Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Thu Jan 29 03:00pm EST

The should-be All-Star reserves


The last time we did this
, the fans were to blame. Or, going to be the ones to be blamed.

This time around, it's the coaches that select the All-Star reserves. Or assistant coaches, really, because head men usually delegate this responsibility to their underlings, and they almost always get something wrong. Shocking, I know, but they're the reason someone like Ray Allen makes the team in the midst of a rather average 2007-08 turn, but misses it during a fantastic and All-Star worthy run in 2008-09.

They are a strange lot, prone to rewarding the second and third-best players on good teams instead of great, All-Star-level players on losing teams. You know they spend two days preparing for ways to try to guard someone like Al Jefferson prior to a game of theirs against the Timberwolves, but when it comes time to vote ... yay, David West.

And then there's the roster situation. One center, two forwards, two guards, two wild cards. I went specific with my selections last week and caught some heat for picking Kevin Durant as starting small forward (instead of just going with two forwards), but there's no such issue this time.

(BDL will be live bloggin' the announcement tonight, by the way, around 7 pm Eastern ...)

After the jump, the rest of the best ...

Eastern Conference

Center: Chris Bosh.

Apparently, coaches have been given the freedom to classify Bosh as a center, which makes sense. After all, he's played more minutes at center than any other Raptor this season, and even when he's technically at big forward, how can you possibly classify Andrea Bargnani as a pivot when he's nailing three-pointers off of passes sent to him from Bosh down in the low post?

Had Big Zydrunas Ilgauskas been healthy all season, we would have had an issue, because Big Z was clearly out-pacing quite a few players on this list until he went down.

Forwards: Vince Carter, Danny Granger.

Carter has made a complete transformation, having his best season in years, staying aggressive, and essentially turning into the sort of player we thought he'd round into entering his third season, only to see him worm his way into a fadeaway jump shooter even as the applause (because of Toronto's longish playoff run) still rolled in.

Granger is scoring 26 points per game. How you can leave a guy who is scoring 26 a game off, I have no idea. Yes, Indiana's pace is a little high, but Granger has been keeping them in games all season.

Paul Pierce is an All-Star, but he hasn't played like one this season. Rashard Lewis is on a very good team, nothing more, and Antawn Jamison is actually closer to a nod than you'd think. Jamison is having a terrific year for a team that plays Mike James for most of the game.

Guards: Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson.

Harris should be starting, we don't need to revisit just how brilliant he's been, and Nelson has kept up the great play on both ends all season. Two easy picks.

Wild Card: Jamison, Rajon Rondo.

I had no idea I'd even consider Antawn Jamison before putting this list together, much less send him to Phoenix. This is a bit of a shock to me, as well.

Jamison's a curious case. There was no way in hell he should have made the All-Star team in 2005, but as the most familiar face on a team that was suddenly winning, they gave him the nod over several more deserving players mainly because the coaches felt like they had to reward a team that plays well with two All-Star berths. Ridiculous. The reward should be all the wins that they were piling up.

And he was kind of an iffy selection last year, though more passable. This year, he's been terrific for a horrible team, his shooting percentage has actually managed to rise significantly in spite of all the added defensive attention teams have thrown at him, and he's played better and for longer than Joe Johnson, who is averaging 16.9 points and 35.6 percent shooting in January.

The Hawks are better than the Wizards, but that doesn't mean Johnson has been better than Jamison.

I purposely put Rondo as a "Wild Card" instead of placing him on the guard list because, let's be honest, his iffy play was probably the biggest reason Boston slid a bit in early January. That doesn't mean he hasn't played at an All-Star level, he has, or that at his best he's probably a better player than Nelson ("probably," forget that, "is a better player ..."), but Nelson has played better and done it more consistently this year than Rajon.

Western Conference

Center: Al Jefferson.

Again, we've lucked out because coaches are allowed to list Jefferson as a starter. Which, again, makes sense because he's played nearly 70 percent of his team's minutes at center this season.

Now, that last stat is important, because look what percentage of Phoenix's minutes Shaquille O'Neal has played at center this year. 53 percent. And given nearly equal stats and nearly equal defensive limitations, shouldn't we hand the slot over to a player who has done it longer? And by "longer," I don't mean "since 1992." I mean, "this year, for his team." Lots of italics in this one. Sorry, Skeets.

Forwards: Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki.

Before you accuse me of handing a slot over to a borderline All-Star just because he's on a very good team, check the stats: 17 and nine rebounds and 55 percent shooting in only 35 minutes? That's efficient, brilliant, basketball. Throw in three and a half assists and a block, and you have an All-Star.

Dirk's an All-Star, and he's having an All-Star year. There's a difference, but Dirk checks out on both fronts.

Nene was close to Pau and my eventual Wild Card, but I should say that Gasol isn't making it by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. That said, keep it up, Nene.

Guards: Tony Parker, Brandon Roy.

Deron Williams is a better basketball player than Tony Parker, but he hasn't had as good a season. Parker has played knockout basketball when he's healthy.

Brandon Roy has been fantastic this season, despite some injury woes.

And if either player's injury woes want to pop up between now and the game in order to allow Steve Nash to slide on, they would have my blessing. Somebody cough into Tony's mouth.

Wild Card: Chauncey Billups, Paul Millsap.

Billups has turned the Nuggets around, but that's not why he's on here. He's on here because his individual production on both sides of the ball has been stellar. The fact that it dovetails nicely with Denver's re-emergence (which has a lot to do with Nene, no Marcus Camby to whiff on screen and rolls, and Kenyon Martin) is just a bonus.

The second selection was tough. Here's why.

Every part of me tells me that Millsap has played better basketball than Shaquille O'Neal this year. Rounded out to 36 minutes, O'Neal's 21.2 points, 10.5 boards, and 1.8 blocks seem to trump Paul's 17.4, 10.8, and 1.2 blocks, and Shaq's even cut down his turnovers quite a bit.

But Millsap has played more minutes, overall. He was injured to start the season, but has been there every damn night for these Jazz, killing it.

Shaq, I'm sorry, but he has to take nights off. And that hurts his team more than it helps, or will help. He's not going to be awesome in June because he took a night off in December, you know that. Meanwhile, the Suns lose when he's not around. Despite his rep as a bench player, Millsap has played 170 more minutes than Shaq this season entering Thursday's Suns game. Assuming O'Neal plays.

The biggest tipping point, for me, is Shaq's defense. He's been awful this season. He's played some of the worst defense I've seen from any player in this league, this year. Egregiously bad. That doesn't mean he's been lazy or indifferent, or that he hasn't made some game-changing defensive plays this season. It just means that, overall ... not so good.

He gets a rep as a trad, low-post rock who supposedly alters shots and keeps other teams from hitting jump hooks over the Suns all night, but the game doesn't work like that anymore. It's 2009, we're watching a league full of screen and rolls and big men that move. And unless Yao Ming or Dwight Howard are in town, the need for someone like Shaq isn't there. And there's a reason that the Nash-era Suns were at their defensive best with Kurt Thomas' nimble feet manning the pivot.

Shaq's going to make the team, it's not a given, but it seems pretty bloody likely, and this choice wasn't made with that knowledge in mind.

This isn't a, "Shaq's in, it's a fait accompli, so let me tell you how good the next in line has been ..."-situation. Millsap's been better. The sheer amount of defensive work that guy has to do to cover for Mehmet Okur? While still keeping his own man in check? The defensive difference is strong enough to overcome the gulf in their points per minute disparity, especially when you consider pace.

Shaq, I think, is a deserving All-Star. But he's hardly the home run people have made him out to be.

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