Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences


Examining early-season All-Star candidates in both conferences

With at least a 30-game sample size to evaluate the play of the leagues elite talents, as well as the NBA announcing the latest results of voter balloting Thursday, now is as a good a time as ever to start predicting who could play in Februarys All-Star Game.

Barring injury, the fans control who will start the annual contest currently, Bostons Rajon Rondo and Miamis Dwyane Wade comprise the Eastern Conferences backcourt, with New Yorks Carmelo Anthony, the Heats LeBron James and Kevin Garnett of the Celtics making up the frontcourt, while the West is dominated by players in Los Angeles, as Oklahoma Citys Kevin Durant is joined by the Clippers duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, along with Lakers tandem Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant as top vote-getters but the coaches select the reserves in both conferences.

In the East, a case has already been made in this space for Luol Deng to make his second All-Star appearance, with Bulls teammate Joakim Noah making the trip to Houston with him for his first crack at the annual game. However, it gets a bit murky after that.

RELATED: Deng, Noah making early cases for All-Star consideration

New Yorks Tyson Chandler should be a lock, given the Knicks record and his impact on their defense and overall interior game, which would probably push Clevelands Anderson Varejao, despite his gaudy numbers, out of the equation, as its highly unlikely that three true centers, regardless of their versatility, will come off the bench, especially considering their similar defensive-oriented games.

Miamis Chris Bosh, more of a natural power forward, is another shoo-in and while he doesnt have a lot of name recognition nationally, so is emerging Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday. That leaves three spots remaining.

With the success of the Hawks, Josh Smith should finally get the nod after getting snubbed last season and because of the lack of great guard play in the East this season Derrick Rose being sidelined doesnt help it says here that second-year Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving makes his first appearance, partially to compensate for Varejaos probable absence, but also because of backlash, conscious or not, toward Brooklyns Deron Williams, whos had a subpar campaign and is now deemed a coach killer following ex-Nets head coach Avery Johnsons dismissal after Jerry Sloans dismissal in Utah coincided with his reported behind-the-scenes grousing.

For the final spot, if not Williams, maybe one of Milwaukees undersized scorers Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis makes an inaugural appearance, though Bostons Paul Pierce could garner a lifetime-achievement spot. As muddled as the East is, the West is no easier.

Assuming Jeremy Lin isnt voted in the Rockets point guards popularity in China cant be discounted, after Yao Ming, before truly blossoming as a player, made the All-Star team early in his career over Paul, the Clippers league MVP candidate who holds a semi-tenuous lead at the moment, his Houston teammate, James Harden, as well as fellow Southwest Division guards Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and San Antonios Tony Parker, will probably make the team.

Golden States Stephen Curry has been tremendous for the surprising Warriors and even with all of the talented big men in the West, its tough to name a more deserving guard in the conference, aside from the aforementioned named players.

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At the moment, its also hard to make an argument against Tim Duncan of the Spurs, as the future Hall of Famer is having a bit of a renaissance year and San Antonio is winning, as always. The same goes for Zach Randolph of the Grizzlies, the leagues double-double champ and a big reason Memphis appears to some observers to be a legit NBA Finals contender.

After that is where it gets tricky, but for the final spot in the West, another Warrior, David Lee, looks like he fits the bill, as hes finally putting up meaningful numbers now that Golden State is winning games.

One could make cases for other big men such as Oklahoma Citys Serge Ibaka (not enough of a consistent factor offensively), Minnesotas Kevin Love (missed too much time with injuries), Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge (lack of team success), Memphis Marc Gasol (hard to justify two teammates being on the All-Star team when theyre both big men, unless one is voted on by the fans or the team is just that dominant) and Houstons Omer Asik (like Ibaka, not yet a nightly scoring threat and the Rockets are still just a fringe playoff team) but the oft-maligned power forward is having an individually successful campaign on a winner.

Theres room for debate and still plenty of time before everything is settled, but heres an early look at how things might shake out. Obviously some people wont agree, but as the old adage goes, thats why they play the games.

Bulls finalize training camp roster

Bulls finalize training camp roster

The Bulls finalized their training camp roster on Monday morning, in the lead-up to the start of the team's official media day.

The team will carry 19 players into the preseason before cutting that number down a maximum of 15 in late October.

No. 0 Isaiah Canaan, guard: Signed to a two-year, $2.2 million deal in July, Canaan will compete with Spencer Dinwiddie and Jerian Grant for minutes behind Rajon Rondo.

No. 2 Jerian Grant, guard: The combo guard will get a fresh start in Chicago after an inconsistent rookie season with the Knicks.

No. 3 Dwyane Wade, guard: The three-time NBA champion and future Hall of Famer begins the next chapter of his famed career after 13 seasons in Miami.

No. 5 Bobby Portis, forward: After showing flashes of potential in his rookie season, the 6-foot-11 Portis will be in line for an extended role following Joakim Noah's and Pau Gasol's departures.

No. 6 Cristiano Felicio, center: The Brazilian impressed plenty in last season's final month, and he should see significant minutes behind Robin Lopez.

No. 7 D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, guard: The undrafted rookie averaged 14.8 points per game in his senior season at Georgetown.

No. 8 Robin Lopez, center: One of the league's most underrated centers, Lopez was one of five players to average 10 points, 7 rebounds and play in all 82 games a year ago.

