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.
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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.