The reserves for the world’s greatest pick-up game will be announced tonight, and just like picking sides on the blacktop, somebody is going to be left out and have his feelings hurt.
NBA fans have already spoken, voting in Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry and an injured Kobe Bryant out West, and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, John Wall and, of course, Kyle Lowry in the East. Yes, the popularity contest has seen some undeserving players land starting spots in the past, but for the most part the fans got it right this year.
That said, being chosen as a reserve by the coaches may hold more weight than the fan vote. Coaches know which players are wearing out opposing defenses and stifling offensive juggernauts night in and night out better than anyone on the outside. Though, yes, they do call, text and lobby one another to get around the restriction against voting for their own guys.
Explaining what guides his choices, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey explained Tuesday following practice in Indianapolis, “I look for guys playing the right way on winning teams.”
I agree that winning is important, much more than just putting up numbers. So, here are my choices for the East and West All-Star Reserves.
The biggest question for me is how many Atlanta Hawks get into the game? Not a single one was voted in, but they’re on a 17-game winning streak and sitting on the best record in the Eastern Conference. There have been some interesting conversations on the subject in the media room, with some NBA personnel and advance scouts saying two Hawks should be in, some arguing for three, and a last group even pushing for four reserves from Atlanta.
Jeff Teague, the team’s lightning-quick floor general, runs the show and is a lock in my opinion. A healthy Al Horford has made a huge difference with basically the same roster that finished eighth last year before bowing out to the Pacers in seven games. Paul Millsap continues to display his versatility, playing out on the perimeter like small forward or stretch four while also doing damage on the interior like an old school power player. Oh, and Kyle Korver is on pace to tally the NBA’s first ever 50-50-90 season. To boot, Korver is a good positional defender (thank you Tom Thibadeau) and the constant scoring threat he poses creates space for other players on the floor. I would put them all in the game. Heck, the Hawks are 38-8.
Chicago’s Jimmy Butler has been flat-out spectacular. Proof again that if you can find a player with a good work ethic who is willing to play defence, the offence will follow. Washington probably deserves a second player—as does Toronto. Do the coaches vote them in though? Bradley Beal is part of the dynamic backcourt that has the Wizards amongst the East’s best teams. Sidelined for 21 games earlier this year, DeMar DeRozan will likely miss out, but he has carried the load when healthy and is starting to round back into form. And ESPN Analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy listed Jonas Valanciunas amongst his all-star reserves.
In Miami, Dwyane Wade has played in 35 of the Heat’s 45 games and is scoring more than 20 points per game. Chris Bosh is also pouring in more than 20 per in South Beach. It’s pretty hard to justify a seventh-place team having two all-stars, but lifetime achievement awards have been handed out before. Kyrie Irving was last season’s All-Star Game MVP and dropped 55 on the Blazers last night, but his team has been a disappointment in some experts’ opinion, despite their recent turnaround. So let’s go with the Atlanta crew, Butler, one of the Heat’s Bosh or Wade and then and one of DeRozan, Valanciunas, Beal or Irving. But don’t be surprised to hear mentions of Brandon Knight (Milwaukee) or Nikola Vucevic (Orlando). Charlotte’s Kemba Walker would also be tough to pass over but unfortunately, he’s on the shelf with a torn meniscus.
The West also has more than its fair share of difficult choices. James Harden is the logical choice to replace Kobe Bryant. Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul may nose out Damian Lillard and Monta Ellis. It would be hard to keep Klay Thompson, aka Splash Brother No. 2, off the squad with his team possessing the best record in the NBA. Memphis’s Zach Randolph has been the model of consistency and toughness, and has earned his spot in my opinion. But DeMarcus Cousins falls in the “good player on a losing team” category, failing to trump the play of the 32-14 Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge.
Then there’s Kevin Durant, who may have to sit this one out—falling victim to the criticism that he’s missed too many games—despite being, arguably, the best basketball player on the planet. There’s a lot still up in the air, and it will be far from settled after tonight’s announcement.