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My choices for the 2015 NBA All Star team

Becoming an All Star is an important milestone in the career of an NBA star, and NBA greats are judged by – among other things – the number of times they earned that ‘All Star’ moniker. The results of the fan ballot for this year’s starters will be announced on January 22 and the full roster with the fan’s votes will be out on January 29. But before that happens, here is my list of who deserves to

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Feature 16 Jan 2015, 10:27 IST
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Selection process for an All-Star game

I have long had a love/hate relationship with the NBA All Star game. Of course, like any genuine fan of basketball aesthetics, I love to stee the most talented, exciting, and interesting players in the league on the same court, competing to win the same game. On the other hand, the game is only an exhibition where, in the long run, the results don’t matter.

On the one hand, becoming an All Star is an important milestone in the career of an NBA star, and NBA greats are judged by – among other things – the number of times they earned that ‘All Star’ moniker. But of course, there is a huge problem here when a legacy or the greatness of a career is based on the partly-fan voted appearance is an exhibition game. Every year, the formula of (Fans Voting for Starters) + (Coaches Voting for Bench) manages to hand several undeserving players ‘stardom’, while denying more deserving, but perhaps, less popular players their due moment under the spotlight.

If I’m critical of the system, I’m also hypocritical because I have bought into the system and voted – like many fans – based on bias instead of true merit. I have always voted for the players I like, and more often than not, players I like aren’t deserving All Stars.

My picks

These were my votes for starters this year:

East

Backcourt: Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade

Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett

West

Backcourt: Ricky Rubio, Jeremy Lin

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard

Don’t ask me to explain my rationale. It’s an exhibition game and I vote for the players I want to see play in it. And that’s that.

But, I don’t prefer judging a player’s accomplishments by their All Star appearances. That is what the All NBA Teams are for, voted for by close critics of the game (sportswriters, broadcasters) and representing a fairer picture of the NBA’s best 15 players at the end of every season.

But, what if the All Star game was to truly reward merit, and judged like All NBA teams, present truly the most deserving 24 players in front of fans for the exhibition game? We are right around the midway point of the season, as each team has played close to 41 of their total 82 games. Halfway into the season, who are the players most deserving to be the 2015 All Stars? Who should step on the court at one of the NBA’s biggest nights in New York City on February 15 this year?

The results of the fan ballot for this year’s starters will be announced on January 22 and the full roster with the fan’s votes will be out on January 29. But before that happens, here is my list of who should make the NBA All Star teams this season:

Eastern Conference

Backcourt

John Wall: Wall’s development as a more mature and intelligent player in the last two seasons has been a joy to watch, and this year, his hard work spent at becoming a better team leader has paid dividends. Wall is leading the league in assists (10.2 apg) and assists percentage (45.3). The Wizards stand at 27-12 – second-best in the East – and are on their way to their best regular season record since the late 60s.

Jimmy Butler: When one man struggles, another rises. A favourite for the Most Improved Player award, Butler has been the story of the season, developing an offensive arsenal to go with his elite perimeter defensive game. Through the first 40 games of the season, Butler is the Bulls’ surprise leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. He is probably the best two-way shooting guard in the league right now and deserves to be an All Star for the first time.

Frontcourt

Pau Gasol: How rare is it for a player to have a career-high, a 40-point game, so late in his career? That’s exactly what the elder-Gasol did when he scored 46 on the Bucks at age 34 last week. That game capped what has been a rejuvenated season for Pau, as switching the Lakers for the Bulls has given him new energy and motivation. Gasol is averaging his best points/rebounds numbers in four or five years and should start an All Star game for the first time in his career.

LeBron James: There is no doubting the talent of the man who finished second in MVP voting last year and is still one of the best individual players in the league. But LeBron makes my starting five this year only because the talent crop of frontcourt players in the East has dropped considerably to injury/form this year. His own form has suffered, he has missed several games to injury, and the disappointing Cavs have a losing record. Still, LeBron is averaging 25.5, 7.5, and 5.3 at high efficiency this season, and those are All Star numbers – just not on an All Star team.  

Paul Millsap: The numbers won’t wow you (16.9 ppg, 8 rpg), but Millsap has the best frontcourt player in the East’s best team, the surprising Atlanta Hawks. He may not be a traditional superstar, but his work has the Hawks on a historically good winning run, and that work should be good enough for him to make his second All Star appearance.

Reserves

Kyle Lowry: Lowry deserved to be an All Star last season, but was snubbed. With better individual performances (career high 20.3 ppg) and better team record (26-12), the Raptors PG can’t be denied any more from making his first All Star appearance. Lowry has carried Toronto to a top four record in the East, mostly without his backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan, and only a recent dip in the team’s form made me drop him to the reserves instead of a starting spot.

Dwyane Wade: After heavily deferring to LeBron in Miami the last few years, Wade has the keys to the Heat offense firmly in his hands again, has been (relatively) healthy, and played (relatively) well, averaging 22.1, 5.6, and 4 so far into the season. The Heat have struggled a little this season (17-22), but are still seventh in the playoff picture because it’s the East.

Jeff Teague: The best backcourt player and the leading scorer of the best team in the East, the unassuming and underrated Teague should make his first All Star appearance this season. He may not raise exclaims among fans as some of the other high-fliers, but his stellar play deserves to be rewarded.

