You’ve done it, NBA fans. You’ve done hired the hitmakers – your 2013 NBA All-Star Game starters. Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo out East; with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin out West. Two sterling crews, with 10 players that truly deserve not only the All-Star nod, but the starting designation. After weeks of worry about Andrew Bynum or Jeremy Lin taking a slot, this was a fantastic outcome.
Now that you’ve nailed it, fans, we hand the baton to NBA coaches to fill out the rest of the All-Star roster. And those coaches, apparently too conflicted to check a few boxes, will no doubt hand that baton to their assistant coaches. Who will then utilize per-game stats and name recognition to send seven reserves to Houston for the game on Feb. 17. Weird, seeing as how they tend to watch more game film prior to a Tuesday morning shootaround than most of us do all week.
To help these coaches in their quest to get it right, we humbly present our choices for the Western bench. Three front court, two back court, and two wild card selections are asked of the voters. Our picks are listed after the jump.
Guards: James Harden, Houston Rockets. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder.
So, James Harden finally got big minutes and a ton of shots and a starting nod on a team that badly needs his offense. Of course his numbers are going to jump to ridiculous levels. Obvious stuff, right?
Except that the Rockets are a top-10 offensive team, even while working through an opening month where Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin worked as offensive zeros. Except that Harden’s assist ratio has shot up, and his overall shooting efficiency has nearly remained the same as it did working against reserves in Oklahoma City as it has against starters in Houston. And that’s without the benefit of a training camp, as Harden was dealt following the NBA’s exhibition season. On the fly, he’s been brilliant.
His former backcourt mate from Oklahoma City keeps chugging along. At times, Russell Westbrook is the best thing under the size of 6-8 that this game has to offer. At other times, he’ll jump in the air to pass or take a bad shot or … wait, that pass just connected to a cutting Nick Collison. And that jumper went in. Never change, Russell.
Frontcourt: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies. Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA was correct to abolish the idea of a center as a thing on All-Star ballots, either as starters or reserves. But look at the names on my ballot: Tim Duncan, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler, Brook Lopez, and Al Horford. Maybe this reveals my predilection for pivotmen, but do any of these names not strike as All-Star worthy?
Duncan and Gasol are probably the two best big men in the West, right now. Duncan’s ability to dominate on both ends isn’t merely impressive because of his age or his play over the last two seasons, it’s impressive full stop. And Gasol is a killer defensively. He’s not quite where Duncan was in 2005 – orchestrating the defense without fouling or overreaching, but in 2013 it’s still a sight to behold (and on a Memphis team that badly needs it). Just watch this guy off the ball for a game. It’s an experience, even if the Grizzlies’ offense results in a 15-point loss.
Ibaka has turned it around. He’s done all we can ask for over the course of a limited offseason that was interrupted with Olympic play. The guy has turned into a defensive presence that also blocks shots; last year he was only the latter end of that description. And any time he doesn’t pull up for that open 18-footer he’s hurting his team – his perimeter play is that good.
Wild-cards: Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors.
More like wild-guards am I right?
(I’m very sorry.)
Curry, and I’d write this regardless of the heavy heart that you can’t help but have after news of his most recent ankle sprain hit, has looked brilliant this year. There’s a reason for that – the guy has been healthy. Players don’t, out of nowhere, just start jumping a little higher or driving with more confidence just because they’re a year older. It’s because he’s healthy. Or, sadly, was healthy. Hopefully things will be different for Curry by Feb. 17.
Parker is in his prime, and playing like it. He’s working up a career year, he’s slashed his turnovers, and have you noticed that he takes a three-pointer once every other game? And makes one once every five or six games? The guy can dominate games offensively without having to utilize what has turned into the NBA’s most important shot.
Also considered: LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers. Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz. David Lee, Golden State Warriors. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. Al Jefferson, Utah Jazz.
There appears to be a whole lot of talented power forwards in the Western Conference.
Aldridge has enjoyed an All-Star season, but his slow start may have hamstrung his chances. Batum has been fantastic. I’m still uneasy about his contract, but he’s proved me wrong in innumerable ways while contributing to a playoff-bound Portland team in areas that don’t show up in the box score. Millsap, as always, is struck down by his minutes allotment. David Lee’s defense is still subpar, but his ability to initiate the Warriors' offense while also scoring off broken plays is one of the bigger reasons Mark Jackson’s crew seems destined for the postseason. Zach Randolph has improved after an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, but Memphis’ six-week offensive swoon has limited his chances in my eyes. And Al Jefferson, while mighty beastly, still can’t guard the chair you’re sitting in.
Please don’t read standing up.