Can we start off by reintroducing ourselves to the idea of how ridiculous this is? The NBA is hosting an All-Star game in the midst of a 66-game season, with the starters picked after just one month of play and the reserves selected after most teams had played about a third of their season. With every bit of that third being used to get into the sort of shape that the typical month-long training camp and exhibition season only helps to nearly take care of.
Then, the league mandates that coaches select a center, two forwards, two guards and two wild cards. Apparently the "wild cards" must be eligible NBA players, so it's not as if coaches could select a demolitions expert or wacky neighbor. This is silly in itself, because sometimes the centers or guards or even forwards aren't great. So, to force positional categorization in an exhibition game like this … OK, we'll stop.
We are the judging types, though. So click the jump for our take on who the coaches got it right with, and what they fell short on. Our take on the West can be found here.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Bosh, really, should be starting this game. It does seem a bit odd the Heat would have three deserved All-Star starters (with Dwyane Wade, Bosh and LeBron James) and only the East's second-best record, but this is what happens when you run a top-heavy outfit. Free from some of the criticism that dogged him last season, Bosh has actually dipped a bit in the rebounding department (per-game and percentage-wise), but his 19-point and eight-rebound averages (with 51 percent shooting) make him the best big forward in the East right now.
Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls
This is a tough one, and I'm pretty sure you know where I'm heading with this.
Luol Deng might be my favorite person in the NBA. That's not throwaway praise, as I dismiss his credibility as an NBA All-Star. Also, in terms of pure aesthetics? I might not have a player I enjoy watching more. He does everything. Absolutely everything. Defends like mad, holds his team together regardless of the four on the court with him, plays through injury, plays through pain, plays and plays and plays.
Topping all those intangibles is the fact that even though it often ranks as an intangible, defense is half the game and Luol is an all-league defender in ways that don't show up in typical box scores. His Chicago Bulls have held up in his absence, and that easy-ish schedule has helped, but he means the world to them. There's a reason for all this fawning.
I don't think he's been amongst the 12 best players in the Eastern Conference this season, even though defense counts for a full 50 percent of how we should be judging things. I don't think he's far off, but I don't think he's been better than Tyson Chandler, perhaps Rajon Rondo, or even at times Luol's polar opposite in Orlando's Ryan Anderson. Toss in the fact that he's missed a quarter of Chicago's games, and this makes his inclusion a dodgy one in my eyes.
Nasty bits, over.
Luol Deng is an All-Star. He contributes in enough ways to make his inclusion a deserved one. At Deng's best (and when he's not tired and has legs to shoot with), his offensive gifts make him a borderline All-Star and his defensive acumen puts him over the top. The idea of rewarding players for being part of a great team (each of Chicago's players, every damn one of them, have a Player Efficiency Rating in double figures) with a great record with All-Star berths is a silly one. You shouldn't be handed a certain amount of All-Star berths for every 100 percentage points you are over .600, but I'm fully on board with the idea that Luol Deng, at his absolute best, does enough on either side of the ball to have earned this selection.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers
Hibbert, even to pivot play freaks like us, is not the most thrilling watch in the NBA. He does a lot of stuff correctly, he comes and goes as a game-changing passer and he holds his own on either end while limiting the foul trouble that severely plagued his first few years in the NBA. I wouldn't have taken him over Tyson Chandler, who has just about completely reformed the New York Knicks defensively. Per-minute? Hibbert has played quite well in the middle this year, but he still only churns out 30 minutes a contest. And he needs the rest at times, if you know what I mean.
Don't sleep on the guy as an All-Star game factor, though. Yes, these exhibitions are lob-fests, out of tune with Hibbert's at-times plodding play, but we're just eight years removed from another only-picked-because-we-had-to-pick-a-center choice in Jamaal Magliore dropping 19 points and eight rebounds in the 2004 All-Star Game mainly by just hanging around the paint while everyone else tried to connect on 3-pointers and alley-oop dunks.
Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia 76ers
Frankly, 'Dre hasn't deserved an All-Star berth thus far in his career. He's been close more than a few times, essentially a coin flip guy that fell short in most seasons save for 2010-11, but I'm more than OK with leaving him off the roster until now.
Until about Jan. 9 or so, actually. Because Iguodala has been absolutely brilliant on both sides of the ball this season for a surprise Philadelphia team that is on pace to set all sorts of records defensively. If the coaches selected Iguodala because he's the most famous player on what has turned into a great team, that's a shame, because he's more than earned this selection regardless of Philly's sterling record.
And he's going to be great -- GREAT -- in this game.
Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
Johnson, to me, is a dodgy pick only in relation to selecting him over teammate Josh Smith. Smith might turn coaches off with his shot selection at times, but it's a pity that (deserved) reputation covers up the other 90 percent of the game that he plays at an All-Star level on both sides. Choosing Joe (and, to a greater extent, Luol Deng) over Smith is an oversight.
Joe, as usual, is right there. He's scoring 18 points per game on a pretty good team, and that's often enough. It isn't the worst oversight, but the combination of factors that happens to include a more-deserving teammate makes this a tough one. And Rajon Rondo, Brandon Jennings, Ryan Anderson and even Greg Monroe should raise a hackle or two as well.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo has missed eight of his team's games, and Paul Pierce has cobbled together a terrific all-around season in spite of a tough start and heel issue that you know hasn't gone away. I understand that teammates should be judged against each other with these seven spots to fill, but it does make for a tidy column point.
We've spent quite a bit of time discussing Pierce's career and impressive season this week, but it bears repeating this guy continues to find new ways of adding to his overall game. Pierce probably doesn't have many 40-point games left in him, but he's also going to slide over defensively, find someone with the perfect pass and start the break with the needed leak-out lob.
He might have an All-Star game MVP left in him.
Deron Williams, New Jersey Nets
Struggling with a terrible Nets team, Williams has actually played down to their level at times this season. But he's also dribbled around the perimeter, into the paint and back out looking for anyone that remotely resembles not just an NBA starter, but a rotation-worthy teammate. And, by and large save for fleeting moments from Kris Humphries, reserve Jordan Farmar and MarShon Brooks (on offense, at least) they just aren't there.
Williams has forged ahead, though. He's a sound pick over Rajon Rondo even if Rondo had played in more games, and he's on par with Brandon Jennings once you factor in Jennings' marvelous defense. Williams, as a former All-Star, clearly won this coin flip over the much-improved Bucks guard. We'll just have to see who pulls out ahead the next time Milwaukee and New Jersey play.
Or, you'll have to see who wins that one. Because there's no way we're sitting through a Milwaukee-New Jersey game.
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