No. 9 Rajon Rondo, guard: The veteran point guard led the NBA in assists last season, but playing on his fourth team in three seasons means his best days may be behind him.

No. 11 Doug McDermott, forward: The sharpshooter showed significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, finishing sixth in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage. Now about the defense...

No. 15 Thomas Walkup, guard: The All-American honorable mention went for 33 points in No. 14 Stephen F. Austin's opening-round upset win over No. 3 West Virginia.

No. 16 Paul Zipser, forward: The Bulls' 2016 second-round pick can do a bit of everything, and at 22 years old he could be ready to contribute sooner than later.

No. 20 Tony Snell, forward: It may be difficult for the former first-rounder to crack the rotation after a forgettable third season.

No. 21 Jimmy Butler, guard: An All-Star in each of the last two seasons, the 27-year-old Butler is poised for yet another career year.

No. 22 Taj Gibson, forward: The 31-year-old veteran is in a contract year, and should see an even more expanded role after starting 55 games last season - even if Nikola Mirotic replaces him in the starting lineup.

No. 24 Vince Hunter, forward: The 6-foot-8 Hunter averaged 21.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for the Reno Bighorns last season as rookie.

No. 25 Spencer Dinwiddie, guard: A casuality of the Pistons' crowded backcourt, Dinwiddie has a chance to carve out a role in Chicago behind Rajon Rondo.

No 31 J.J. Avila, forward: A standout at Colorado State who graduated in 2015, Avila appeared in four Summer League games for the Knicks, averaging 1.2 points and 1.5 rebounds.

No. 44 Nikola Mirotic, forward: The Bulls will be relying on Mirotic's outside shot, which improved mightily in his second season from 31.6 percent to 39 percent.

No. 45 Denzel Valentine, guard: The jack-of-all-trades will need some time to find his role, but he's an apt passer and outside shooter with good size on the wing.

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

USA Today Sports Images

Five things to watch during Bulls’ training camp

All the new guys: Last October, the Bulls entered camp with essentially the same roster that lost to Cleveland in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, save for then-rookie Bobby Portis. This time, there’s no Derrick Rose, no Joakim Noah, no Pau Gasol, no Mike Dunleavy, and no E’Twaun Moore.

That’s four starters (essentially) whose performances or presence has been counted on in some way, even through some of the uncertainty that surrounded a few of these guys.

Conceivably, the Bulls can have around five new players in the actual rotation who weren’t thought of this time last year, although last year’s product left a lot to be desired.

The adjustment time and chemistry building starts Tuesday.

Who starts at power forward: All other positions in the first five are set, especially with the new faces. But the pivotal decision for Fred Hoiberg, if it hasn’t been made already, is who will start alongside Robin Lopez at center. It could be Nikola Mirotic, or Taj Gibson or even Bobby Portis, depending on Hoiberg’s sensibilities.

Smart money says it’ll probably be Mirotic considering he’s the best perimeter shooter of the three and actually a decent defensive rebounder. Gibson being a great screener, finisher and defender makes him intriguing as an option, but offensive space will be limited if he’s out there with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. As for Portis, is he ready to take a step toward consistency in year 2?

The point guard: Rajon Rondo’s basketball intelligence is genius level, where he can master a gameplan and probably even devise one of his own that rivals his coaches. The man can counter a play before the opposing defense initiates an adjustment. That said, how will he and Hoiberg mesh this season? He clashed with Doc Rivers, had knock-down battles with Rick Carlisle in Dallas and George Karl didn’t have it in him to fight anybody in Sacramento, let alone Rondo.

Rondo likes playing the game at his speed, with his own feel and rhythm. Hoiberg will have to tailor his style for the new personnel he has, and luckily for him, isn’t a “my way or the highway” type of fellow that’s sure to rub Rondo the wrong way. Will Rondo embrace Hoiberg’s system and become an extension of the coach, or will Hoiberg give Rondo enough rope to explore Rondo’s intelligence to find a middle ground?

Will that even be enough?

The backup point guard: Just as intriguing as the starting power forward battle will be who backs up Rondo at point guard, although it’s likely that player won’t have to fill the traditional role of doing anything aside from walking the ball up and letting either Butler or Wade initiate the offense.

It’s likely Hoiberg will change his substitution patterns to have either Wade or Butler anchor second units in the second quarter, as a way to maximize the time he has with both while not having them invade each other’s space in the halfcourt. So who plays backup point could be more about who fits best next to the best player on the floor as opposed to who the best player is.

It seems to open the door for rookie Denzel Valentine since he can play three positions (although defense will be a task), along with Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Spencer Dinwiddie.

Grant was a first-rounder in 2015 who wants to show he’s worth that status, while Dinwiddie was projected as a lottery pick three years ago before tearing his ACL at Colorado.

It’s certainly not the most stressful decision Hoiberg will have to make, but a curious one.

Developing an identity: Does it happen in training camp? Who knows, but tones are often set as to what type of squad a team will be. Last season, Hoiberg believed he was building on a solid foundation after Tom Thibodeau’s defense first mentality, but signs of things crumbling began to show very early in the preseason.

This season, with so many new pieces, moving parts and overall uncertainty, there’s question as to what kind of team the Bulls will be. It’s intriguing, to say the least. But what will the Bulls hang their hats on come late October?