Now that the starters for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game have been announced, the intrigue really begins.
There weren’t any surprises in the East, as the Miami duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and first-time starters Paul George of Indiana and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving were voted in by fans to represent the Eastern Conference next month in New Orleans. The West, was another story, as joining the expected trio of the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, were two mild surprises: Stephen Curry of the Warriors, who beat out the Clippers’ Chris Paul, and the Timberwolves’ Kevin Love, edging out the Rockets’ Dwight Howard.
For the most part, it’s hard to quibble with the results of what’s basically a popularity contest, though if there was still a center designation instead of just “frontcourt” players, it would be interesting to see who would have replaced Anthony, of the lowly Knicks, in the East’s starting lineup. Also, Portland’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who has established himself as arguably the best power forward in the game this season, should be a Western Conference starter, but he doesn’t exactly have the biggest name recognition to casual fans.
Bryant’s selection was probably the only issue that can really be taken with the process, but the future Hall of Famer, who has only played six games this season, quickly said he doesn’t intend to suit up in the exhibition affair—Houston shooting guard James Harden seems to be an obvious choice to replace him in the starting lineup—meaning that an injury replacement will likely be added to the West squad. If the coaches name Paul as a reserve, the point guard could face a similar scenario, depending on when he returns from a shoulder injury suffered earlier this month.
But enough with the minutiae. Since the drama of which players are selected by the coaches to be reserves for the game will dominate NBA water-cooler talk for the next week—they will be announced next Thursday, Jan. 30—here are one man’s choices:
[BY THE NUMBERS: Bulls' stats at the halfway point]
Eastern Conference reserves:
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat: With the aforementioned Wade in and out of the lineup, Bosh has emerged as the Heat’s true second option and while he doesn’t get the same fanfare as his MVP teammate James, he’s almost as essential to the defending champions’ success.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors: Choosing between DeRozan and backcourt partner Kyle Lowry isn’t easy—the point guard was seemingly motivated by the incessant trade rumors surrounding him—but the athletic swingman gets in for elevating his game to another level since Rudy Gay was traded and in the process, taking his team with him, as the Raptors now appear to be playoff-bound.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers: While George might be the face of the franchise, nobody symbolizes the Pacers’ defensive mindset more than Hibbert, whose defensive presence and low-post game are a crucial part of Indiana’s winning ways.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls: Noah’s dominant play as an offensive facilitator, defensive anchor and rebounding prowess have not only kept his team afloat through injuries and the trade of Luol Deng over the last month, but the Bulls are actually thriving again.
Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers: Like Miami, the other dominant team in the mediocre East, Indiana is deserving of having three All-Stars, and the versatile Stephenson’s breakout campaign makes him worthy of that recognition.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: Teague barely gets the nod over his perennially under-appreciated teammate Paul Millsap because of his emergence this season, similar to the DeRozan-Lowry dynamic in Toronto, as the young floor general has made progress with more of a burden to carry in Atlanta, especially with Hawks big man Al Horford sidelined.
John Wall, Washington Wizards: Wall might be the best (healthy) point guard in the East this season—even when the likes of the Bulls’ Derrick Rose and Boston’s Rajon Rondo are back to full strength, he will present a challenge—and the integral reason that the Wizards are poised to end their postseason drought.
Western Conference reserves:
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers: An MVP candidate this season, Aldridge is now in the conversation as one of the game’s elite players, helping to make his Blazers squad a true threat in the West.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: Davis is a hometown favorite to play in the game because of its location, but the Chicago native is also deserving on merit, despite the Pelicans’ lowly record, as he has developed into one of the game’s best defensive players and a versatile offensive force.
James Harden, Houston Rockets: Harden, perhaps the league’s top shooting guard, continues to be the Rockets’ top player this season, even with Houston’s acquisition of Howard, and is the odds-on favorite to replace Bryant in the West’s starting lineup.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets: Surprisingly overtaken by Love—possibly because of the fallout of his unpleasant exits from both Orlando and Los Angeles—Howard is still the NBA’s best center, a fact that often gets obscured in this small-ball era.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Last season’s Rookie of the Year was cited by Bryant himself as more deserving than him to play in the All-Star Game and while the point guard wasn’t voted in, the Blazers’ No. 2 option should be recognized by the coaches as pivotal to Portland’s ascendance.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: Parker remains one of the game’s most underrated players, as the veteran floor general is now without question the most important piece of one of the league’s top teams this season.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: As previously noted, like Bryant, Paul isn’t a lock to play, but based on his usual standard of excellence prior to being sidelined, the league’s top pure playmaker is more than deserving of the honor.