The starters for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando were announced Thursday night (West here, East here), with the usual group of superstars and even more super superstars. Now, we must decide the reserves for both the East and West squads. While most discussions of reserves concern merit based on season-to-date performance, that approach neglects that the All-Star game is an exhibition intended to be a fun advertisement for the NBA as a whole. The goal shouldn't be just to pick deserving players, but to make the game an entertaining look at what's most worth watching in professional basketball. With that in mind, I chose the seven reserves for each team that will make for the most exciting game. Not everything makes sense based on the stats and standings, but that's not the point. Below, find the West selections. For the East, go here.
PG Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: A no-brainer pick, Westbrook excels statistically, plays an exhibition-friendly style, and is the second-best player on a Thunder team likely to make a lot of noise in the postseason. There is no compelling reason to leave him off the team, whether for the sake of entertainment value or merit. Anyone who doesn't include him -- like Shaquille O'Neal, who chose Mo Williams instead on "Inside the NBA" on Thursday -- is thinking about the NBA way too little or far too much.
PG Ty Lawson, Denver Nuggets: A deep roster and high altitude for home games has made the Nuggets a great fit for the compressed season. Yet their 15-7 record hasn't just been a function of having more able bodies than the opposition; they also have a rough hierarchy led by Lawson and forward Danilo Gallinari. For the purposes of the All-Star game, though, Lawson is the much better choice, blessed with a great sense of how to run a team and plenty of speed and quickness to start fast breaks. The Nuggets deserve representation in this game, and there's no better way to do it than with one of the league's best young guards.
SF Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies haven't built on last spring's playoff run quite as everyone had hoped they would, but they're in the mix again this season and figure to stay in the national picture for some time. Gay, who missed the team's surge last year, has been the biggest single reason for their ability to stay afloat this season despite a serious knee injury to power forward Zach Randolph. He also has such a smooth offensive game that he's liable to remain watchable in the All-Star game even when energy levels get low. He might be a better fit for the game's considerable downbeat moments than anyone else on the roster.
PF Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves: Quite frankly, the strength, shooting and rebounding that make Love one of the most productive players in the NBA don't translate particularly well to the All-Star game's loose format. Sometimes, though, watchability has to give way to the practicality of responsible marketing. Love is going to average 20 and 10 for a long time and should become a fixture on the year-end All-NBA teams. If he's not in the All-Star game, the league will look neglectful of one of their best players. Everyone wanted Tim Duncan involved in these games at his peak, no matter what they valued on the basketball court, and Love deserves inclusion for the same reasons.
PF LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: There are few better stories in the league than that of Aldridge, who came into the league with questions about his toughness, looked like the weakest part of the presumed Blazers' star trio of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, and put the team on his back when those two failed to recover from multiple injuries. He's not the most exciting player in the league on a play-to-play basis, but he's a necessary component of any game that purports to represent the best the NBA has to offer.
PF Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks: Surprisingly, Dirk has not earned an All-Star spot with his performance this season: He's averaging only 16.2 ppg on 43 percent shooting and seems to be struggling significantly with a more physically demanding schedule. Still, he's Dirk Nowitzki, reigning Finals MVP and the best foreign player of all time. Playing an All-Star game without his involvement makes the NBA look smaller than it really is. Fans want to see him and players want to wear the same uniform as him. He's perhaps the best argument for overlooking season stats when deciding who belongs on this team.
C DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers: If the ASG is meant to consist of highlights, then Jordan is perhaps the player best-suited to provide them. A preposterously high percentage of his points come on dunks, and his league-leading number of blocks suggests he's capable of making the game more of a defensive affair than it might otherwise be. Jordan doesn't necessarily deserve inclusion just on the merits -- he's productive but very limited -- and yet he stands for everything that makes the idea of the game so exciting. Who doesn't want to see as many dunks and blocks as possible?
Toughest snubs: At some point in his career, Ricky Rubio will be the perfect All-Star game player, a point guard who creates many highlights for other players but doesn't need his own shots to stay involved. Steve Nash, of course, has already been close to that player. Unfortunately, I left both off this list not because they wouldn't be great to have around, but because others are simply better. Rubio, for instance, will do plenty to get people talking during All-Star weekend when he plays in the Rookie Challenge on Friday. Nash, while still terrific, has suffered from languishing in Phoenix and can offer less to a growing league than a young player on a good team like Lawson.