Considering who the starters are, the NBA may have to stick a couple security guards in the locker-room of the Eastern Conference All-Star team. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade aren’t big fans of their Celtic rivals Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, while Carmelo Anthony isn’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye with Garnett at this moment in time. Of course, these guys are all professionals and it’ll be nothing but laughter and good-natured banter when All-Star weekend comes around—unless there’s any mention of a certain cereal, of course.
Just as the selection of two Lakers on the West team caused some controversy, there’s a debate as to whether two Celtics (Boston’s 20-20) should start for the East, but the fans have had their say, and Rondo and Garnett are having good seasons personally.
The votes of head coaches in the Eastern Conference will decide which 7 players will fill-out the 12-man roster, and their picks will be announced on Thursday. Unfortunately at BALLnROLL.com we don’t get a vote, but if we did, the following 7 players would be our picks to make the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves.
There’s a feeling that’s shared among many who follow basketball that when selecting players for an all-star team, it’s important to reward those whose teams are having great years. Unfortunately, Kyrie Irving doesn’t fit that bill. The Cavaliers are 10-32, and are currently wallowing in 14th place in the conference. But without the reigning Rookie of the Year, the Cavs’ record would be a lot worse.
Sometimes you can watch a bad team, and still find them immensely entertaining and fun to watch—that’s what Irving does for the Cavs. He makes them watchable. In just his second year in the league he’s already a legitimate superstar—a player who can take over games with the type of fearless, breathtaking off-the-dribble shot making that only Derrick Rose can match. His outside shooting makes him a dual scoring threat—he’s currently shooting 40% from 3-point land—and he’s gradually improving as a playmaker. If the Cavs can surround him with better talent, they’ll really have something special in the years to come. For now, Irving deserves to be rewarded with the first of many All-Star appearances.
The case for Jrue Holiday to make the All-Star game is similar to the one for Irving. His team is having a bad season, no doubt, but he’s the one shining light—the one reason to tune into a 76ers game, and that counts for something. That the 76ers are only 3 games out of a playoff spot is all thanks to Holiday, (and to the ineptness of the Celtics) who has taken over the reins of a team that has struggled to make the jump this year, in large part because of the Andrew Bynum injury saga.
Holiday’s numbers are sensational. He’s averaging 9 assists per game, which is good enough for 4th in the NBA, and he’s currently averaging over 19 points per game, all while shooting career best percentages from the floor. Without Holiday’s offense and play making—his defense has slipped a little because of the added responsibility—the 76ers would be dead and buried this year. His bailing out of a sinking ship should be rewarded with a trip to Houston.
If the season ended today Joakim Noah would be my pick for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s been absolutely sensational this season for a Chicago Bulls team that many felt would struggle without their star man Derrick Rose. At the time of writing the Bulls are the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference and are 7 games above .500. A large reason for their success has been the play of their emotional leader at both ends of the floor.
Noah’s always been a competent defender, and in Tom Thibodeau system he’s thrived, but he’s taken his game to a new level this year. He’s averaging career highs in steals (1.3) and blocks (2.0), and is very close to his career high in rebounds per game—currently averaging 10.6. What’s been just as impressive, however, has been he contribution at the offensive end. Without Rose, Chicago’s only true shot-maker, the Bulls were always going to struggle offensively, but Noah has done his best to pick up the slack, currently averaging a career high 12.4 points per game. If the Bulls make the playoffs this year, you can thank Charles Barkley’s favourite player.
If Tyson Chandler was going to be picked for any All-Star game, it really should’ve been last year’s—a year in which he won the Defensive Players of the Year and was instrumental in turning the Knicks into one of the best defensive teams around. This year Chandler’s numbers are still fantastic—he averages a double-double and is shooting (dunking) 67% from the floor—but the Knicks have dropped off defensively. Chandler hasn’t been the defensive behemoth he was last year, but he’s yet to be selected as an All-Star in what has been a great career, and I’m a sentimental sort of guy.
Aside from sentimentality, he’s still the second best player on a Knicks team that is currently the second best in the East, and has surprised everyone. Furthermore Chandler is required to do so much defensively every night, playing with defensive liabilities like Carmelo, Stoudemire, and J.R. Smith (and without Iman Shumpert) that his play was bound to drop off a little from last year. He’s still been good enough to make the trip to Houston, however.
The Brooklyn Nets have had an up and down kind of season, but they seem to have turned things around recently under the stewardship of P.J. Carlesimo. Their streaky, inconsistent play has been matched by the inconsistency of their two back-court stars, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson—neither of whom have played well enough to deserve a place as All-Star reserves. But the Nets are currently eight games above .500, and that is in large part down to their much-maligned centre, Brook Lopez.
The Brook Lopez jibes are well known to everyone who follows the NBA. They go something like this: He’s soft, he can’t rebound, he doesn’t use his frame well enough and can’t box-out. But Lopez, playing healthy, has reminded us all that he’s one of the best offensive big men in the game. He’s currently averaging over 18 points per game, shooting 51% from the field—a lot of his shots being sweet mid-range jumpers, making that percentage even more impressive—and he’s been the focal on offense for the Nets. When he was out briefly with an injury his team missed him immensely. And although his defense has been sup-par, he isn’t without his attributes on that end. Lopez is currently averaging a career high in blocks.
In an interview with Bill Simmons, Larry Bird (then G.M. of the Pacers) stated that the current Pacers team would go as far as Paul George would take them. Bird’s assertion seems truer than ever, as the Pacers are relying on their young star in the absence of Danny Granger. The Pacers struggled early on without Granger, an often criticized, but proven scorer in the NBA. In the last couple months, however, George (with help from the awesome David West) has become the Pacers’ go-to-guy at both ends of the floor, and an NBA star in the process.
George’s numbers have been impressive. Averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal per game, it’s clear that he does a little bit of everything—in the mold of an Andre Iguodala, but with a higher ceiling. And George’s perimeter defense has been a big reason why the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league and are currently leading the Central Division. The pressure for George to score on a team that struggles offensively, and to defend the opposition’s best perimeter player has been immense, but he’s thrived under it. The Pacers’ are now Paul George’s team.
My final pick for the Eastern Conference reserves came down to a choice between Boozer and Paul Pierce—and if you’d told me at the beginning of the season that I was going to pick Carlos Boozer over Pierce for a place in the All-Star game, I would’ve said you were crazy. But as much as we’ve all criticized Boozer for his lackluster play over the past couple years—particularly his lackluster defense—the guy deserves to make the All-Star team. I’ve set my pre-conceived notions aside. Plus, the Celtics are currently 20-20—they REALLY don’t deserve to have 3 players in the All-Star game.
Just like Noah has been a massive part of the Bulls’ play on the defensive end, Boozer has been their offensive leader in the absence of Derrick Rose. Currently averaging over 16 points per game, and over 10 boards, Boozer leads the Eastern Conference in double doubles. For a team that struggles to score without Rose in the lineup, Boozer’s ability to put the ball in the basket has been huge. As of now, at least on the offense end, he looks like the Carlos Boozer we all remember playing for the Jazz. And that Carlos Boozer was an All-Star.