Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - On Thursday night, on TNT, a station "that knows drama," the All-Star reserves will be announced.
For the first time in a while, at least in one conference, the drama centers more on who will actually get in, not who was left out.
The All-Star reserve selection process is simple, yet still yields a lot of questions.
"I can't believe So and So didn't make it. His team has the third-most wins, and his PER is top 20 in the league."
"Mr. X doesn't belong. He only got in because the coaches were lazy and rewarded him for his career."
Coaches within the conference vote for two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards. They can not vote for someone on their own team, which shouldn't be a problem in the Eastern Conference.
That's the fun one this time around. There are 10 deserving Western Conference subs and a few will get snubbed. But in the East, it's a chore getting to seven.
There are plenty of players having quality NBA seasons, but to declare them All-Stars in any other year would be a stretch.
Yet, the coaches have been tasked, and for a day, I shall channel my inner coach.
EASTERN CONFERENCE RESERVE BACKCOURT
1. JOHN WALL, WASHINGTON WIZARDS; 2. DEMAR DEROZAN, TORONTO RAPTORS
Wall is the easiest reserve to put on the Eastern Conference roster. His averages of 20 points per game and 8.5 assists per game are both career highs as is his 32.5 percent shooting from 3-point land and 84 percent from the foul line. The Wizards are decent (meaning they might host a first-round series) and that's enough for a warranted spot. Also, and this has nothing to do with him making the team - his numbers do that - but Wall was criticized for getting a max deal. He's earned it and recently, he was snubbed from the USA Basketball roster. People may not want to fall in love with him, but he's been better than starter Kyrie Irving this season.
DeRozan is the Raptors' representative because, like the Wiz, they've been solid. That's what passes for an automatic All-Star spot. DeRozan is averaging career highs in scoring, assists, rebounding, steals and blocks. He's a gifted scorer, but it's what he's done since the Raptors gave Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings that's made DeRozan an All-Star. When everyone assumed this signaled tank city, DeRozan has upped his numbers to 21.9 ppg and an impressive 4.3 apg, which is significant because the knock on the Raps and Gay was the lack of ball movement and playmaking. DeRozan has excelled in all areas since this truly became his team.
EASTERN CONFERNCE RESERVE FRONTCOURT
1. ROY HIBBERT, INDIANA PACERS; 2. JOAKIM NOAH, CHICAGO BULLS; 3. PAUL MILLSAP, ATLANTA HAWKS
Hibbert is the presumptive NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the best defensive team in a long time. His offense is adequate to above-average, but his defensive presence is what separates him from most on the front line.
(Plus, I still choose to treat centers as their own position, unlike the NBA in this voting process. Hibbert is the best center in the East and that's good enough for me.)
Noah is close, though. His scoring is on plane for his career and his rebounding is at an all-time high. Noah's field-goal percentage is a career- low, although his 9.4 attempts per game are almost the highest ever in seven- year career. Noah is just relentless on the defensive end and on the glass, grabbing double-figure boards in 18 straight games. It's easy for a team like the Bulls to pack it in after the horrific injury to Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng, who was as popular in Chicago as deep-dish pizza. Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and especially head coach Tom Thibodeau refuse to allow it. Since Thibodeau can't coach the East and the other bruisers are solid pros without All-Star numbers, Noah gets a vote to New Orleans.
When Al Horford went down for the season, the job of which Hawk would replace him became an interesting subplot. Millsap ended that recently with a stretch of six games out of eight over 20 points. The Hawks are going to finish in the top four in the East and are two games over .500 without their best player. Millsap, especially for his relatively modest price (two years, $19 million), is also a pretty darn good defensive player.
EASTERN CONFERENCE RESERVE WILD-CARDS
1. LANCE STEPHENSON, INDIANA PACERS; 2. CHRIS BOSH, MIAMI HEAT
Stephenson is the perfect wild-card All-Star choice. You'll hear a lot about Stephenson leading the league in triple-doubles, his massive improvement from last season, stout defense and the fact he's a little goofy. What you won't hear enough is that his numbers are borderline sensational - 14.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 5.3 apg. Know the only other player in the league to average at least seven rebounds and over five assists a night? It's Kevin Durant, and he's running away with the MVP, so, honestly, there's a debate about Stephenson?
(LeBron James averages 6.9 rebounds, so he doesn't count, and even if we rounded up, wouldn't that support Stephenson's case?)
Bosh is the most "controversial" of the reserve picks. His numbers aren't far off his Miami norms (16.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 54 percent shooting), so why not? The Pacers and Heat have dominated the Eastern Conference this season, so isn't it appropriate to have a third Miami player? Also, who exactly are we leaving off in favor of Bosh that demands this spot?
Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats? His numbers are better than Bosh, but he's missed nine games of 43 and has made Charlotte marginally better.
Arron Afflalo of the Orlando Magic? Great season, one I championed earlier, but his Magic are 20 1/2 behind the Heat, and Miami has won more games since Christmas than Orlando has all season.
(More on that subject later.)
