Just as it was last year, the starting 5 for the Western Conference All-Star team is dominated by the city of Los Angeles. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin deservedly represent the Clippers, who’ve had a fantastic season thus far, while Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard represent the floundering Lakers. Unsurprisingly, the conference’s best player, Kevin Durant, rounds out the starting 5.
Of course, it’s difficult in some ways to justify the Lakers, who are 6 games under .500, having 2 players in the starting lineup. But it’s the fans that vote and Bryant is having an outstanding individual season, and Howard, despite not being at his best, is still the game’s best centre.
The votes of head coaches in the Western 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 Western Conference All-Star reserves.
Is there a player who causes more debate between NBA analysts than Russell Westbrook? Probably not. Is there a fan of any NBA team that wouldn’t pay good money to see Westbrook play? Definitely not. Sure, he shoots too much for a point-guard, and granted, he can look a little out-of-control at times—he’s never going to be a Chris Paul-type floor general—but Westbrook’s strengths outweigh his weaknesses by a lot. And this season he’s been a major reason why the Thunder, thought by many to have taken a backward step in trading James Harden, are the best team in the NBA.
Westbrook has been his usual explosive-self scoring the basketball, but it would be remiss to leave out the fact that he has been a much better distributor this year as well. Without Harden, who took on a lot of the point-guard duties last season for the Thunder, much more has been required of Westbrook. He’s currently averaging a career best in assists (8.3 per game), and while he’s still a shooting guard trapped inside a point-guard’s body, it would be unfair to ignore his development in that area of the game.
Although the Thunder haven’t missed a beat in his absence, Harden’s arrival in Houston has turned a team destined for the basement of the Western Conference, into a genuine playoff contender. Despite hitting a recent rough patch the Rockets have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this year—a League Pass favourite—with their high octane, run-and-gun style offense. And Harden has been the biggest reason for the Rockets’ success.
Currently averaging 25.8 points per game—good enough for 5th in the NBA—Harden has developed from the borderline superstar he was last season, to a genuine superstar in the NBA—quite possibly the second best shooting guard in the league, after Kobe Bryant. There may not be a better player at getting to the rim than The Beard. But Harden isn’t just required to score for the Rockets; he also provides them with vital playmaking. With no disrespect to Jeremy Lin, Harden is the best point-guard on this Houston team. He may tire with all that responsibility as the season wears on, but right now, he’s playing like an All-Star.
Along with the Knicks, the Golden State Warriors, currently 9 games above .500, are the NBA’s surprise team. Currently the 5th seed in a stacked Western Conference, the Warriors absolutely deserve a representative at this year’s All-Star game, and unfortunately, it had to come down to a choice between Lee and Steph Curry, who has also been great. Golden State run everything they do on offense through David Lee, and thus, he narrowly makes my All-Star reserves over Curry.
After putting up impressive, but largely empty numbers in the past for the Knicks and Warriors, Lee is finally making his offensive skills count. Averaging over 19 points per game and 10 rebounds, Lee is currently second in the league in double-doubles—impressive considering that he plays in a conference with so many skilled big men. As well as shooting and rebounding incredibly well this season, Lee has also displayed his criminally underrated passing abilities. Lee averages almost 4 assists per game, and is one of the best passing big-men in the NBA.
Watching Zach Randolph play basketball is something to behold. To call him non-athletic would be an understatement—the guy can barely jump, and he looks like he spends more time at the buffet table than on the hard-court. But when that ball hits the rim and some of the NBA’s most athletic big men are jostling in the paint for the rebound, it’s Randolph who comes out on top more often than not. His strength, timing, and overall smarts in the paint are incredible.
And Randolph’s been incredible—along with his frontcourt partner Marc Gasol—for a Memphis Grizzlies team that’s currently 4th in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies are one of only two teams (the other inexplicably being the Wizards) to have beaten both the Heat and Thunder this season. Randolph is averaging over 16 points per game, and shooting 48% from the field, while pulling down 11.8 rebounds per game—second only to Dwight Howard in the NBA. And just to add to his All-Star selection case, Randolph currently leads the NBA in double-doubles.
At the age of 36 Tim Duncan really shouldn’t be playing the way he currently is. It’s astounding. It defies all notions about the way a player’s skill-set should decline as he enters his mid-30s. Duncan is the greatest power-forward of all time, he’s won 4 NBA championships—he should be a fringe player for the Spurs right now, averaging 8 points and 5 rebounds per game, or something very respectable like that. But Duncan is a different breed. Right now he’s playing some of the best basketball of his career.
He’s currently averaging over 17 points, almost 10 rebounds, and close to 3 blocks per game. He still holds his own against some of the best big men in the league—coming up against them night in and night out in a stacked Western Conference. Tony Parker may now be the best player on the Spurs, but Duncan is a huge reason they remain one of the best teams in the league. He may not care about being picked for the All-Star game—he may not even want to go—but he absolutely deserves to.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan’s partner in crime for a San Antonio Spurs team that is currently 32-11, is quietly having one of his best seasons since he came into the league. Parker has always been underrated—he’s only made 4 All-Star appearances and was an MVP candidate last season, but was barely mentioned—and part of that is as a result of his low-key, low-maintence style. He’s a team-first guy, much like the rest of the Spurs, and he’d be the last guy to brag about being one of the best point-guards in the league.
But Parker IS one of the league’s best and is showing it again this year. Averaging almost 20 points per game, and 7 assists, Parker keeps the Spurs’ offense ticking over—well more than ticking over, in-fact, they’re an offensive juggernaut. Parker’s performances this year have been even more impressive considering the fact that he’s had to compensate for the frequent absences of Manu Ginobli. One of the league’s most underrated players deserves to make his 5th All-Star appearance in Houston next month.
On a recent TNT broadcast Steve Kerr called Aldridge, in the absence of Kevin Love, the best power forward in the game. Although that may be a bit of stretch—Blake Griffin is slightly better at the 4-spot in my opinion—Aldridge is another one of those players whose talents are unfairly overlooked. It might be because he plays in Portland, a relatively small market, but Aldridge hasn’t got enough credit this year for the sort of season he’s been having.
The Trail Blazers have surprised many this year, and are hovering around the 8th spot in the Western Conference. Rookie sensation Damian Lillard has played a big role in this, but Aldridge, averaging over 20 points per game, has been the foundation that the Blazers have built their season on. Portland really don’t have much of a bench, and Aldridge’s scoring is vital for their success. He’s an immensely talented forward who can drive to the basket, or draw out his defender and hit the mid-range jumper. There aren’t too many power forwards with his skill set and he deserves to be in the All-Star game next month.