Kevin Durant, All-Star starter (Getty Images)On Thursday night, the NBA announced the All-Star starters, culled from fan votes spread out over a season that has only been playing live basketball for 39 days. Yikes.
So you know there are bound to be some misses, as the fans take to the ballot both online and off. Did the fans make the right call as to who they're sending to the scorer's to start the game on Feb. 26? Or is it time to hand the vote to Larry Brown and a whole bunch of other basketballniks who know who Cliff Hagan is?
Let's find out, after the jump. And the Eastern takes can be found here.
Because he's been healthy, and because of a 6.5 minutes per game uptick, All-Star fans are finding out what per-minute obsessives have known for years: Bynum is an All-Star when you give him a good run. Bynum's points per minute are actually down slightly from what he came through with in 2009 and '10, but his overall production has stayed pretty much the same since 2007 or so. Good to see that he's healthy enough to take advantage of those skills.
The West has enjoyed some solid production out of its pivotmen this year, as Memphis' Marc Gasol has played well, Houston's Samuel Dalembert has come on as of late, and Al Jefferson (forced into being center-ish by his forward-heavy Jazz squad) has matched Bynum offensively. But this is the right pick.
Durant is the right pick here. His scoring is down a bit in his fifth (!) season, but he remains as potent as ever (shooting above 50 percent) for a Thunder team with the best record in basketball. As was the case with Glen Rice in 1997, Durant is a few flicks of the wrist away from getting hot and shooting his way toward the MVP. And, yes, there is a hot hand for the All-Star game, basketball intelligentsia. Let me at least have that one.
Griffin is a worthy All-Star in terms of his production, and he'll clearly be looked upon to provide highlight after highlight while slapping the top of the backboard each time. Has he played the best basketball of any big forward in the West this year, or at least any Western forward short of Durant? That hasn't been the case -- Minnesota's Kevin Love would have been the better pick, as would Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge or even Utah's Paul Millsap, if you can overlook the fact that he plays just 31.7 minutes per game.
With that in place, this is for the fans, and Griffin has had a great season. Hard to go wrong at this loaded position.
Bryant, despite confounding at times with his decision-making late in games, is having a brilliant season. We still have quibbles about Kobe taking nearly as many shots as Bynum and Pau Gasol combined, but the man is leading the NBA in scoring while overcoming what should be a debilitating wrist injury. A no-brainer pick, and another chance to fete this marvel of a competitor.
Paul's selection is a little tougher on one brand of paper, mainly because he's played in just 14 games thus far, missing six for a Clippers team with the West's second-best record. Doesn't matter. This guy's efficiency is off the charts, again. He's averaging 19 points on 52 percent shooting with nine assists, and he's turned it over 29 times so far. All season, 29 times.
And if those lobs, as noted in the East's section, connect? He could hoist the game's MVP award.
Three things of note …
1. The Lakers and Clippers kind of hate each other, and there are a lot of Lakers and Clippers.
Four players from one city amongst the All-Star starters is impressive enough, but in the wake of a series cross-arena matches between the Clippers and Lakers (including what was a spirited batch of preseason games as well), this could be an interesting buildup. Making things potentially nastier is the fact that in Bryant and Paul, you have the NBA's two predominant ball dominators -- ones that were nearly teammates before the NBA put the kibosh on a proposed Laker deal for Paul.
This could get even nastier if Pau Gasol, who sparred briefly (NBA-style) with Paul last week, is selected by the coaches as an All-Star reserve.
2. Blake Griffin, and the weight of expectation.
The swift realization that -- shock, horror -- Blake Griffin might have some holes in his game has been a little startling this season. Usually because the things that Griffin does not excel at (defensive rotations, leaving the refs alone, moving without the ball in the half court) fair-weather fans (especially those up at midnight, Eastern) don't tend to notice this quickly. What with their lives and all.
Worse, every time Griffin's on TV, he's being willed by a local or national audience to do something they've never seen before. So if the lobs aren't perfect, and especially if Griffin fails to defend his dunk contest title the night before the game, this could be a frustrating weekend for the youngster.
We think he'll be just fine.
3. Kobe and Bynum, popping and locking.
Bynum's career-long rash of injuries have come about because the Lakers big man has had some terrible luck when it comes to people (teammates, even) falling into his knees. Of course, because of all those injuries, he technically now is "injury prone" and the wear and tear of all the surgeries is bound to stack up.
Bryant is playing with one good arm and he has to have his fluids drained more times than a Formula 1 racing car. They both -- in a 66-game season playing on a top-heavy Lakers team, where they more or less represent "the top" -- could use some time off.
So, pencil them in for 40 minutes apiece. Can't wait.
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