Power Ranking: Sorting The All-Star Reserves
This week I’ll be ranking who I believe deserves to be a reserve in the 2012 All-Star game. All 14 players, from both conferences, will be lumped together and placed in order—from “totally obvious” (1) to “I guess he could maybe be an All-Star?” (14).
14) Tyson Chandler. East. Center. It feels like a bureaucratic sham to say Tyson Chandler is an All-Star over the likes of Paul Millsap or Steve Nash, but so goes the NBA’s chosen voting process (even though both of those players are in the Western Conference, and there doesn’t necessarily need to be a reserve center selected if no legitimate candidate qualifies, but for all intended purposes I’m picking one for this exercise). With no point guard making his offensive life easy, Chandler leads the NBA in True Shooting and each night plays like the guy we credited with changing Dallas’ defensive mindset. He began as a disappointment, but has since shown his worth.
13) Josh Smith. East. Wild Card. Yes, he’s taking more long range jump shots than ever before, but nine out of every 10 attempts are assisted by a teammate, and he’s making them at the second highest percentage of his career. But Josh Smith’s impact is immeasurable by statistics. He’s an athletic marvel, still capable of changing games with a block or going coast to coast off a turnover. The main reason Smith gains entrance here is because of his contributions to a basketball team that’s missing their normal perennial front court All-Star. Atlanta has the fifth highest net differential between offensive and defensive rating in the league right now, and Smith’s matured play might the biggest reason why.
12) Rudy Gay. West. Wild Card. Due to last year’s Cinderella-ish playoff run, is it safe to say the Memphis Grizzlies are a title contender if Randolph comes back? And if the answer to that question is yes, and Rudy Gay is their do-everything offensive option at the moment, doesn’t that make him an All-Star? I know this argument is thin, and Gay over Millsap was one of the most difficult decisions I made, but the type of sacrificial yet still efficient season he’s had makes Rudy Gay a solid selection here. To date this season, he’s made more field goals than Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, and Carmelo Anthony. He’s the second best small forward (behind Kevin Durant) in the Western Conference with a game so aesthetically pleasing and an aura so close to a superstar’s level that selecting him for this game just feels right.
11) Ray Allen. East. Guard. As I write this, Ray Allen is leading the entire NBA in eFG%, as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 56.4% from the three-point line, which is mind blowing even for someone widely reputed as the best shooter in league history, and overall, he’s better than he was last year. Kyrie Irving is having a fantastic rookie season, and he’ll make his fair share of All-Star appearances (unless John Wall beats him to them), but at 36, Ray is still magnificently reliable; the best shooter in basketball until he decides he doesn’t want to be anymore.
10) Marc Gasol. West. Center. These days, selecting a reserve center for the All-Star game has been both insanely difficult and relatively simple. Hard because in naming some of these centers to the team, the title of All-Star is devalued for everyone else. Easy because every time a pass shoots through his hands or off his nose, another center eliminates himself from the discussion. Marc Gasol is averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal per game. Playing with no Zach Randolph by his side (a true luxury when discussing fatigue) Gasol is logging 38 minutes a game and has managed to cut his Defensive Rating down to 96 (it was 103 last year). There are very few true center options to put in this space, but if I had to select one, Gasol is the most appropriate selection.
9) Monta Ellis. West. Wild Card. [Editor's Note: Before we get started, did you see Monta Ellis' obliteration mankind last night? If yes, and you still don't think he's All-Star worthy, just stop reading and walk away. Thank you.]
Ellis’ credentials as a fringe All-Star for the past few years were predicated on the irrationally high amount of points he would average per contest. Every single year he’s snubbed, and there’s a good chance he’s left off the list again this season, but the way he’s playing right now has been a bit different. A little more selfless, getting teammates involved while still providing us with a nightly string of highlights. His offensive game has never been more complex and if there were ever a time to put him in the game, it’s now.
8) Deron Williams. East. Wild Card. Deron Williams was the best point guard in basketball two years ago. Now, we question whether or not he’s worth a max contract this offseason. How quickly things change. Williams has been off, but chalk it up to what’s been going on around him. The roster he’s working with was already paper thin before Brook Lopez went down, and Dwight Howard’s shadow looms large over everyone who’s constantly hearing they could one day be plucked from the Nets and plopped into Orlando’s downright awful situation. Williams hasn’t hit the incredibly high bar he’s set for what we expect from him, but that doesn’t mean he’s been awful. The overtime victory in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago stands out as a reminder of who Deron Williams is, and why he has a ton of All-NBA basketball left in his system.