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVE BACKCOURT
1. CHRIS PAUL, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS; 2. JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS
Paul should start and probably will if he comes back in time to play in the All-Star game. (Kobe Bryant probably won't because of his injury and the fans felt his six-game body of work was too strong to vote for someone else.)
Paul's numbers are loony - 19.6 points, 11.2 assists (leads the league), 4.6 rebounds (crazy good number for a point guard), 2.4 steals (second in the league) and all shooting marks are above average. CP3 is the unquestioned leader of the best team in the Pacific Division. His presence in New Orleans reaches no-brainer status.
Harden is becoming an internet sensation for defense. However, it's for all of the wrong reasons. It's not that he can't play defense, it's that he doesn't seem to want to. With Dwight Howard manning the middle, one can understand how easy it would be to become lackadaisical in that regard. Harden's offense is crazy (23.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.9 rpg and decent shooting numbers) and the Rockets are playoff-bound.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVE FRONTCOURT
1. LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS; 2. DWIGHT HOWARD, HOUSTON ROCKETS; 3. DEMARCUS COUSINS, SACRAMENTO KINGS
Aldridge is the most obvious reserve on either team. If you don't know the case, I forbid you from reading further.
Howard was expected to be a starter until a late surge in fan voting by Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves took away that status. Howard's numbers have been taken for granted, but he is still the best center in the sport. That matters to me, and though Howard's numbers are actually down, the Rockets play more of a team style than either the Orlando Magic or Los Angeles Lakers did.
Cousins is the name that will generate the most buzz. I scoffed at the notion of Arron Afflalo being an All-Star because of the Magic's record. So here's the question, can a player on a team with a losing record be an All-Star?
The All-Star game is about All-Star individual performances. This is an exhibition game. Sure, there are real-life ramifications like player bonuses for appearances and things of the sort, but this is not to reward great teams, it's about putting the best players from the first half of the season in a meaningless game.
The yardstick for decision as to whether a player from a bad team warrants consideration is how good are the numbers. Statistics are becoming obsolete, or, more precisely, old statistics like scoring, rebounding and assists are becoming antiquated.
PER is about a player's efficiency. That's a big stat nowadays. Cousins is fifth; Afflalo is 61st. Basically, the Kings are losing despite Cousins' effort, while the Afflalo is doing very little to change the Magic's fortunes.
The Kings are 15-29, which is fifth-worst in the NBA.
Cousins is averaging 22.6 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.0 apg and 1.2 bpg. Afflalo is at 20.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 3.8 apg. This comparison isn't greatly in Cousins' favor, but it is.
Afflalo's better comparison is probably DeRozan. The Raptor guard's numbers are slightly better, so in that respect, DeRozan gets the nod. As a separating decider, record is a great tool. That gets DeRozan to New Orleans.
So what gets Cousins to the game, over a pair of winning frontcourt players? (Spoiler alert - my two West wild-cards are guards.)
Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks are Cousins' main competition. Both are going to the Hall of Fame, both are key parts of winning franchises.
Duncan has no case in my mind, other than the Spurs' record. He averages 14.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 2.0 bpg. In the East, he's probably a shoo-in. But based on Cousins' vitals, how could you send Duncan over Cousins, other than record and legacy?
Duncan has a better blocked shot average than Cousins. That's all. Oh, excuse me, Duncan shoots four-tenths of a percent better at the foul line. Yet Duncan should go over Cousins because of the Spurs' record. Duncan isn't even the best player on the Spurs. That's Tony Parker. This isn't the Duncan Renaissance season of last year.
Nowitzki makes a better case than Duncan. He's averaging 21.2 ppg and his shooting numbers, are, at the age of 35, incredible.
Yet neither of these giants of the game have better individual statistics than Cousins. The margins aren't astronomically in Cousins' favor, but they are. So we shouldn't include Cousins because the Spurs and Mavericks have had better management for the last decade?
Cousins is an All-Star. The numbers bare it out. If it was close, then, record should come into it. This shouldn't be close.
WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVE WILD-CARDS
1. DAMIAN LILLARD, PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS; 2. TONY PARKER, SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The funny thing about the Cousins' argument is that, if I could, I'd have another guard instead of Cousins and that guard would be Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns.
Lillard gets in because not only are his major stats impressive, he's become every bit as important as Aldridge in Portland's success.
Parker is here, partially because of the team he plays on. If I tabbed Dragic over Parker, and in both cases, the stats would justify selection, that would mean no San Antonio Spurs player on the roster. That's unacceptable. Again, team success should be used only as a final straw aiding in the drink of decision.
Plus, Parker is so good, he's become underrated. With his natural scoring ability, he could put up 25 a night, but it's not needed. He turns it on for his team when it's needed and his 3-point shooting has taken a drastic leap. That was really his only weakness.
There's no chance these are the 14 men selected, and have faith, Western Conference fans, with Bryant probably out, and Paul a maybe, guys like Cousins and Dragic face a decent chance of going to New Orleans.
It's not an exact science nailing these All-Star picks. You create your own formula based on what you value in a player. My hope is that these coaches do look a little at the stats and not just the win-loss record, or the name on the back of the jersey.
Fat chance of that happening.