Deng worthy of All-Star spot

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Deng worthy of All-Star spot

NBA All-Star reserves will officially be announced at 6 p.m. on Thursday, but we thought wed get a jump on things with a look players are most deserving. The coaches generally do a pretty good job of picking the reserves, but even they are subject to overvaluing past performance, and not selecting the players who are doing the most for their teams this season. Remember, coaches are asked to vote for two guards, two forwards, one center and two wild card selections (any position).

So, with that in mind, here are my choices for the All-Star reserves.

Eastern Conference

Forwards: Luol Deng and Chris Bosh. Okay, maybe a little homer-ism is involved in picking Deng, but hes one of the most versatile small forwards in the league, and is asked to do more on both ends than just about other player. Deng stays on the floor with the reserves at the start of the second quarter, helping that unit function smoothly on the offensive end. Hes also asked to guard the other teams best perimeter player, and hes always among the league leaders in minutes played (even after returning from a serious wrist injury).

As for Bosh, hes quietly having a very efficient second season in Miami, with his scoring up due to the early season injuries suffered by Dwyane Wade. Miami is using LeBron James more on the block, allowing Bosh to settle into his more comfortable role as a perimeter shooter.

Guards: Rajon Rondo and Joe Johnson. Rondo missed a number of games with a wrist injury, but hes still the engine that makes the Celtics go. Boston has taken off since his return, and the Cs are at their best with Rondo playing aggressively on the defensive end and pushing the ball in transition. As for Johnson, 20 million dollars doesnt get what it used to, but hes still the top scorer on a good Atlanta team and worthy of another All-Star selection.

Center: Roy Hibbert. Admittedly, not a lot of great options for the back-up spot, and its possible league coaches will be allowed to make Bosh the second All-Star center, opening up a spot for another deserving player. But take a look around the East and you find Al Horford, Brook Lopez and Andrew Bogut are all out with injuries, and Joakim Noah got off to a very slow start with the Bulls. So who else are you going to take, Detroits Greg Monroe? Hibbert is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds a game, and the Pacers definitely deserve to have all All-Star.

Wild Cards: Paul Pierce and Kyrie Irving. Pierce got off to a very slow start this season, looking like he wasnt in great shape after the long lockout. But now that hes back in game shape, hes still one of the best late game scorers in the league, and figures to play a big role in whatever success Boston has down the stretch. It was a tough selection for that final roster spot with players like Deron Williams, Danny Granger, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Brandon Jennings and Lou Williams worthy of consideration, but Im going with Irving. Hes led the Cavs back to respectability, averaging 18 points and five assists a game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Irving is fearless attacking the basket, and when he gets better talent around him, he should be recognized as one of the top point guards in the East.

Western Conference

Forwards: Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. Love slimmed down during the off-season, making him an even more versatile offensive player, and he continues to be one of the leagues elite rebounders. Minnesota is now relevant again, and Love deserves most of the credit. As for Aldridge, remember when the Bulls drafted him No. 2 overall in the 2006 draft and traded him for the rights to Tyrus Thomas? I know it was a pre-arranged deal, but dont you think John Paxson would like to have that one over again? Then again, if the Bulls had selected Aldridge, they probably wouldnt have missed the playoffs in 2008, and never would have had the chance to draft Derrick Rose, so, never mind!

Guards: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. If you havent seen a lot of the Thunder in action, Westbrook is one of the most dynamic scoring point guards in the game. Sometimes he forgets to get the ball to Kevin Durant, but as a scorer, Westbrook is something else. Martin has quietly carved out his niche as a 20-plus points per game scorer, year in and year out. He and Kyle Lowry have teamed up to form a dangerous backcourt in Houston, keeping the Rockets in the playoff hunt in the always competitive West.

Center: Al Jefferson. This was probably the toughest choice, since Jeffersons numbers are comparable to other Western Conference centers like Marc Gasol and Nene, but Utah has no right to be in the playoff race, and yet, somehow they are. The play of Jefferson is a big reason, along with his frontcourt running mate, Paul Millsap. The Jazz should be represented at the All-Star game, and Im going with Jefferson by a hair over Millsap.

Wild Cards: Tony Parker and Rudy Gay. Parker definitely deserves a spot on the team, keeping San Antonio among the top teams in the West despite the injury to Manu Ginobili and the reduced role for Tim Duncan. The last spot was the toughest with players like Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, Marc Gasol, Nene, Danilo Gallinari, Millsap and Pau Gasol worthy of consideration. But Gay has taken on more scoring responsibility with the injury to Zach Randolph, and hes helped the Grizzlies stay in playoff contention.

Okay, so what do you think? Will the Eastern Conference coaches give Deng a spot, or will the wrist injury cost him votes? Remember, Tom Thibodeau will coach the Eastern Conference team if the Bulls have the best record on February 15, and if Deng doesnt make the original 12 man squad, he figures to be the first alternate if an injury replacement is needed before the February 26 game in Orlando. Thibs will be calling David Stern 247 to get Luol a spot on the team.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."