On Thursday night, the 2014 All-Star reserves will be announced, putting to bed weeks of speculation as to whether the likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be named to the team.
In recent years, the rosters for the Rising Stars rookie-sophomore game have been determined via draft, a trend that seems to be spreading across all sports—most recently to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. So, why not extend the practice to the NBA’s Big Game?
I enlisted the help of my good friend, Will (the biggest and most genuine basketball fan I know) to do just that. We named this season’s top two vote getters—LeBron James and Kevin Durant—‘captains’ and flipped a coin. Will called heads and won, getting LeBron and the first pick. The goal from there was simple: To draft the best team possible, taking into account both the fact that players should be awarded for their performance so far this season and that this is an exhibition game and entertainment matters.
There are plenty of deserving players, so narrowing it down to 12 a side was harder than anticipated. Do I have regrets? Too many to count. And some over this draft, too…
Team LeBron’s First Pick: Paul George. LeBron dropped/embarrassed his home state on a nationally televised program for a better opportunity to win. A less calculating ballplayer might take the warm and cuddly pick—D-Wade—but LBJ wouldn't think twice about dropping him for best player available. LeBron also doesn't need PG hounding him on defence, and he can delegate Durant Duty to a younger man.
Team Durant’s First Pick: Anthony Davis. This season’s breakout player—best evidenced by a 22-point, 19-rebound, seven-block outburst last weekend—will form a scary one-two with KD on both ends of the floor. To illustrate just how well Davis is playing this year: The only players to average Davis’s current line—20 PPG, 10.4 RPG, three BPG—over a season are Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Bob McAdoo, Bob Lanier, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Shaq. Here’s the plan on defense: Durant and Davis line up next to each other somewhere around the three-point line, stretch their arms out to the side and form an impenetrable wall of length. Can’t fail.
TL’s Second Pick: Chris Paul. I'm breaking the inter-conference barrier, selecting the best point guard alive and also assuming that he's healthy. But even if he's not, my team will still win—the Clippers are 8-2 over their last 10 games.
TD’s Second Pick: Steph Curry. The fans got it right when Curry was voted into the starting lineup last week for what'll be his first All-Star appearance. Still developing his game, the NBA’s best shooter is showing his point-guard mettle this season, trailing only Paul and the Lakers’ Kendall Marshall in assists per.
TL’s Third Pick: Blake Griffin. I'm probably going to pick D-Wade next—because I know he'll still be available—and then I’ll have Griffin, George and James slamming home oops from CP and D-Wade.
TD’s Third Pick: Kevin Love. Dunks are overrated. You know what everyone really wants to see? REBOUNDS.
TL’s Fourth Pick: Dwyane Wade. As discussed… But I guess I should say something about Blake Griffin, because he's pretty good at basketball, having the best year of his career, playing on a potential title contender and carrying the Clips right now, averaging 25.2 points, 8.1 boards, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals and shooting 54.4 percent from the floor since Paul went down. And it's an All-Star Game. And because dunks.
TD’s Fourth Pick: Carmelo Anthony. I don't love the fit on the floor with Durant, but Melo’s too good to pass up. I'd argue the three most lethal scorers in the league are now on this team in Melo, Durant, and Curry (and I think I just did). Plus, this was a pretty solid audition.
TL’s Fifth Pick: DeMarcus Cousins. I want a big guy with great passing, who also happens to be one of the most entertaining players to watch from a human-interest perspective. Boogie is also sixth in the NBA in PER at 26.58.
TD’s Fifth Pick: Kyrie Irving. In a real game, I don't know if Kyrie makes it over anybody else we're going to name from here on out. But in a meaningless, flash-over-substance exhibition match? Uncle Drew has next, and Team LeBron are all Brandon Knights in waiting. That streetball flair gives Irving the nod at PG over the more deserving Damian Lillard. Plus, Durant ‘coached’ him in the Rising Stars game last season, so there’s some chemistry there.
TL’s Sixth Pick: Damian Lillard. Leading the league in clutch performance (Lillard is 78.9 percent from the field in OT for his entire career), Lillard looks like he's also going to help lead the resurgent Blazers back to the playoffs. He deserves to head to New Orleans.
TD’s Sixth Pick: LaMarcus Aldridge. I was hoping to pair the two Blazers, but… Aldridge, a legit MVP candidate, is the other reason why Portland is suddenly one of the NBA's best. In real life, he should have gotten the starting nod over Griffin.
TL’s Seventh Pick: Dave! It's an all-star game. The people want to see Blake throw down. It's not the determining factor, but it's a big one. My pick is Roy Hibbert. It pains me to say it, but I agree with Dwight Howard: Centres must be saved. It delights me to say I will be picking Hibbert and not Howard.
TD’s Seventh Pick: James Harden. Reeuuuuniiited and it feeeeels so gooooood.