7) Rajon Rondo. East. Guard. The early goings of this season was supposed to be the continued evolution of Rondo’s coming out party, but an injured wrist slowed things down a bit. Not to worry. When he’s out there, Rondo continues to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA. A better passer than all but Nash and Paul, and as good a defender as any point guard in the league (with eager pupil Avery Bradley nipping at his heels), Rondo deserves to be an All-Star because there aren’t three better point guards in the game. It’s that simple.
6) Kyle Lowry. West. Guard. Kyle Lowry’s nightly flirting with a triple double has cooled off a bit since the season’s early going, but despite the slump he’s remained impressive in a few statistical categories. Among starting point guards he’s second in win shares and first in rebounds (by a few miles). On defense, where statistics have yet to paint an accurate picture for a player’s minute by minute contributions, Lowry combines his stout body with quick hands and fiery feet to create turnovers and snuff out penetration. The motor on him never stops; it’s the biggest reason Houston has found themselves fighting for a playoff berth in a very tight, yet wide open race. Lowry increases his team’s chances of victory. What’s more All-Star than that?
5) Chris Bosh. East. Forward. A six-time All-Star, Bosh isn’t playing the best basketball of his career right now, but he has looked comfortable in his new found role as an offensive third option; scary for the rest of the league. His overall numbers haven’t deviated to strongly relative to last season, but his confidence is much higher than it once was, making his shot selection less hesitant and more pleasing to Miami’s coaching staff.
4) Paul Pierce. East. Forward. With trade rumors of an official Big 3 breakup floating through the air, the team’s point guard and catalyst going down with a painful wrist injury, and Boston’s season spiraling out of control, Paul Pierce stepped in and saved everything (temporarily). After struggling to get into shape due to an injured heal at the beginning of the season, the Celtics’ captain was BRILLIANT over the last month. He ran the entire offense, boosted the confidence of teammates both young (Avery Bradley) and old (Kevin Garnett), played lock down defense, rebounded like a hell spawn, and willed his team to victory in about four or five games that could’ve gone either way. Pierce was arguably the league’s MVP during the month of January and he’s an easy choice to make the team.
3) Russell Westbrook. West. Guard. Here’s a funny fact for you: Russell Westbrook has scored 30 or more points four times this season. In those games the Thunder are 2-2. Also, Russell Westbrook has tallied 7 or more assists six times (three of those games were 7 assists exactly). The Thunder are 4-2 in those games. The moral of the story here is whether he passes or whether he scores, Russell Westbrook can not win. Forget about LeBron James or Blake Griffin for a second. Westbrook is the most polarizing basketball player on the planet right now. Every time his name comes up in discussing, the conversation tilts back and forth as if riding a see-saw. The way I view him is this: With unrivaled athleticism, he’s the league’s third best shooting guard playing out of position. Nobody can guard him on the perimeter, and off nights are of his own creation—when the wheels in his head begin to clink instead of churn. His mind is that of a scorer, yet his main responsibility is making sure one of his teammates takes between 16-20 shots a game. It’s a bit of a problem. Then we look at the other end of things: He leads one of the league’s best teams in assists and steals. He’s second on the team in scoring, and fourth in rebounds. Clearly he’s doing something right.
2) LaMarcus Aldridge. West. Forward. He’s dropped 30 on OKC, 29 on Denver, 28 on the Lakers, and 25 on the Sixers. (All of those games were won by Portland.) As a power forward, exactly half of his offense comes from at least 10 feet from the basket, yet he manages to remain an efficient weapon whose play is conducive to the Trailblazers winning games, and his PER is on par with Dwight Howard. A true sign of his improvement from last year’s All-Star snub: His usage rate has gone up but his TS% has remained steady. A no-brainer.
1) Kevin Love. West. Forward. This should be the consensus number one pick. Kevin Love is one of the 10 best players in the NBA right now, and after Rose, James, Durant, Howard, and Paul, it might be fair to say there’s nobody having a bigger nightly impact on his team’s outcome. Love’s game has simultaneously been dissected and gushed over since he entered the league, but this season he’s turned his defensive ineptitude into an irrelevant conversation. Love takes about five threes per game and makes approximately 38% of them. He’s scoring five more points and attempting two more free-throws per game against his averages last season (which is significant, since as of Sunday he leads the entire league in free-throws made.) Right now Love is having a better season than at least two of the 10 players who fans voted in to start the game, and his selection by the coaches should be the easiest of them all.