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.
We start with the Eastern Conference.
The right pick, thus far: Dwight Howard, Orlando
It isn't close. Al Horford(notes) has put together a fine, All-Star worthy season, and Joakim Noah(notes) looked pretty good there before he tore up his right hand, but Howard is far and away the best center in the NBA, and possibly the MVP of the entire season so far.
Even after Thursday's 17-20 night at the free throw line, Howard still isn't topping 59 percent from the charity stripe. But he also influences entire offensive game plans, hours before the arena lights turn on. He's averaging about 22 points, 13 rebounds, and over two blocks a game; and while we'd like to see him chill out on all those technical fouls, we can't argue against his impact.
The right picks, thus far: Amar'e Stoudemire, New York, and LeBron James, Miami
As much as Stoudemire puts teams away with his offensive brilliance, he also keeps other teams in it, or allows opponents to pull away with his awful rotations. And while Garnett isn't lights out, on offense, he dominates defensively (still) the same way Amar'e dominates offensively, and his offense is way better than Stoudemire's defense.
But give it up to Amar'e, who has played in every game, and turned the Knicks around. He's moved past KG in the balloting this month, and he deserves to start.
LeBron James is everyone's least favorite player at this point, but holy hell can that guy play the game of basketball.
The right picks, thus far: Dwyane Wade, Miami, and Derrick Rose, Chicago
Not a lot of upsets, here. Perhaps that's why you'll have to stay tuned for our Western Conference starters.
Rose takes the crown over Rondo for a number of reasons. His defense is better, in 2010-11. He is perhaps this league's most effective offensive performer in a close game, late. And the third-year guard has played in 37 of Chicago's 38 games, thus far, while putting up (an improved, for him) 24 points on 19.6 shots per game, and eight assists.
Wade's work with the Heat with LeBron James off the court was worryingly iffy even before Thursday night's sans-James blowout loss to the Nuggets, but you can't deny a year that has Wade averaging 25 points and nearly 10 combined rebounds/assists.