TL’s Eighth Pick: John Wall. The Wizards are 22-23 this season, largely on the back of Wall's 19.8 points and 8.5 assists every night. He's also six-foot-four, and that's way taller than I anticipated!
TD’s Eighth Pick: Dirk Nowitzki. I feel like I could probably have waited a few more rounds and still landed him, but Dirk's been great this season. He's quietly upped his scoring from 17.3 points per last year to 21.6 this season, and will be playing in his twelfth All-Star Game. Hell, even if he doesn't get a ton of burn, we could put him in as a colour commentator and he'd still be the steal of the draft.
TL’s Ninth Pick: Kyle Lowry. This might be a total homer pick, but Lowry has upped his game to a ridiculous level in this contract year, after Rudy Gay was traded and once he ironed out his issues with coach Dwane Casey. He’s tied for fifth in the league in made threes, tenth in assists per game, shooting 40.6 percent from behind the arc and leads the leagues in charges, as Matt Devlin reminds us every game.
TD’s Ninth Pick: I'm going to keep the theme going and take DeMar DeRozan. He's put in the work and it's paying off. Since The Trade, he's one of only five players averaging 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. The others are LeBron, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and James Harden, so there's no question he belongs. I was looking for wing depth and given the glut of bigs still on the board, I know there'll be a strong inside presence available to me later, whereas the guard pool is draining fast. There’s a good chance I would have gone with Eric Bledsoe here if he weren't hurt.
TL’s Tenth Pick: Arron Afflalo. First, I'm impressed that he lived in the same neighbourhood as Kendrick Lamar. I also feel like I need a shooting guard who can play on both ends. Afflalo has been super-efficient this year (47 FG%), particularly from deep (42%), and he's pretty good in the post, too. The basketball purist in me is kind of upset that I haven't picked Howard yet, because he really has had a comeback season after the crap he took with the Lakers last year, but I just want him as far away from my team as possible—and I'm sure LeBron agrees.
TD’s Tenth Pick: I'll go ahead and take the Dwight Howard plunge, then, to help match up against the size and physicality of your two centres (Hibbert and Cousins), and because, while he makes it so easy to dislike him, Howard—averaging 18.1 and 12.5 and shooting 57.1 percent—belongs in this game.
TL’s Eleventh Pick: With my last pick of the 2014 NBA All-Star Game Draft, I select... Tim Duncan. I don't think I need another guard, and there has to be a Spurs rep in the ASG due to another fabulous season in San Antonio. It was either Tim or Tony, and I took the Big Fundamental. He's well off his career averages, but still quarterbacks a defence beautifully. I love when younger guys get their shine and really considered Joakim Noah here, but just couldn't pull the trigger. I also couldn't let you have both Tim and Dirk.
TD’s Eleventh Pick: Despite the fact that more than a few deserving players remain, I’ve already spent way too much time deliberating on an arbitrary pick in a fake game. I’m going with Goran Dragic. I could use another guard and really feel that the Phoenix Suns and their fans should be rewarded for the team’s play this season. With Bledsoe out, Dragic has really stepped up his game, averaging 19.7 and 6.1 while shooting 49.9 percent from the field. He’s a terribly overlooked/underrated player who Team Durant is more than happy to give his first real taste of the spotlight (that doesn’t involve a Derrick Rose poster).
Starting Five: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, LeBron James and Roy Hibbert. First, I want to win this thing. Second, it would be pretty compelling seeing Wade/LBJ and PG/Hibbs in the same starting lineup.
Bench: Damian Lillard (first sub, for Wade), Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Arron Afflalo and Tim Duncan.
Draft strategy: Chemistry. I strived to put together a team that would mesh seamlessly on and off the court. To the best of my knowledge, there is no beef on my team [Ed Note: Other than the Miami-Indiana rivalry…]. I generally wanted an aesthetically pleasing team (i.e. insanely athletic) populated by deserving in-year players—with the exception of Duncan.
X-factor: Will CP3 Play?
Toughest omission: Tony Parker. He’s one of the best players in the league.
Who’s taking the last shot? Lillard! Who else would get it this season? He's been a killer.
Starting Five: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Bench: James Harden (sixth man, of course), Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Dirk Nowitzki and Goran Dragic.
Draft strategy: Surround the best player in the NBA this year—Kevin Durant—with an A-team of specialists… and Carmelo Anthony. As for the bench? Versatility is the key: Bigs who are comfortable on the perimeter and guards who can play multiple positions—giving me plenty of options and matchups to exploit.
X-factor: Will Anthony Davis live up to the pressure of being chosen first in an imaginary draft?
Toughest omission: Chris Bosh. He’s done nothing to disqualify him from playing in his ninth All-Star Game, but I just couldn’t take another big.
Who’s taking the last shot? Curry, with Durant and Melo as world-class decoys.