Yes, I detest the All-Star game and haven’t watched it in years and I don’t usually read the All-Star pick columns either. Still, I can’t deny there is some appeal to chew the scenery on the process. So here’s my take on this year’s voting:
Guards, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd: It’s always funny that the writers and the coaches seem to detest rewarding good players on bad teams. I understand the syllogism: good player = good team, therefore, bad team = bad player, or at the very least overrated player. But it’s usually not that simple. Wade’s numbers are down a bit but he is still, by far, the best guard in the East. The Heat are mired in a terrible slump but how can you blame Wade? The Heat have no point guard or depth:-the Heat are being out-passed 897 assists to 786
-the Heat have been outshot from three with 282 threes for opponents on .379% versus only 188 threes at .341% from the Heat
-the Heat are being out rebounded 1,663 to 1,550 so far
Moreover, the Heat’s team scoring per 100/possessions is a putrid 28th out of 30 and their defense (25th) ain’t much better. I’m not sure Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan could do much more then Wade has with this team. So, I think Wade is good pick.
As for Kidd, he hasn’t been nearly as good. JKidd’s assists are way up (10.3 assists/36 minutes) to the highest level of his career but it’s come at a cost–his turnovers (3.7 topg) are the highest per minute rate since 1995-96. Throw in the fact that Kidd is shooting .368% from the field (by far, his worst shooting season) and it’s hard to think that Kidd is the best point guard in the East. Really, Chauncey Billups has been playing excellent and is the clear choice for the other staring slot. I know we could technically take another shooting guard here (the NBA lets you vote for guards and forwards without sub-positional distinction) but a team needs a point guard and Billups has been the best guard in the East so far.
Incidentally, I think Billups and Jose Calderon are now both playing better than Kidd in the East. In addition, Kidd’s about even with Andre Miller and Maurice Williams. With Kidd’s age ascending and his reputation still great, if I were the Nets, there probably isn’t reason to keep him anymore if they can’t compete. Trading Kidd now for young talent, if possible, is likely the way to go. Those Devin Harris packages that seemed absurd a year ago are starting to look a little better now. This is not to say that Kidd is a bad player but he probably can’t carry a team the way he used to and a little young blood or depth would greatly help the still solid Carter/Jefferson core.
Forwards, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James: That was easy! LeBron looks like the best player in the NBA and KG isn’t far behind. Chris Bosh isn’t too far behind them as the third forward but it’s not particularly close. Bosh is actually much closer to the fourth best forward (Caron Butler) than he is to KG. Without much to talk about here, an interesting question we all wondered about is how KG’s going to Boston has affected his stats. How has going from a solo guy to the Big Three affected Garnett? We could plausibly affect some decline in opportunities but let’s see how it looks for all three of the stars:
KG, has been barely affected by his move to Boston. He’s lost a few boards and points (though not so many on a per-minute basis) and his efficiency has shot up. Indeed, he’s making the exact number of field goals per minute as he did last season on fewer shots. It’s just amazing how a guy like this can fit seamlessly on any team, which really underscores his value. Allen and Pierce have suffered a bit more, as they both went from primary scorer, which is less surprising. The only odd thing is that neither have been shooting a higher percentage. Allen is more of the third option now, so you would’ve hoped he could raise his shooting percentage. He hasn’t been bad but as Allen continues to age, you wonder if he’ll still be the asset he was the last couple of seasons. Pierce has been pretty steady. He’s lost a couple of touches but otherwise, he’s the exact same player as last year.
Center, Dwight Howard: That wasn’t close either. I have no idea who will get the backup center slot. More likely, the East should just take an extra forward and make Bosh play some center. Assuming you had to pick a backup center, however, who the hell would you take? Here’s a rough sketch of the group:
–Shaquille O’Neal: 14.2 ppg, .581 FG%, 7.8 rpg, 18.3 PER
-Rasheed Wallace: 12.4 ppg, .419 FG%, 7.3 rpg, 16.4 PER
-Zydrunas Ilgauskas: 13.3 ppg, .470 FG%, 9.5 rpg, 17.8 PER
-Andrew Bogut: 13.4 ppg, .528 FG%, 9.1 rpg, 16.9 PER
-Emeka Okafor: 13.0 ppg, .527 FG%, 10.1 rpg, 17.6 PER
-Jermaine O’Neal: 15.3 ppg, .443 FG%, 7.3 rpg, 15.6 PER
Yeesh…There really is nothing. Despite everything I said about not being shy to take good players on bad teams, it’s hard to take Shaq. He’s been hobbled all year and he cannot guard anyone anymore, which doesn’t show up in his decent offensive stats. All these other players have some flaws too. My choice for the back up is Okafor, whose been as good as anyone and is not a bad defender either but there really is no difference between these guys.
Guards, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady: T-Mac’s popularity certainly got him a slot he didn’t deserve. He’s been hurt and been his as inefficient as he’s every been since he left Toronto and became a feature player. Without McGrady, it’s still pretty hard to pick a backcourt. At point, Steve Nash has been his usual great self and Baron Davis has been playing great, then you thrown in Chris Paul and it’s a hard choice (this eliminates Tony Parker and Deron Williams who would plausibly contend with Billups in the East but aren’t really factors out West). Still, I think Paul is the clear winner. He’s putting up the best numbers AND his team is winning a ton.
In picking an shooting guard, we’re faced with the usual issue, Manu Ginobili’s per-minute numbers trump everybody. Form watching him, it’s hard to believe that Manu could project higher the Kobe or Allen Iverson but check Ginobili’s per-36 minute stats: 23.8 pts, 5.6 rebs, 5.1 asts. I can accept Manu as being better than Iverson or Kevin Martin but I think we can’t put him ahead of Kobe. Even if you believe Manu is better per-minute (which is possible), Kobe’s in the same ballpark and he does it in significantly more minutes (36.8 mpg for Kobe versus 29.4 mpg for Manu). So, Kobe’s the choice.
Forwards, Tim Duncan and Carmelo Anthony: Duncan isn’t a center but we have to abide the rules. If we’re going for the two best forwards, Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are best choices, with TD slightly ahead and Carlos Boozer right there with them. Duncan is right around his stats for the last few years but Nowitzki is down a bit from his MVP year and isn’t ahead really far from Boozer. Still, Dirk can play small forward more possibly because he can shoot from long range.
If we’re looking for a true small forward to match with Duncan, then Melo has an argument (though he might be hurt for the actual game) but he’s really on the same level as Josh Howard and Shawn Marion. Of the three, you have to like Marion’s versatility in an All-Star game.
Center, Yao Ming: Yao v. Amare. That’s been a recurring theme since they fought over the Rookie of the Year award back in 2002-03. It seemed that Yao had more of a future at the time but both have developed pretty nicely, albeit with some real weaknesses. Yao is a bit slow and can be taken out by a running game. Amare strengths are the opposite. He can run but is weak in the half court and he doesn’t defend well. This year, the numbers are pretty even (22.5 ppg, , .580 fg%, 9.2 rpg for Amare and 22.3 ppg, .505 FG%, 10.7 rpg for Yao). As with Kobe and Manu, minutes are an issue. Amare has only 31 mpg and Yao has 37 mpg. Unlike with Kobe, it’s hard to give Yao credit for his extra minutes because the raw stats (not per-minute) are essentially even and Amare even blocks the same amount of shots per game (2.2). I think you have to give the slot to Amare.