The reserves for Feb. 26s All-Star Game in Orlando will be announced Thursday and as usual, there are sure to be some snubs. Since the leagues coaches, who are consumed with their own teams, vote for the exhibitions reserves, there are usually some dubious choices among the annual selections.
But in this lockout-shortened season, theres an opportunity to rectify, at least once, the process. Perennial participants like 2011 Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki are off to slow starts, while up-and-coming young players are having breakout seasons.
The starters for each conferences team, including Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, have already been voted in by the fans, but there will be much debate as to the other players who deserve the honor.
In the Eastern Conference, Indianas Roy Hibbert is the clear-cut choice to back up Orlandos Dwight Howard at center, as his Pacers have shown marked improvement and his rebounding along with Frank Vogels insistence on an inside-out offensive philosophy have been a major reason why. Backing up Miamis LeBron James and New Yorks Carmelo Anthony in the frontcourt, Atlantas Josh Smith, often maligned as inconsistent, has ensured that the Hawks remain a projected playoff team, even without frontcourt partner Al Horford, whos out for the season, should make his All-Star debut, while Miamis Chris Bosh, who receives frequent criticism for his lack of toughness inside, has put up stellar numbers this season, especially Wade was out of the lineup, is also deserving of a nod.
In the backcourt, there are two guards who should be locks behind starters Rose and Miamis Dwyane Wade: Bostons Rajon Rondo and surprisingly to some, Milwaukees Brandon Jennings, whose Bucks host the Bulls Saturday night. While the aging Celtics dont exactly resemble a contender at this early juncture of the NBA campaign, Rondo has been their best player and has improved as a scoring threat, while Jennings, after battling the sophomore blues a year ago, has kept the Bucks afloat with his dynamic scoring and playmaking and although New Jerseys Deron Williams may have the experience and better resume, Jennings is doing more with a similar amount of talent in his supporting cast, given that swingman Stephen Jackson doesnt appear fully motivated and center Andrew Bogut continues to struggle with injuries.
Meanwhile, Philadelphias versatile Andre Iguodala is the most recognizable player on a balanced 76ers team that has surprised many observers this season and while his scoring numbers are pedestrian, the Sixers, who currently lead the Atlantic Division over the more highly-touted Celtics and Knicks by a wide margin, deserve a representative. The final spot on the East team is a tough choice, but though his chances to make his All-Star debut have been derailed by a recent left-wrist injury, when examining his impact for the Bulls, a case could be made that Luol Deng is more deserving than the likes of Bostons Paul Pierce the Celtics have regressed and he got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season with his own injury woes for the East.
Although hes picked up his play as of late, Pierce got off to a slow start after missing the beginning of the season due to his own injury woes, but the Celtics have regressed, the grizzled veteran has had more than enough chances to represent the Celtics in the annual affair, he could use the rest, Rondo will give Boston a player in the game, and Boston simply doesnt deserve multiple players honored this season. If, for whatever reason, any of the starters or other reserves are unable to play, Torontos Andrea Bargnani, despite his Raptors woeful record, should be the first alternate considered after Pierce and Williams.
The Western Conference is a bit easier to call, as Memphis Marc Gasol who looks like the better Gasol brother on a more frequent basis these days is an easy choice as the backup to the Lakers Andrew Bynum. Behind starting forwards Blake Griffin of the Clippers and the Thunders Kevin Durant, last seasons biggest snub, Portlands LaMarcus Aldridge should be rewarded, along with the man who likely took his spot in Los Angeles last year, Minnesotas Kevin Love.
The final frontcourt spot is a bit tougher to decide, but as well as Denver has been playing, the Nuggets Danilo Gallinari should be rewarded for leading the way on a deep, balanced team; similar to the Sixers, Denver looks like a true contender in its conference, but the contributions of Gallo are easier to qualify than Iguodalas. Other candidates for the position include Lakers big man Pau Gasol (while rumors of the Lakers demise have been greatly exaggerated, Gasol is admittedly having a down year), Memphis Rudy Gay (the athletic forward has done well in making up for the absence of the injured Zach Randolph, but the Grizzlies have still underachieved in general) or the Utah combo of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who are too close in production to make the call for the improved Jazz.
The guards in the West should also see some new faces in Houstons Kyle Lowry, who is quietly having an amazing season for new head coach Kevin McHales overachieving Rockets, and Golden States Monta Ellis, who is averaging a career-high in assists and is probably the best player in the league to havent ever received an All-Star bid. The final choice to back up Staples Center co-dwellers Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul in the backcourt is a no-brainer: Oklahoma Citys Russell Westbrook, who is almost as responsible for the Thunders success as superstar teammate Durant, with familiar faces Steve Nash of Phoenix (still leading the league in assists, but his Suns mediocrity cant be ignored) and San Antonios Tony Parker, once again having a solid year.