Ball Don't Lie - NBA

On TNT tonight, around 7 pm EST, Ernie Johnson and his rotating Turner crew will announce the All-Star Game starters, selections that the fans voted for. The same fans that brought you repeated appearances from Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, and Vince Carter in the midseason classic. The ones that might bring you Tracy McGrady, tonight. Without even hearing their choices, I think we can do better.

So here are my starter selections for next month's game, and without trying to sound out-of-my-head arrogant, these are the guys that should start in the game. These have been the 10 best players at their position in the NBA this year, respective to Conference. Production and accomplishment matter, and it should always trump opinion, or that old sportswriter standby ... the good story. Yuck.

Also, this is a team game. But these selections are individual honors. That's significant.

The point of the team game is to win, and winning should be a reward in and of itself. I'm not going to penalize certain players just because they have crummier teammates than other players, nor reward other players because they have the luxury of playing with better teammates. The reward for team excellence is a series of wins and possible postseason success. That should be more than a sufficient bon mot for players, not a trip to Arizona in February.

(BDL will be live bloggin' the announcement tonight, by the way ...)

Following the jump, the starters ...

Western Conference

C: Yao MingShaquille O'Neal's mini-turnaround has been nice, but it doesn't mean he's played any better than Yao this season. Yao scores more, rebounds better, and defends heaps better than O'Neal at this point.

PF: Tim Duncan — Contributes more than Boozer, more that Dirk, and more than A'm'a'r'e (who has severely faded of late) while consistently bringing the (still) near-dominant defense.

SF: Kevin Durant — Don't flip.

The name that immediately comes to mind is Carmelo Anthony, but Carmelo will have missed a month of basketball by the All-Star break, and while that might not seem fair, that doesn't mean Durant hasn't been better.

The stats, when you even things out per-minute, slightly favor Durant. And when you factor in the knowledge that Durant plays five more minutes a game, thus contributing at that level for longer than Anthony (just put that month off for Carmelo aside, even), Durant should get the nod.

I shouldn't have to explain this too much. Durant, averaging 24 and 6, is the guy. Somehow, even after all the hype that preceded his rookie year, he's become underrated.

Per-minute, the points are the same, Melo out-boards and out-assists him, Durant out-shoots Anthony from every spot, and turns the ball over less. Durant has played more (sustaining that production for longer) minutes. He does more with his time on the court, and for longer stretches than Anthony, who got off to a pretty slow start.

Bottom line: Durant has played slightly better, and for longer. This guy is the best small forward in the West.

SG: Kobe Bryant — His per-minute stats actually aren't that far away from Brandon Roy's, but the Kobester's defense is so much better.

PG: Chris Paul — In the midst of what would be an MVP season in just about any other year, Paul will just have to be happy to pass to a trailing Tracy McGrady on a fast break in Arizona in February. It's every child's dream.

Eastern Conference

C: Dwight Howard — Still worry about the free throws, but he's been far and away the best center in the NBA this season.

PF: Chris Bosh — Chris is incredibly lucky that Kevin Garnett plays six fewer minutes than he does, because while KG's per-minute stats are a small step behind Bosh's, Garnett's defense ... well, it's like comparing Rajon Rondo's defense, to Jose Calderon's, isn't it?

If they both played 37 minutes a night, this would be a coin flip. As it stands, Bosh has earned a starter's nod this season.

SF: LeBron James — By a whisker over Luol Deng.

SG: Dwyane Wade — Everyone applaud the resurrection.

PG: Devin Harris — He's not far and away the best, Jameer Nelson has nearly closed that gap, but he's still the best. And I'm not going to credit Nelson extra points because of the difference between Dwight Howard and Brook Lopez.

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