Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki lead list of All-Star snubs
Selecting the members of an NBA All-Star team is an inherently flawed process in which fans and coaches must pick 12 participants among a much larger number of deserving players in each conference. Apart from outright confounding votes for starters or legacy picks of legends past their primes, the vast majority of All-Stars every year are deserving. The 2016 starters and reserves form a solid group. Plus, does anyone really want to kick out Kobe in his last season?
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Nevertheless, the process leaves out plenty of worthy candidates. This season is no different — both the Western Conference and Eastern Conference feature several players who qualify as snubs, if not outrageous ones relative to the guys who made it. Read on below for our picks for the best players who won't be heading to Toronto.
Damian Lillard, guard, Portland Trail Blazers: An All-Star in both 2014 and 2015, Lillard has become the unquestioned face of the franchise after an offseason of immense overhaul. The results have been better than most anticipated — Portland would make the playoffs if the season ended today and has impressed with a mixture of balance and effort. Lillard has been terrific, scoring 24.3 ppg and dishing out 7.1 apg with the sort of maturity that suggests he will lead this team for years to come. It's his poor fortune that the West has so many excellent and established guards.
Dirk Nowitzki, power forward, Dallas Mavericks: Eighteen years into his Hall of Fame career, Nowitzki remains one of the game's premier range-shooting big men, drilling just under 40 percent of his triple tries while hoisting a career-high 5.2 bombs per 36 minutes of floor time. He still leads the team in scoring, he's still the high-efficiency endpoint of one-fourth of the Mavericks' offensive possessions, and he's still the foundation of everything Dallas does — Rick Carlisle's club is about 10 points per 100 possessions better when Dirk's on the floor, drawing attention and gunning away, than when he's not.
Plus, who wouldn't have wanted to see another highlight-reel alley-oop throwdown?
Al Horford, center, Atlanta Hawks: Horford's statistical output is virtually identical to last season, when he was a no-brainer selection as one of four members of the wildly hot Hawks to make the trip to New York. But his minutes are up, his field-goal percentage is down, the Hawks in particular are a bit worse and the East overall is quite a bit better, all of which adds up to one of the league's best all-around big men just missing the cut this time around.
Pau Gasol, center, Chicago Bulls: See above. Like Horford, Gasol's been roughly as good as he was last year, standing alongside Western reserve DeMarcus Cousins as one of just two players averaging at least 16 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game this season. But slight drops in his productivity combined with a slightly disappointing start for the Bulls — they're fourth in the East at 25-19, but they've got a bottom-five offense and haven't been demonstrably better with Gasol on the court — and several other frontcourt candidates with stronger first-half resumes leave Pau on the outside looking in.
Derrick Favors/Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz: Call it a cop-out if you'd like, but reasonable cases could be made for either of the two Jazz linchpins. Favors proved himself to be an improving scorer and space-covering defender alongside shot-swatter and lob-finisher Rudy Gobert. Then, he capably took over the Frenchman's central responsibilities when Gobert was sidelined by an MCL sprain.
Favors, however, missed 16 games himself with back spasms, a period during which Hayward averaged 22.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, helping keep injury-ravaged Utah afloat and in the running for a playoff spot in the Western Conference at 20-25, percentage points out of the West's No. 8 seed. He's averaging a shade under 20 points, five boards and 3.5 dimes per game on the season; nine of the other 10 guys putting up those stats are in the All-Star Game, and the other (Blake Griffin) would've been if he hadn't missed the last month due to injury before putting himself back on the shelf by punching his friend in the face twice. Both Favors and Hayward have quietly continued their development to the point where they merit consideration among the game's best players at their positions ... even if they don't yet appear to merit such consideration from the voting public or the coaches tasked with rounding out All-Star rosters.
DeAndre Jordan, center, Los Angeles Clippers: The man who launched a thousand emojis is as bad a free-throw shooter as ever — his 42 percent is an improvement on last season's 39.7 but has come on a career-high 11.7 attempts per game with the popularity of intentional fouling. Everything else has been pretty good. Jordan's 11.9 ppg and 13.6 rpg averages are near career highs, and his 71.2 percent shooting from the field has him in line to lead the league for the fourth season in a row. His defensive reputation is perhaps better than the reality, but it's hard to imagine the Clippers stopping anyone without him.
Tim Duncan, center, San Antonio Spurs: It's difficult to make an argument for Duncan on the merits, because his 8.9 ppg and 7.5 rpg would rank as career lows by some margin despite his typically excellent defense. However, Duncan arguably deserves a legacy pick in what could be his final season even if he probably doesn't care about the recognition and will presumably retire with little fanfare. The league would want to say goodbye to him.
Zaza Pachulia, center, Dallas Mavericks: The people have spoken. We dare not defy them.
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