By Ben Fisher
There are a few unmistakeable truths about the NBA All-Star game: First, it doesn’t really matter. Second, it’s pretty cool to see all of the NBA’s best on one court regardless of the game’s meaning and third, even if you aren’t into the game itself, the selection process offers an interesting glimpse into the league’s current pecking order among players.
The question of who was selected and who was snubbed applies to the ballot just as it does to the final All-Star roster. Just ask Paul Millsap and Richard Jefferson, two players who aren’t even up for selection.
We know that the glorified popularity contest that is the fan voting will ultimately yield the same familiar names to be on court come tip-off at Staples Center on February 20 (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, etc), but who actually deserves a starting nod based on 2010-11 performance?
The backcourt is the most pronounced example of Western Conference dominance over their Eastern rivals (if you can call it a rivalry). Nine of the top 11 guards in the NBA scoring race reside out West. Unless Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen get a swell of Beantown voter support, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade should – and will – get the East nominations simply by virtue of a lack of competition. Injuries (Gilbert Arenas), inexperience (John Wall) and underperformance (Joe Johnson) have done in other contenders in this shallow talent pool.
Out West, Russell Westbrook is gaining MVP whispers for his early contributions to the Thunder, but remains in tough against Deron Williams for the point guard slot (and that’s ruling out Chris Paul, who helped New Orleans run out of the gates before fading a bit as of late). Meanwhile, Bryant has plenty of two-guard competition in the form of red-hot Monta Ellis and Eric Gordon, both of whom lose points for posting big numbers on wretched teams.
Are the Celtics slowly turning into the 2001-2008 Pistons? That is a team whose collective contributions serve to mask the strong individual efforts. Boston will get their All-Star slots, if not through fan vote than through the coaches’ selections, but just like Rondo and Allen in the previous category, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are shut out here. In their place, Amar’e Stoudemire gets a spot for his recent show of dominance coinciding with the rise of his Knicks and Danny Granger edges James based largely on performance relative to expectation. That, and I’m just plain tired of ‘Bron.
Switching Conferences, the question of over-all team performance as it pertains to individual recognition comes into play among the Western forwards. Even with Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin and Rudy Gay all enjoying personal successes, their team’s woes have to be considered. Especially when their competition in the category includes Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (Nowitzki and Anthony get my votes).
Dwight Howard is the only great center in a Conference filled with good ones. Any of a 20-something batch of big men that includes Al Horford, Andrea Bargnani, Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah and Andrew Bogut should enter the conversation (Horford and possibly one other player will be selected as a reserve). Shaquille O’Neal will get votes on name recognition and is putting together a solid campaign, but simply no longer belongs as part of the league’s annual showcase in any capacity beyond sideshow act.
Well, we’ve saved worst for last. Seriously, take a look at some of the Western Conference center “contenders” and see who deserves to start in an All-Star Game. Yao Ming will get the popular vote, whether he can play or not, but it should come down to Nene and Marc Gasol (had his brother been included in the category, we’d have a runaway winner). Give it to Nene and hope that the Western coach moves Gasol, Nowitzki or Love into the middle shortly thereafter.