Friday, January 3, 2014

A Utopian Vision

We'd all love to sit here and think the fan NBA All-Star voting process produces players who have played on an elite level for the first half of the season. But when it comes right down to it, it's all a popularity contest, as evidenced by's voting results as of December 26th.

Why would Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Rajon Rondo all be in the top six of the East's front court? Rose and Rondo have played  a combined 10 games- all by way of Rose. Rondo has yet to play for the Celtics.

Irving has been nothing short of disappointing this season; one which seemed primed for the Cavs to take a top seed in a very weak East. While he is averaging 22 points and 6 assists and played in all 32 games, the team is 11-21. He's averaged 26 points in his last five games- including a 40 point effort against the Hawks- all losses.

The biggest sore thumb for the East is Kevin Garnett being sixth in the East's frontcourt. His season (as well as the season of the Nets) has been absolutely terrible. A team primed by some to challenge the Heat (or if anything, have a top 4 seed come playoff time), the Nets sit at 10-21. Garnett has averages of 6.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting a disastrous 36% from the field. 

On the West's side, Kobe Bryant leads all backcourt vote getters with over 720,000. In six games before injuring his left knee with a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau, Bryant averaged 13.8 points and over six assists a game. He did manage to shoot 42%, but only 18% from three point land. Fourth in the backcourt is Jeremy Lin, whose has had a respectable season, but not at an elite level. But he gest the advantage due to being from China, the very same advantage Yao Ming received back in his days on the court.

On this very same backcourt list, Damian Lillard sits 8th. Lillard is only the second best player on a team that has been first in the West for a majority of the season. They sit a half game behind the Thunder along with the Spurs, as this season has seen Lillard and his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge put in All-Star level numbers night in and night out. Lillard is shooting over 43% from three, over 41% from the field and 89% from the charity stripe. He's scoring over 21 a night and dishing out almost six assists as well- not bad for being option number two. Without a doubt in my mind, Lillard should be ahead of Bryant and Lin based solely off on-court production.

But this ideal, utopian starting line-up I have envisioned can only be seen on paper, or in this case on screen.While one may simply look at a player's numbers (such as Irving's), I also take into account the effect a player has on its team. Simply put: is their stellar play translating to wins? No cigars for players like Irving, Anthony,  or Cousins. As phenomenal as they are, other players' impact on their respective teams weighs more.

Another obvious factor I took into account was whether or not the player is healthy, or has played a majority of the season. This eliminates players such as Rose, Rondo, Bryant and Westbrook. Tonight also saw the great Chris Paul go down as well for three to five weeks with a separated shoulder. Enough foreplay- let's get to my starting line-ups, followed by the benches for both conferences.

East Starters: Dwayne Wade, Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, Paul George, Roy Hibbert

There are three glaring things about this starting five: no real point guard, no real power forward, and  Miami and Indiana are on their own level.

Why no point? Because LeBron and Wade are on the squad- but also because Stephenson has improved by leaps and bounds since his days as "the choke sign" bench guy. One thing in his favor is the simple fact that others are hurt or on poor teams. Both Rondo and Rose have dealt with injuries. John Wall, Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving all are healthy and talented, but their teams are struggling in a weak conference.Make no bones about it, though- Stephenson is a terror on the court (13.3 ppg, 5.2 apg, 6.6 rpg). He can create his own shot, and has developed some very impressive handles.

The reason there is no 4 is because there is just no room for one. Sure, LeBron can slide in and do a hell of a job, but he's not your prototypical power forward. There's no denying him and George starting forward spots, either. The two will be vying for MVP along with Durant at the end of the season. Both are excellent defenders and offensive game-changers who have the ability to not only take over games, but make their team better. They know when to take over, and when to become unselfish; models of transcendent talent. Along with "The Death Star" Roy Hibbert, they'll only make the starters more formidable.