Al Horford: Another Hawk? Yes, another Hawk. The frontcourt crop in the East is thinning by this point, and why not reward the centrepiece of the conference’s best team? His numbers are relatively modest (14.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), but Horford has done a great job to make Atlanta efficient on both ends of the floor.

Kyrie Irving: A reluctant pick at this point, but without many better alternatives, last year’s All Star MVP should become an All Star again this year on the back of his 20.7 points and 5.2 assists per game so far. For all their problems, the Cavs are still standing sixth in the East.

Chris Bosh: Yes, we need 24 players, and even though he missed several games this season, Bosh has done well enough when he has appeared on court (21.2 ppg, 7.7) to earn All Star consideration.

Nikola Vucevic: The Magic are just 15-27 – several games outside the playoff picture – but Vucevic has been a great story out of Orlando so far. In what has been a career-best season so far, the Montenegrin is averaging his best scoring numbers (18.9) along with 11.2 rebounds per game.

Western Conference

Backcourt

Stephen Curry: And now, we’re talking. Most of the starters in the West are legitimate MVP contenders so far, and this backcourt is going to be an offensive explosion. Curry’s Warriors are by far the NBA’s best team (31-5) and the PG is their best player, averaging 23.3 points, 8 assists (fifth in the league), and 2.1 steals (second in the league). And of course, he’s en route to become one of the greatest shooters of All Time.

James Harden: Curry’s biggest challenger to the MVP crown right now. Harden has led the Rockets to a 28-12 record, leads the NBA in scoring (26.9 ppg), and is also putting up 6.7 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. Harden is probably the NBA’s best offensive player right now and has improved (relatively) on the defensive end, too.

Frontcourt

Marc Gasol: Let’s get big straight away, and let’s stay big. Enjoying a career-best scoring year (19.4 ppg), the former DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year) has been the best player of the 27-11 Grizzlies and is a dark-horse MVP candidate, too. It’s going to be incredible if the two Gasols in the East and the West tip off the 2015 All Star Game against each other.

Anthony Davis: Curse the West, which finds the NBA’s finest performer of this year one spot outside the playoff picture despite a .500 record (19-19). Davis has been a monster all year, leading the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (19.5), blocks (2.9 bpg), and putting up a fourth-best in the league 24.2 ppg. Davis is also a double digit rebounder (10.4) and has had some of the most incredible individual games so far this season. Of course he should start.

LaMarcus Aldridge: It’s a big, big west. Portland has the second-best record in the West (30-9), and Aldridge has been their best player, averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game this year. If Portland have championship aspirations, their big man – along with their point guard – will have to keep playing at a high level.

Reserves

Damian Lillard: Speaking of Portland’s point guard… Here’s Damian Lillard. This might just be his third season in the league, but Lillard has matured to become one of the league’s best leaders and top offensive guards. Averaging a career-best 22 points per game to go with 4.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists, Lillard has helped the Trail Blazers win over 70 percent of their games this season. Plus, he’s also morphing into one of great clutch-time performers of our time.

Blake Griffin: There is no mercy in the West, and even with a 26-13 record, the Clippers are down at sixth place right now. Although Griffin hasn’t produced the high-flying antics that we’ve grown used to, he has been consistently strong, averaging 22.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

Klay Thompson: The second ‘Splash Brother’ out of Golden State is one of the big reasons why the Warriors are the NBA’s best. Thompson was always a great shooter; now he has expanded his offensive arsenal and feels comfortable attacking the basket, too. He is enjoying his best scoring season (21.3 ppg), is a great perimeter defender, and should become an All Star for the first time.

DeMarcus Cousins: After a surprisingly strong start, the Kings (16-22) slowed down, fired their coach, and returned to their losing habits of recent years. But their Center DeMarcus Cousins – despite a side-lining injury – has remained consistently brilliant. Cousins is the NBA’s third-best scorer (24.2 ppg), third-best rebounder (12.4 rpg), and has the league’s second-highest Player Efficiency Rating (19.3). Even a losing team shouldn’t stop him from making his All Star debut.

Russell Westbrook: Westbrook missed about a month of action early in the season and his Thunder are currently holding a losing record (18-20). But despite that pervious sentence, the point guard’s performances have been too electrifying to be denied. In his limited games, Westbrook has averaged 26.2 ppg, which would be second only to Harden if he was eligible. 7.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, and an eye-popping PER of 29.57 make him an All Star again. But the reigning MVP teammate Kevin Durant – despite my love for his game – doesn’t get the nod this year since he has only played in 15 games so far.

Monta Ellis: Ellis has been the best player for the Mavericks so far, who currently stands fifth in the West (27-13). Ellis has taken the lead role from Nowitzki in the NBA’s best offensive team in terms of efficiency. He’s averaging 20.4 points per game this season and should make his All Star debut this season.

Chris Paul: Like his teammate Griffin, Paul hasn’t wowed fans or been at his usual MVP-calibre form, but Paul’s numbers (18.1 ppg, 9.6 apg) on a team that has won two-thirds of their games so far this season are certainly All Star worthy at a closer look. Paul is fourth in the league in assists and fifth in steals.

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