In the modern NBA, only a certain kind of player typically makes the All-Star team. In all but a few cases, he is a dependable star on a team in line to make the playoffs, and almost always the sort of player the league wants to promote to a larger audience. All of which is to say that New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith, one of the streakiest players in recent NBA history and someone with a history of defying authority figures, has never seemed particularly likely to be introduced as an NBA All-Star.
This season, however, Smith has been a massively important player for a team only a half-game back of the best record in the East. He's averaging 16.7 points per game, setting a career high in rebounds, and hitting big shots (Exhibits A and B). While his stats don't immediately jump out as worthy of selection, NBA coaches have been known to fudge the numbers a bit for players on winning teams.
Unsolicited, Smith told The Post he believes he should be considered for an All-Star selection for the first time in his career. [...]
"My eyes are on being an All-Star, honestly," Smith told The Post late Thursday after the Knicks hammered the mighty Spurs. “I’m not focusing on Sixth Man. Sixth Man is more long-term, honestly, end of the year. My individual goal right now is All-Star, then I’ll think about the Sixth Man. I’m trying to be that All-Star coming off the bench for my team."
Smith was devastated when coach Mike Woodson told him during training camp he envisioned him coming off the bench. It is rare for a bench player to be viewed as an All-Star, but Smith’s season has been eye-opening.
Berman's right — Manu Ginobili has made only two All-Star teams despite being an avowed star for many years, and Smith is playing a career-high-but-still-low 33 minutes per game. But there are nonetheless several reasons that Smith could be selected. The first is that he plays for a good team, and if the coaches decide the Knicks deserve three players on the team — it's ridiculous, but quotas seem to have defined selections before — he's a solid choice after Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, both no-brainer choices.
However, the best case for J.R.'s inclusion might be that the East is seriously hurting for qualified guards. If Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade are chosen to start, as expected, then Smith is among a weak group of potential reserves. They include: Kyrie Irving, a uniquely dynamic young player who missed 11 games and plays for a terrible team; Deron Williams, who may have gotten Avery Johnson fired; Joe Johnson, who underwhelmed as his team played very poorly for a full month; Jrue Holiday, who's going to make it, despite being uninspiring in some advanced metrics; and Monta Ellis, who, despite his similarity to Wade, is pretty much only on this list because he scores lots of points for a team now ranked No. 7 in the conference. It's not crazy to imagine Smith beating out a few of those players for a spot.
Yet it is very hilarious to consider the idea of the NBA promoting Smith as one of its brightest stars, because he's tempered his worst tendencies only slightly this season and remains as defiantly himself as ever. Honestly, there may be no player better suited to the All-Star Game — he pretty much only tries for 3-pointers and dunks. But it's also true that Smith wouldn't just be happy to be there, and that he'd turn the ASG into his own personal playground and probably act like an equal to Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James.
To put it another way, he'd make the All-Star Game a lot more interesting. Take a chance, East coaches. You won't regret it.
Wait, actually, you probably will. But who cares?!
Correction: This post initially said that Manu Ginobili had never made an All-Star team, which is incorrect.