Thursday, the final balloting update for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game was announced, as paper balloting will stop after Jan. 17, and online punching-in will conclude after Jan. 23. You are staring down your last chance to secure the 10 starters for this year's midseason classic, and we feel it a public duty to help you get it right. You watch all these games, you better wield some sway, y'know?
So what follows are our picks for this year's ASG, as we're nearly a half-season into things.
Here lies the Western Conference.
The right pick, thus far: Nene, Denver
This is where things get iffy, and this is why you have to read, instead of just skimming the names.
Do I think Nene deserves to be the starting center for the Western Conference in the All-Star game next month? Hell no. Does he deserve to be an All-Star? Possibly. The guy helps defensively, he averages 15 points, 7.5 rebounds and a block in just 31 minutes of action, and he's one of the league's more underappreciated talents. But should this guy start? No way.
Because of the outmoded system the NBA uses to vote for players, Nene truly has been the best center in the West this year, and by its technical terms, he should start. Andrew Bynum(notes) and Yao Ming are better when they're healthy, Marc Gasol(notes) and Marcus Camby(notes) are better when they're used properly, but Nene has been the best center-by-the-NBA's-needless-definition so far in this conference.
The real starter should be Pau Gasol(notes), who is a power forward under the NBA's terms. Or even Dirk Nowitzki(notes) or, hell, give me the ancient Tim Duncan(notes) (listed, once again, as a power forward) holding it down back there. But because the NBA refuses to switch to the "two guards, one big, two forwards" voting, we get stuck with ballots like this.
Dirk is teetering on the edge. Per game, he's played better than any forward in his conference, but he's also missed eight games with a sprained knee, and missing over 20 percent of your team's games shouldn't be sloughed off. So I'd have no problem with dumping Dirk in favor of Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin(notes), Duncan, or even Zach Randolph(notes). That's right now, though. In a few weeks, when he has a few more games under his belt? Start him.
And Love has to be in there. Not just on the team, but as a starter. This has been your best, most consistent, forward in the conference this year. He's averaging 21.5 points and 15.7 rebounds, which are ridiculous numbers, on top of a 45 percent shooting mark from long range. Dirk's never shot that high in a season from behind the arc. This guy dominates games just by keeping his terrible team in games.
And as much as I love and respect Blake Griffin's game, and anticipate that he might end up having a better season than Love overall by the time things wrap up this spring, I can't slough this sort of half-season off. I've watched too much of it, and the stats hold up. Love has been amazing, and he deserves the nod. Not just a spot on the bench, but to be introduced among the top five.
The right picks, thus far: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles, and Chris Paul, New Orleans
Tabbing Bryant to play alongside Paul isn't just a grab to put an off guard next to a point guard.
Chris Paul's the best point guard in the NBA. He's in with permanent marker. I don't like the way he tends to think pass-first late in games, but I can't argue with the other 98 percent of the game, though.