Now if I were David Stern and I wanted to keep it conservative this year so as to avoid any chance that something bad could happen, I might have looked at some sleepy midwestern cities to host this year's game. Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and ... uh ... Indianapolis come to mind. So naturally this year's game will be in the one city where sex, booze, crime and gambling are just as prevalent as (if not moreso than) Vegas -- New Orleans! Awesome! What could possibly go wrong?
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to give you my opinion on who the reserves for the Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams should be. The starters have already been chosen by the fans and, in case you haven't read a sports page or visited a sports website in the last week, it goes like this:
GUARD - DWYANE WADE, Miami
GUARD - JASON KIDD, New Jersey
FORWARD - KEVIN GARNETT, Boston
FORWARD - LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland
CENTER - DWIGHT HOWARD, Orlando
GUARD - KOBE BRYANT, Los Angeles Lakers
GUARD - ALLEN IVERSON, Denver
FORWARD - CARMELO ANTHONY, Denver
FORWARD - TIM DUNCAN, San Antonio
CENTER - YAO MING, Houston
Before I give you my take on who the reserves should be, a word or two on the starters. I don't have a big problem with any of these selections being a part of the All-Star rosters. The only one I would say is a marginal call is Jason Kidd whose shooting percentage has dropped so low that if I'm an opponent, my face lights up with orgasmic glee if I see him squaring up to shoot. He probably still deserves a spot on the team, but I wouldn't have him starting (and you could make a strong case to leave him off the team altogether for Jose Calderon; who would have believed that in October?)
As for the rest of the starters, I love Dwyane Wade as a player, but a starter on the All-Star team from a team who has lost 15 in a row (and counting)? Eh, whatever. And I'd have put in one of the true point guards in the West (Nash, Paul) over A.I., but that's nitpicking. The rest looks fine to me.
Ok, now onto my picks to round out the other seven spots on each team. In case you don't know the selection process the NBA uses for the All-Star reserves, it goes like this: Each coach is asked to fill out a ballot for seven reserves in their conference. They are not allowed to select players from their own team, and they must choose two guards, two forwards, a center, and two "wild card" spots. The positions of the players on a coach's ballot don't have to line up exactly with what position a player was on the fans' All-Star ballot; in other words, if a coach has to stretch the definition of a player's postion so we get the "best seven reserves", then so be it. (i.e. calling Chris Bosh a center so we don't have to see Ziggy Ilgauskas trudging up and down the floor on February 17) Also, it's asked that the coaches rate their selections 1 through 7 so as to assign a point value to each pick.
So with that in mind, I will now pretend I am the coach of the New York Knicks and I will fill out my ballot. (Why the Knicks? Well, it's the one team where I know I am in no danger of snubbing someone because they are "on my own team". Also, I think making me the coach of the Knicks is an immediate upgrade to their current situation. Actually, making my son's dachsund the coach of the Knicks is an immediate upgrade to their current situation.)
GUARDS - CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, Detroit; RICHARD HAMILTON, Detroit. Billups is a no brainer. A late bloomer who just signed a big contract extension in the off season, he's one of those rare breeds who got the big money and has actually improved in nearly every statistic. And just check out his +/- rating on 82games.com to see how valuable he is to the Pistons (+9 higher than the next Piston). It was a coin flipper for me between Hamilton and Ray Allen for the other guard spot. I went with Hamilton because at this stage in his career, Allen is mostly a long range jump shooter (a damned good one, don't get me wrong) while Hamilton can beat you in different ways, whether it's catch-and-shoot, that little curl into the lane, or in transition. He is constantly moving, and end to end he is one of the fastest players in the league.
FORWARDS - CARON BUTLER, Washington; ANTAWN JAMISON, Washington. It's almost impossible to take one of these guys and not take the other. Fortunately, the East is thin enough this year and both of these guys are deserving, so doing so shouldn't spark too much debate. The fact of the matter is when Gilbert Arenas went down with his injury early in the season, most everyone wrote off the Wizards as a lottery team. But Jamison and Butler would have none of that. The Wizards are safely in the playoff mix, and playing much better defense than last season. Butler is arguably the top small forward in the league behind LeBron, and Jamison (20 and 10 guy who can go inside or outside on you) has one of the most versatile floor games of any power forward in the league.
CENTER - CHRIS BOSH, Toronto. I'm taking creative license here and calling Bosh a center. Either we do that, or we vote in Zydrunas Ilgauskas and watch him comically try to keep up with all of these thoroughbreds. Admittedly, it would give Yao someone to talk to while the rest of the guys on the floor zip past him at warp speed. (Now that conversation would be a youtube moment for sure.) As for Bosh, he deserves to be on the team based on the strength of this video alone:
Indeed, it is free to vote for you, Chris! I've seen enough, you've got my vote!
WILD CARDS - PAUL PIERCE, Boston; JOSH SMITH, Atlanta. With all of the hype over Garnett and Allen making their way to Boston, it's easy to forget the one guy out of the Big Three who was already there. Pierce has been rejuvenated this year and can still beat you in a variety of ways -- posting up, in transition, or from three. Smith is one of the top young talents you may have never seen play. He's dealt with some attitude issues in his first couple years in the league, and it helps his chances of making the team that the East is not nearly as deep in talent as the West, but this kid's game is explosive. In addition to putting up 18 a game on the offensive end, he's second in the league in blocked shots and 11th in steals. For those of you who are into the Hollinger stats thing, he actually rates ahead of guys like Jamison and Shawn Marion at the power forward position. And in case you're wondering how well he'd fit into the whole "alley oop every other play" thing that the All Star Game typically turns/degenerates into, well here you go ....