Hibbert is in line for defensive player of the year (2.7 BPG). And another thing that separates him from other big men: 76% from the free-throw line. That's almost unheard of. Wade also benefits from the injuries in the East, but would likely start regardless due to his popularity, along with the fact that he is still a very good player on the two-time defending champs and the second seed in the East.

There's no question the Eastern Conference Finals will come down to these two teams. Barring injury, of course. Their rivalry will only grow- but in this case, they join up for the greater good.

East Bench:  Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, DeMar Derozan, Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond

Anthony, like Irving suffers from being on an atrocious team. The one thing that you can't deny is the man can score (26.3). What you might not realize is he is all over the boards, too with 8.9 snagged a game. That's almost three more than Brook Lopez. His talents only go so far, as proven with a 10-22 record. But those offensive skills are too good to leave off this team. John Wall's improvement is admirable, which earns him the bench spot. The Wizards will need to beat teams with better records, though. While they are 5th in the East, they have only beaten one team with a winning record (Atlanta).

DeMar Derozan has been a rock for the Raptors, along with Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valaciunas. Those three have the Raptors over .500 (16-15) and first in the Atlantic. He and Anthony being able to play various forward and guard spots give the East plenty of line-up options during the game.

The bench is anchored big man-wise by Noah and Drummond. Noah is the second-best player on the Bulls with Rose out, and his double-double average secures him an All-Star nod. Drummond is the best young and upcoming big man not only in the East, but in the NBA. He's putting up 12/12 a night along with almost 2 blocks per game. Games against Philly and Milwaukee have seen him put up 31/19 and 24/19- bringing Dwight Howard comparisons to the table. The only reason that comparison is a bit off is because of free throws. And the weirder part- Howard is better. Twenty percent better. Drummond will eventually have to remedy those problems at the line, but is a solid bench player for the East in 2014.

West Starters: LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard

Where the East lack both a traditional 1 and a 4, the West are balanced and lethal. Aldridge and Lillard have the Blazers at the top of the West as mentioned above, with Aldridge in legitimate MVP talks (23/11/80% FT). Howard had his doubters after a tumultuous two seasons, but is back and healthier than ever with 17.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. His post game and footwork have improved exponentially, and his defensive presence has always been there (1.8 BPG).

There is  certainly no shortage of scorers in the West. Durant is only second to LeBron in regards to the MVP, and stands out as the West's best player. His ability to keep the Thunder contending without Russell Westbrook make it all the more impressive. He also looks for another scoring title as he leads the league with 28.6 per game, over two more than Kevin Love (26.3).

Lillard and Curry will give the East fits all night. They rank first and second in threes made (108, 104) and can create their own shots with the ability to blow past you in a heartbeat. Curry is also second in the league in assists to Chris Paul. Bum ankle- what bum ankle?

West Bench: Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Demarcus Cousins, Chandler Parsons, James Harden, Tony Parker

One thing is for sure: the West is the land of the big man. The fact that players like Love (26.3 ppg/13.5 rpg) and Cousins (23.1 ppg/11.4 rpg)  can't crack the top five is a testament to how elite this team is. Also Blake Griffin's 22 and 10 on a Clippers team headed for the playoffs is impressive, with Anthony Davis (19/10) not far behind. Davis is well on his way to becoming a defensive institution (3.2 BPG).

Parsons and Harden add to the Houston contingency. Parsons is the swiss knife for the Rockets- 17.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. His ability to defend the opposition's best player makes him the third wheel to Houston's big three. Harden, like Carmelo Anthony, is a superstar scorer. Also like Anthony, he is not known for his defense- but makes up for it with his three-point sniping ability and penchant for assists (5.2).

The final spot belongs to the only traditional point guard on the roster, Tony Parker. Parker has been elite for so long, we take him for granted. His ability to make wild shots and keep the Spurs in any game are nice. But it's his longevity and ability to stay healthy which make him not only and All-Star, but member of a title-contending team year in and year out.

The 63rd annual NBA All-Star game will be played in New Orleans on February 16th on TNT. Click here to vote.  

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron

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