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Houston: Ready for Takeoff (NBA All-Star Predictions)

Mar, 9, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA All-Star Game tends to have enigmatic qualities.  Although fan voting has led to such calamities as rookie Yao Ming starting over Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill getting the nod for the Eastern Conference without having suited up once all year, and Jeremy Lin almost cracking the starting backcourt for the West this season, all-star selections are more so a barometer of success in a player’s career than those in other major sports.  A variety of reasons exist to probably explain this theory.  Unlike the NFL, the NBA holds its showcase in the middle of the season and requires players to attend.  The Pro Bowl on the other hand is a glorified vacation for some and a disappearing act for most (especially veterans suddenly nursing injuries that haven’t plagued them at any point beforehand).  Unlike the MLB, there is no league mandate to require each team to have a representative.  Maybe this would be a good rule for baseball to apply as well, so we don’t see a who’s who of middle relievers each year just to fill out the requirement.  And unlike the NHL, this isn’t hockey; no further popularity justification necessary.

So as we drive towards another midway point of a fascinating season, it’s time to make the picks of who will be joining the ten starters named last week.   As always, let’s hope these guys remember not to play defense until the last 12 minutes.  As per league rules, I will select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two wild cards for each conference (starters listed as well for reference).

Eastern Conference

Starters:

Rajon Rondo – Boston Celtics

Dwyane Wade – Miami Heat

LeBron James – Miami Heat

Carmelo Anthony – New York Knicks

Kevin Garnett – Boston Celtics

Bench:

Jrue Holliday – Philadelphia 76ers

  • In a season that Philadelphia fans expected to see Andrew Bynum carry the mantle as a #1 option, Holliday has stolen the show in Bynum’s absence.  He is scoring and assisting at a career high clip (only player in the league to average 19+ points and 9+ assists) and has willed the 76ers into playoff contention.

Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers

  • This selection is marred by the Cavaliers abysmal season thus far but few can blame the struggles on Irving.  In his second year, he continues to add polish to his already refined game.  Sporting a PER of almost 22 has shown his efficiency and he is dangerous both inside and out.

Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics

  • In an era where players continue to defy Father Time, The Truth is no exception.  He still carries the Celtics offense as the #1 scoring option and has reinvented his game to rely on craftiness and guile rather than his declining athleticism.  Three selections for the Celtics as they fight to play .500 ball may raise eyebrows but this is the state of the Eastern Conference.

Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets

  • Lopez is one of those players that you always wish would give you more and this may be the season he’s putting it all together.  Sure, he still rebounds like he’s 6’7” and not 7’1” but offensively he’s helped the Nets stay afloat despite creaky seasons from both Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.  He’s top 5 in the league in PER, though I’d like to see him play more than 30 minutes per game.

Joakim Noah – Chicago Bulls

  • Noah has grabbed the mantle from Tyson Chandler and Dwight Howard as the best defensive big man in the league.  The Bulls rank 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 100.8 and sit 8 games above .500 thanks in large part to Coach Thibs’ suffocating defensive schemes but also the anchor Noah provides down low.  The Bulls also run their offense through him at times, as evident in his career high 4 assists per game.

Paul George – Indiana Pacers

  • Early in the season, when the Pacers were adjusting to life without Danny Granger and battling it out with the Colts to see who had a higher scoring offense, it wasn’t clear what kind of player George would become.  As the weeks have progressed, George has shown that he is ready to step up and be the face of the franchise.   He’s averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category and has Indiana winning despite disappointing years from Roy Hibbert and DJ Augustin.

Tyson Chandler – New York Knicks

  • Although the Knicks have come back down to reality from the torrid start they embarked on, Chandler remains a consistent presence in the middle that has the team playing at least passable defense.  On the other side of the ball, he is shooting a ridiculous 67% from the field and still has one of the best beards in the biz.

Western Conference

Starters:

Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers

Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers

Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder

Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers

Dwight Howard – Los Angeles Lakers

Bench:

Russell Westbrook – Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Probably the biggest no-brainer selection of them all, Westbrook has transformed this year into a devastating presence that is producing in all facets of the game.  He still has his moments of ill-advised decision making but his passing has improved and he’s helped make up for the playmaking ability gone with James Harden.

James Harden – Houston Rockets

  • Speaking of Harden, this is another all-star selection that is a forgone conclusion.  Harden has seized his opportunity to be the alpha dog by placing 4th in the league in scoring and keeping Houston competitive out West.  He is prone to too many turnovers and mired in a shooting slump, but not many players combine effortless movement with a high propensity to get to the line.

Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs

  • Another ageless wonder in the league, Duncan is enjoying a renaissance season at the ripe age of 36.   He’s in the top 10 in PER and leads the league in individual defensive rating.  After seeing a steady drop in his minutes and numbers over the last few years, Duncan looks as if he is ready to take one more real shot at title #5 with San Antonio.

Marc Gasol – Memphis Grizzlies

  • Gasol is one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the league because of his deft passing and unselfish play.  Once considered a throw-in in the criminally lopsided Pau Gasol trade, Marc has overtaken his brother for family supremacy and leads a Grizzlies team that will be a very tough out come April.

Al Jefferson – Utah Jazz

  • Big Al has been fairly underrated throughout his career as he’s spent most of it toiling away in obscurity on bad teams in Minnesota and Utah.  However, this version of the Jazz is looking at a repeat postseason performance and Jefferson has led the way yet again with double-double averages of 17 points and 10 rebounds.  He’s enjoyed more time in the rumor mill over the last few years than anyone not named Kardashian but remains a consistent presence down low.

Tony Parker – San Antonio Spurs

  • Parker has transformed himself from Duncan’s complimentary piece to the catalyst of a high octane offense in San Antonio.  He is the best in the league coming off pick and rolls, and has improved his jump shot greatly, sporting a True Shooting % of 58.5.   In a league filled with elite point guard play, Parker remains an unsung force at the top.

Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

  • Curry might have the prettiest shot in the league, and he is using it to his advantage by shooting 46% from 3-point range.  Although he has fought ankle injuries throughout his career, he’s stayed relatively healthy this season and is teaming up with David Lee to make the Warriors a legitimate threat as they still wait for Andrew Bogut’s return. He still struggles a bit at guarding bigger guards but has improved his overall play each season.

 

Fellow writer Will Stokes weighed in on his picks as well:

Western Conference

G James Harden

FC Marc Gasol

FC Tim Duncan

WC Stephen Curry

WC Tony Parker

 

Eastern Conference

G Kyrie Irving

G Jrue Holliday

FC Brook Lopez

FC Tyson Chandler

FC Joakim Noah

WC Chris Bosh

WC Nene

Topics: All-star Game, Nba, Washington Wizards

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