Kevin Love and Marc Gasol (Getty Images)Can we start off by reintroducing ourselves to the idea of how ridiculous this is? The NBA is hosting an All-Star game in the midst of a 66-game season, with the starters picked after just one month of play and the reserves selected after most teams had played about a third of their season. With every bit of that third being used to get into the sort of shape that the typical month-long training camp and exhibition season only helps to nearly take care of.
Then, the league mandates that coaches select a center, two forwards, two guards and two wild cards. Apparently the "wild cards" must be eligible NBA players, so it's not as if coaches could select a demolitions expert or wacky neighbor. This is silly in itself, because sometimes the centers or guards or even forwards aren't great. So, to force positional categorization in an exhibition game like this … OK, we'll stop.
We are the judging types, though. So click the jump for our take on who the coaches got it right with, and what they fell short on.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Despite a slow start to his 2010-11 season, LMA likely deserved an All-Star berth last year. This time around, holding down the fort for Portland following Brandon Roy's retirement and Greg Oden's continued absence, Aldridge is about as close to a lock as you can get. His per-game stats haven't shot up a ton as Portland shockingly moved from last in the NBA in possessions per game to third through Thursday, but 23.3 points on 51 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds a night are fantastic numbers. Aldridge has handled the increased load offensively while still somehow improving his shooting percentage, and his turnovers haven't spiked all that much.
The great Zach Lowe of SI.com actually ranked Gasol as his starting center for the Western Conference, and while we're not completely on board with that, he is worthy of nearly acting as a coin flip of a choice between his ever-improving game and Andrew Bynum at starting pivot. Gasol's ability to shadow defensively and contribute offensively has helped keep the Grizzlies afloat during Zach Randolph's absence, but we don't give him extra points for his part in a team-wide storyline. Gasol's 15 and 10 with 2.2 blocks and fewer than two turnovers a game are sound enough for inclusion.
Topping that? He plays nearly 38 minutes of All-Star-worthy ball at center, averaging just three fouls a game. In a league full of pivotmen that sometimes have to top out at 33 minutes a game, that's worth its weight in sweaty, 7-foot, bearded gold.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
Can't create his own shot, but somehow manages to score 25 points a game. Doesn't defend, but name the last time you walked away from watching a Timberwolves game shaking your head at how Love stays on the floor. Puts up big numbers on a terrible team, but somehow this is his fault? Kevin Love is a fantastic player who has emerged as a solid-enough defender in his fourth season to leave us wondering why he isn't starting in this game.
Oh. Nevermind. This is why. We're cool with that. Next step? A 90-foot Love outlet pass that leads directly to a Blake Griffin alley-oop.
In 2005, at the age of 30 and in his prime, Steve Nash averaged 16.3 points and 12 assists for every 36 minutes he played, surrounded by finishers and sound shooters like Amar'e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson. He won the MVP that year.
In 2012, and we'll let you do the math on his age and fill in the blanks in this current Phoenix roster without being too rude to its inhabitants, Steve Nash is averaging 17.3 points and 11.5 assists over the same 36-minute term. This is on a Suns team that is also in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, which takes away from Nash's ability to potentially pad those stats. He's also shooting 56 percent. He's a point guard, he takes really long shots and he is shooting 56 percent. He should also be our hero, and I wish he were born in the United States so that he could one day run for President.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
This, amongst all the Western selection, is clearly the most dubious. Not only did Dirk warn off the coaches who would eventually vote him onto to this team last week, but he's averaging just over 17 points and six rebounds a game in what has been his least productive season since his rookie year. Nowitzki has missed five games while he rounds into shape, and he's played just under 32 minutes a contest when he has suited up.
Paul Millsap has played better than Dirk Nowitzki this season. This cannot be argued away. Heck, Millsap's teammate Al Jefferson, even with his defensive issues at the forefront of this jerk's mind, has played better than Dirk Nowitzki this season. Pau Gasol? A better season. James Harden? Possibly. Danilo Gallinari? Even that argument can be made.
This is where it gets silly. Dirk Nowitzki will be playing better basketball this May than any of these players in their best night so far this year. This is why it is nuts to cull together an All-Star game roster this early. And that isn't a shot at the Jazz forwards, who likely will not be playing deep into May. Should a selection to the all-NBA first or second team given to Nowitzki make up for Dirk's eventual season-long contributions, while handing an earned All-Star honor to Millsap or Jefferson? Sure. Should you feel bad for those two, as Dirk takes to the national stage yet again, and they lose out on what might be their best chance at playing in an All-Star game? I would.
This is the NBA's showcase, though, and under those guidelines Nowitzki's inclusion makes sense. Both in terms of promotion, as Eric Freeman expertly argued last week, but also as a nice sendoff to a man who absolutely dominated the postseason last year. On top of that? The guy has cobbled together a 19 Player Efficiency Rating, the same number that Marc Gasol has managed, and that's only going to get better.
Dallas' season started on Dec. 25, and Dirk Nowitzki (to date) has not had an All-Star year not only in terms of his own relative brilliance, but in comparison to other forwards or wild cards that his conference has to offer. And that's just about the worst thing you can say about the guy right now. I'm ready to move on.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
He's not having a career year, but he's not far off. Did the coaches feel a need to include a Spur because the team has somehow run up the second-best record in the West even with Tim Duncan playing out the string and Manu Ginobili out for all but 115 minutes this year? If they did, then they not only picked the right Spur, but they also picked a brilliant point man in his prime that is having a fantastic All-Star level season. Parker is well worth the inclusion both on team and individual merit.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook started slow, most fair-weather fans still warily regard him every time he decides to pull up for that iffy 19-footer instead of finding Kevin Durant on the break, and he's the third reserve point guard on the squad. Doesn't matter. His resume, just in Oklahoma City's initial 25-game run and overall, is enough for inclusion. His 22 points and combined 11 rebounds/assists per game also rank him as a sort of baby Grant Hill in a way. Or, if you weren't around for 1999-00, a baby LeBron James. Either way, baby, the guy's an All-Star.