Selecting the players for the All-Star Game is a strange challenge for a few different reasons:
First, no rubric or guidelines exist to provide some sort of methodology. Without one, my preference has long been to balance the success of the current season with past performance (mostly very recent past with bonus points for a Hall of Fame career).
Second, having the starters selected by the fans means that most seasons we get an … Interesting foundation of players.
Finally, the conference format means that some more deserving players will invariably be left out- more on that later.
My rules for selecting the All-Star teams:
1. Leave the starters as is. They were chosen, they are in the game, and I see it as an easy out for writers to leave starters off their teams to put on more deserving players.
2. Follow the actual roster construction rules of two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards per conference.
3. How much you play matters but playing at an elite level matters more and having a better overall body of work helps on the margins.
4. This season, I put the reserves in order of how deserving they are, presumably because I want everyone to be angry.
Stephen Curry, Warriors
Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Kevin Durant, Thunder
Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Blake Griffin, Clippers
Chris Paul, Clippers - The best point guard in the world gets automatic inclusion since conceptually the best player at every position should be in the All-Star Game. CP3 has been remarkable when he has been on the court, including a top 10 assist rate and the lowest proportion of turnovers of anyone in the top 20 of that measure.
Anthony Davis, Pelicans - Yes, he has been this good. The Brow has blocked 7.1% of shots while on the floor and rebounded 16.5% of misses while scoring 20.2 points per game. Lower those numbers to a 6%, 15%, and 15 points per game and you know how many other seasons like that have occurred in the last decade? Two - Tim Duncan last year and Andrew Bogut in 2009-10. That’s it.
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks - An excellent combination of a strong single year and a deep body of work. Dirk has been amazing so far in 2013-14, having a strong offensive season (#10 in PER, one percent from three from a 50-40-90 season) while incorporating new pieces successfully and thriving as a team despite lacking the overall talent level of the elites in the West. Totally deserving.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers - He has been absolutely great this year and it is a testament to the strength of the Western Conference that he fits in here instead of substantially higher on the list. A great season so far as the engine of one of the league’s best teams.
Goran Dragic, Suns - He has been incredible this season and deserves a spot on this team. The motor of the shocking Suns has been one of the best offensive players in the league so far while also not being quite the sieve defensively that Lillard has been.
Dwight Howard, Rockets - A healthy Dwight continues to be one of the most important players in the entire league. He makes a difference on both sides of the floor as a top rebounder and one of the only guys who actually plays defense on the Rockets. It feels like his offense will continue to improve as long as he can sustain his health.
James Harden, Rockets - An absolutely brutal call between Harden and Lillard. James gets the spot because while both have been shaky defenders this season, James has been slightly better all-around. He is the highest-usage player on the #4 offense in the league at the moment and sits a quite respectable 11th in True Shooting among players who average at least 30 minutes per game. Harden also gets a bump from his incredible season last year.
Point Guard- Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers - An absolutely brutal omission for me as a big fan of his game and this Blazers team. Damian will make this team in real life and that matters a whole lot more. Mike Conley and Tony Parker also warrant heavy consideration.
Swingman-Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers - Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard started out in the lead here but I wanted to recognize the fabulous season Matthews has had thus far and also acknowledge that Kawhi will be missing the next month anyway and thus will not be providing value to the Spurs doing that time. Wes has been incredible, shooting an ungodly 42.5% from three and playing a key role in the NBA’s best offense.
Big- DeMarcus Cousins, Kings - Leaving him off the reserve list broke my heart more than a little. Astonishingly, Cousins sits at #6 in PER for the season but gets hurt by being a poor defender on a terrible defensive team. I hope he gets in.
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers
Dwyane Wade, Heat
Paul George, Pacers
LeBron James, Heat
Carmelo Anthony, Knicks
Kyle Lowry, Raptors - Likely the most underappreciated player on either reserve list, Lowry has had a simply great season in Toronto. As of how, he sits in the top 20 in assist rate (with the third-lowest turnover rate in the group), top 25 in PER, and plays respectable defense on a team that is dramatically exceeding expectations.
Roy Hibbert, Pacers - The Defensive Player of the Year and the linchpin of the best defense in the league by a county mile warrants unquestioned inclusion.
Joakim Noah, Bulls - The best all-around center in the Eastern Conference, Noah combines strong defensive effort with a more competent offensive game. Sadly the healthiest star on the sinking ship that is the Bulls’ season, Noah has played well and continued to fight through his team shedding players.
Andre Drummond, Pistons - I am continually amazed by how little attention Drummond gets on the national scene. He is thrilling to watch and his absolutely insane stats speak for themselves: #2 in Rebounding Rate (#1 offensive rebounder in the NBA) and #21 in PER despite turning the ball over way too much and shooting 40% from the free throw line. An incredible young player and a deserving selection in the East.
Chris Bosh, Heat - He will continue to be the third wheel in Miami but gobbling up rings and making deserving All-Star appearances should work pretty well as consolation prizes. I love that he has added a three point shot to his repertoire, shooting more of them this season than any full year and doing so at the best percentage of his career.
John Wall, Wizards - Snubbed just yesterday by Team USA, Wall has been the second-best Point Guard in the Eastern Conference this season. Fourth in the league in assists per game with a respectable 2.37 A/TO ratio, Wall has also played something closer to passable defense than a vast majority of other high-level PG’s around the league.
Lance Stephenson, Pacers - He may benefit from a surprisingly weak guard group in the Eastern Conference but Lance has played quite well this season and has become an integral part of what makes the Pacers so great. A bulldog on defense who can create for himself and others on offense and will earn a big paycheck as a 23 year old Unrestricted Free Agent this summer.
Point Guard- George Hill, Pacers - Great defender (Ian Levy and I discuss his role in their system on this week’s podcast) who also does what the team needs on offense.
Swingman- Arron Afflalo, Magic - An argument can clearly be made to put him over Stephenson for the last spot on the roster since he has really brought his game up this season. Afflalo has taken on a bigger role since being traded to the Magic before last season and has actually had his best offensive season despite being asked to do so much more on that end.
Big- Paul Millsap, Hawks - While fellow Atlanta big man Al Horford would have held this spot or made the team outright if healthy, Millsap’s play deserves praise as well. He has done a nice job on offense and defense for a Hawks team that sits in the upper half of the league on both components.
Selections Without Conferences
I wrote up top about how the conference format has led to a less fair outcome in terms of these teams. Giving the top ten vote-getters spots automatically, here is how I would make the twenty four player roster:
Guard- Goran Dragic, Suns
Guard- Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Guard- James Harden, Rockets
Guard- Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
Frontcourt- Kevin Love, Timberwolves
Frontcourt- Anthony Davis, Pelicans
Frontcourt- LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers
Frontcourt- Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
Frontcourt- Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Frontcourt- Joakim Noah, Bulls
Wild Card- DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
Wild Card- Mike Conley, Grizzlies
Wild Card- Dwight Howard, Rockets
Wild Card- Andre Drummond, Pistons
Point Guard- Tony Parker, Spurs
Swingman- Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers
Big Man- Chris Bosh, Heat