Ahead of the NBA All-Star team announcements, Sportsnet Magazine’s Dave Zarum has provided his picks as to who should be on the floor for the Western Conference when the game tips off in Houston on Feb. 17.
The fans selected the games official starters which will be announced Thursday evening.
The rest of the squad will be chosen by coaches and will be unveiled on Jan. 24.
Who will start: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (651,893 votes)
Who should start: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers — It’s safe to say the best player at his position warrants a spot in the starting lineup. And frankly the gap between Paul and the next-best point guard in the NBA this season is laughable*.
With 9.7 assists and 16.8 points on 48 per cent shooting and a league-leading 2.6 steals per game so far, he’s the driving force behind the NBA’s seventh-ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense — and a 30-win team bound for home-court advantage come April.
And as good as Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and the rest of his supporting cast have been performing around him, it’s Paul who has the Clippers – the Clippers — playing at an elite level and on the verge of winning over fans across Los Angeles. (This is the point where you get on your knees and thank the Basketball Gods — or David Stern — that Paul never became a Laker).
*That said, don’t discount the potential of Jeremy Lin grabbing this spot. Remember, fans vote in the starters and the last ballot returns in early January showed Lin (605,624) was within legitimate reach of Paul (651,893 votes).
Who will start: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers (1,177,456 votes)
Who should start: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers — This Lakers season wasn’t supposed to go down like this. And the Kobester is taking it out on the rest of the NBA. In his 16th season, Bryant is pacing the league with 29.9 ppg (including a ludicrous 33.7 points per in the month of December) while attempting an NBA “best” 828 field goals — 104 more than seconnd place (Russell Westbrook’s 704), and in the same number of games (38). Read that again. Of course, if the playoffs started today he’d be watching from home.
Who will start: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder (1,088,797 votes)
Who should start: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder — The likely frontrunner for MVP at this point, Durant has taken yet another leap in his development and is currently playing the best basketball of his career. Nearly halfway through the season, Durant’s Thunder have the look and feel of the NBA’s elite behind his unreal 28.9/7.6/4.2/1.3/1.5 line, including a career best 52.2 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. As long as he’s still playing (which, at only 24, will be a long, long time) it’s safe to say this All-Star spot will always be reserved for him.
Who will start: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (593,024 votes)
Who should start: Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers — His numbers may be slightly down (a career-low 31.9 minutes per game, thanks to the Clippers killer bench, might have something to do with that), but in just his third season he already looks comfortable anchoring the frontcourt for a title contender.
Like Durant, this is Griffin’s spot in perpetuity. And at an all-star game, where defense only exists in principle and the runways are clear, there are few fans would rather see than Griff.
Who will start: Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers (716,671)
Who should start: Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs — The NBA eliminated the centre position from ballots this season, but that didn’t stop fans from voting Howard, who is expected to start in his sixth straight All-Star game. And while Howard, despite his role in the Lakers woes, still deserves a spot on the West roster, no big man in the conference warrants the starting gig more than Tim Duncan. Nearing his 37th birthday, his 2.7 blocks per game (just .2 shy of his career best) rank third in the NBA. With over 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, Duncan has the Spurs headed for yet another deep playoff run.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: Forget the Thunder’s league-leading 31 wins, Westbrook is a highlight machine who’ll excel in this environment.
James Harden, Houston Rockets: On an absolute tear since arriving in Houston, sitting fourth in scoring amongst elite company while leading the Rockets to the seventh seed in the West playoff picture.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: I don’t care that he’s already a four-time All-Star, Parker is continually the NBA’s most overlooked player.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: The anchor of the Grizzlies’ defense, and one of the best all-around centres in basketball, Gasol could take the starting centre spot and it would be totally justified.
David Lee: Edging in on Tony Parker territory for years in the ‘underrated’ category, Lee’s emergence as a leader on the Warriors helps to explain the club’s success to this point.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies: Randolph worked with renowned trainer Frank Matrisciano, aka Hell’s Trainer, this summer, and is unsurprisingly playing some of the best ball of his career right now.
Serge Ibaka, Oklahoma City Thunder: Sure, the frontcourt will be crowded, and Howard probably deserves this spot, but this is the Year of the Thunder, and the steady improvement of Ibaka is a big reason why.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: This should be Steph Curry’s spot, but another ankle injury has the Warriors sharpshooter out indefinitely, which could put his All-Star future in doubt. That said, I’ll go with the front-runner for Rookie of the Year, who is performing like few rookie guards in NBA history have, and is the biggest reason why the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt during what was supposed to be something of a rebuilding year.
Missed the cut: Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers; Jamal Crawford, Los Angeles Clippers; Demarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings; O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks; Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Hornets; Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors; Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves.