay Thompson and LaMarcus Aldridge
It’s important that the best first half team in NBA history sends three All-Stars. Thompson has put up basically identically numbers from last season. Green has overshadowed Thompson this season, but the Warriors were without Harrison Barnes for a good chunk of the first half, so Thompson’s impact was demonstrated on a nightly basis. One of the major reasons why Golden State’s the best team in basketball, and maybe the best team since the 96 Bulls, has to do with how good Thompson is from three. Defenses are so afraid to over pressure Curry because that could leave a wide-open Thompson. Teams that win 42 of their first 46 games should have three All-Stars. Thompson should be a lock.
The reason why many believe San Antonio can rival Golden State is the addition of Aldridge. Aldridge did nothing in Golden State’s 30-point blowout win Monday, but he’s been really good this season. Assuming Aldridge is the competitor he portrays to be, he’ll bounce back against Golden State the next time they meet. He’s too talented to come up small in the biggest games. One game doesn’t define Aldridge’s first half. He’s All-Star worthy with his performance on both sides of the ball. According to NBA.com, Aldridge’s defensive rating ranks fifth in the league.
Notable Omissions: DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki and Danilo Gallinari
The East: (Kyle Lowry, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George)
The East has been really competitive this year. Orlando had this wonderful start to the season even their head coach Scott Skiles won coach of the month of December, but since then the Magic have falling off. No one in basketball is playing better than the Raptors. Toronto, at 30-15, lost by a combined eight points to Golden State in their two meetings. It’s easy to take Toronto’s success with a grain of salt because they’ve yet to win a playoff series, but they’re likely to finish in the top 3 in the East, meaning an easier first round opponent than they had the past two seasons. The Pistons, Celtics and Heat are enjoying improved seasons. The Hawks and Wizards both regressed. The Bulls are experiencing difficulties adjusting to a new coach, but the injuries to Joakim Noah and now Nikola Mirotic should clear the log-jam inside.
Back court: Jimmy Butler and John Wall
Butler ranks seventh in the NBA in win shares. Even with his usage rate climbing, Butler remains an extremely efficient offensive player. Butler’s averaging 22.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. He continues to improve in all areas. His three-point shooting percentage has dipped to below league average, but he’s been asking to do pretty much everything for Chicago from the perimeter. It’s amazing when a player burdens such a large offensive role and continues to excel on defense.
The Wizards wanted to play small ball. Otto Porter really impressed last postseason, but he’s yet to make the leap. Wall struggled to begin the season, but he’s really played well the last month or so. His points per game and three-point shooting percentage are up from last season. His defense has slipped, but that might be team-related. The Wizards finished fifth last season in defensive efficiency. This year they’re 18th. Washington was supposed to contend in the East, but they’ve been one big disappointment. Wall, however, remains an All-Star.
Front court: Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh
Detroit has been one of the biggest surprises. Drummond has been their best player. He’s averaging 17.3 points and a league-high 15.2 rebounds per game. His defense has been really solid, too. Drummond ranks fourth in defensive rating and second, behind 2014 defensive player of the year Kawhi Leonard, in defensive win shares.
Atlanta won’t win 60 games this season, but they’re still leading the Southeast Division at 27-20. Millsap has been their best player, which explains why he’s an All-Star. He’s averaging 18.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Only Blake Griffin puts up those numbers. Millsap ranks 10th in the NBA in win shares. This should be Millsap’s third straight All-Star selection.
Miami’s a popular pick to challenge Cleveland in the playoffs. Bosh has been an All-Star every year since 2006, and that shouldn’t change this year. Bosh joins Paul George and Kevin Durant as the only players averaging at least 19 points, seven rebounds with 70 made threes.
Wildcards: DeMar DeRozan and Isaiah Thomas
Toronto needs two All-Stars, so DeRozan’s the obvious choice. He’s in a contract year and has improved in nearly every category. He ranks 12th in offensive win shares. He’s attacking the basket like he’s never done before, averaging 8.1 attempts a game.
The last roster spot was very difficult. Several players were considered, including fellow Celtic Jae Crowder. Thomas has carried such a large role on a highly competitive team. Thomas averages 21.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game while ranking ninth in the NBA in offensive win shares.
Notable Omissions: Jae Crowder, Pau Gasol, Reggie Jackson, Kevin Love and Al Horford
*Feature image credited to Frank Gunn of The Canadian Press*