- RAY ALLEN, Boston - Although my guess is he'd want to rest his ankles and feet for the weekend anyway
- JOSE CALDERON, Toronto - There's a reason Toronto hasn't skipped a beat with T.J. Ford out nearly the whole season; probably deserves Kidd's spot on the roster
- RICHARD JEFFERSON, New Jersey - Also probably more deserving than Kidd, although admittedly the All-Star Game is tailor-made for Kidd's passing skills
GUARDS - CHRIS PAUL, New Orleans; STEVE NASH, Phoenix. Along with LeBron and Kobe, no two players are more valuable to their respective teams than these two. Paul is my league MVP for the first half of the season. To have this New Orleans team at the top of the Western Conference was unthinkable at the beginning of the season, and every time I find myself waiting for the six game losing streak, they seem to rattle off four or five more wins. As for Nash, the Suns record without him the last few years speaks for itself. Not only does he take good players like Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and (to a lesser extent) Leandro Barbosa and make them borderline great, but he takes average players like Boris Diaw and Raja Bell and makes them vital parts of the offense with his distribution skills. Paul and Nash are the two easiest reserve picks.
FORWARDS - AMARE STOUDEMIRE, Phoenix; DIRK NOWITSKI, Dallas. Next to Nash, Stoudemire is the most indispensable piece on that talented Phoenix team because of the inside presence he brings (and how little of that they actually have on that team behind him). Plus, he's the one guy to fully recover from microfracture knee surgery and not run like he has a club foot, so bonus points there. At the other forward slot, it came down to Nowitski and Carlos Boozer, and while Dirk is not quite performing at the MVP levels he's been at the last few years, he's still one of the toughest matchups in the league because of his outside shooting and his nearly unstoppable fadeaway jumper. Boozer has been a double-double machine, so he's deserving, but the tie goes to the guy who didn't screw over a blind man who trusted him. Sorry Boozer.
CENTER - MARCUS CAMBY, Denver. One underrated subplot to this season has been the rebirth of the center position in the NBA, particularly out west. Seriously, look at the names at the "center" position on the All-Star ballot. They range from nearly great (Yao, Stoudamire) to very good (Camby, Kaman) to vastly improved (Chandler) to vital cogs (Okur, Miller) to young lions (Jefferson, Biedrins). And we get Greg Oden next year! So why Camby for the All-Star team? Well, he's leading the Western conference in rebounding and blocked shots, and while Camby doesn't do much except collect garbage on the offensive end, the fact is Dennis Rodman made multiple All-Star teams by being the best in the league at rebounding and defending. So should Camby this season.
WILD CARDS - BARON DAVIS, Golden State; BRANDON ROY, Portland. It pains me not to put Manu Ginobili on this All-Star team because of everything he does for the Spurs, but there's just no way I can (a) talk myself into lying and calling him a forward (and thereby booting Nowitiski) or (b) keep Davis or Roy off this team. Baron Davis is to Golden State what Steve Nash is to Phoenix. He's the heartbeat of the team, the guy who dictates the pace, and the guy who takes all of the big shots. He's strong enough to take smaller guards into the low block, and quick enough to take most others off the dribble. He's without peer at the point guard position when it comes to finishing a fast break or a drive to the hole, and is strong enough to where if he doesn't finish he usually gets to the line. As for Roy, he might be the most important player to arrive in Portland since they drafted Michael Jordan in 1984 .... oh wait, never mind. Seriously, it's not a reach to say he's the most important Blazer since Bill Walton. This is a franchise that had lost all public goodwill because they kept signing and drafting bad character guys, to the point where it almost appeared as though they intentionally were trying to put together a cast for some sort of strange prison flick about really tall criminals. They finally got rid of the last of the bad apples last summer when they traded Zach Randolph to New York for Channing Frye and the right to pay Steve Francis $30M to go home. They drafted Greg Oden, who was promptly diagnosed with a bad knee. The team appeared headed for another lottery season, yet somehow with a lineup that includes Steve Blake at point guard, Joel Przybilla at center, and Martell Webster at the three, Roy has this team in line to make the playoffs. We'll see if they can sustain it for 82 games. I say they can't, just not enough talent. But the fact that they are in the mix this deep into the season is a testament to the precocious Roy's leadership skills and his clutch shooting. Roy is also leading the Blazers in assists, which as a two guard tells you he doesn't have anyone even moderately decent at the point setting him up, he's having to make it happen for himself and set up his teammates. He's having to do it on his own, not unlike the role Tracy McGrady plays for the Rockets (although the next time Przybilla is confused for Yao will be the first). Basically, the West better brace itself because Roy-Oden will be Kobe-Shaq circa 2000-2002 within the next five years. Once the window has closed on Duncan, Nash, Nowitiski, Yao/T-Mac, and Kobe. And that day is coming ....
- MANU GINOBILI, San Antonio - I still reserve the right to change my mind and boot Nowitski off the team in favor of the stone cold killa' from Argentina.
- CARLOS BOOZER, Utah - Tough omission from a numbers standpoint, but he screwed over Gordon Gund and he went to Duke, so he gets the sucker punch in the junk
- DAVID WEST, New Orleans - Overshadowed by Paul, maybe the most underrated player in the West
- RUDY GAY, Memphis - Just mentioning him because he will be going to this game someday and probably soon ... and the Rockets traded the pick Memphis used to draft him for Shane Battier. I'm just sayin' ....