The title is slightly misleading, but who cares. Cool crossover.
Earlier today, ESPN Insider’s Neil Paine beautifully broke down whether or not Heat center Chris Bosh is worthy of the Hall of Fame. You can either read it (suggested), OR look at the clip above and laugh the heartiest laugh. (After you finish laughing you should probably still read the article. It’s really good.)
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). Read more…
Despite his shooting numbers taking a slight dip across the board this season, I still believe Jamal Crawford and the Sixth Man Award belong together; skipping along a moonlit beach, hand in hand, grinning ear to ear. But alas, thanks to some stiffer competition this season, it likely isn’t meant to be. The emergence of Glen Davis, and the usual Lamar Odom/Jason Terry combination are each, apparently, ahead of him in the race. But wouldn’t it be cooler if the award went to someone who was a little more committed to, you know, coming off the bench? Someone who didn’t start a single game for the entire year? Odom (34 starts), Davis (10), and Terry (10) all have played a slightly heavier role than sixth man for their respective teams this season. Crawford? Zero. Both this season and last (when he won the award).
And this could be his last chance at grabbing what he’ll most be associated with once his career comes to a close. The 31-year-old Hawk is losing his explosiveness, attacking the rim less and less; 68% of his shots are launched from at least 16 feet. Then again, who cares about numbers when the clip above gives direct evidence to the contrary. If I had one vote, Jamal Crawford would surely get it.
Of North America’s four major sport leagues, no All-Star game is more widely anticipated, talked about, attended, or, frankly, marvelous than basketball’s. With the dunk contest’s reemergence as something worth a decent conversation, this year’s megaton bomb of a location (star studded Los Angeles for the first time since 2004), and, if I had a final decision, the overall level of talent level would boast at least eight living, breathing first ballot Hall of Fame inductees.
Tonight at 7 pm on TNT, the NBA’s 2010-11 All-Star starters will be revealed. Unfortunately, thanks to fan voting updates, there isn’t any suspense, much less speculation, about which 10 players will be on the court for Feb. 20′s inaugural tip. But on Feb. 3, TNT will fill out each side’s lineup with 14 players who the league’s coaches have decided are most worthy. This is the one worth watching. It’s centralized league discussion for months and will be analyzed this way and dissected another. How will the Western Conference deal with their backload of talented and deserving forwards? Will Kevin Love make it, appeasing high school basketball coaches and the pro-fundamental crowd? Will Blake Griffin make it, appeasing everyone else? How about LaMarcus Aldridge and his under wraps MVP worthy first half? Will Tim Duncan make it lucky number 13? And for that matter, how many players on the league’s best team (record wise) will receive the due honors that come with winning the most basketball games? Can five Boston Celtics fill out the Eastern Conference’s seven bench spots? (It’s technically possible.) Does Raymond Felton make the Most Improved Player award discussion a bit more lively by putting a first nod on his resume? Will all the centers be ignored?
These questions are answerless, but they capture in a nutshell why everything that surrounds the All-Star game is more fun than the actual contest. All the hoopla and hype, the incessant debates in barbershops, bars, and sidelines of a pickup game, all the talk is what makes All-Star weekend, in my opinion, the most special exhibition event in the world. So without further ado, today I’ll be writing who I think should round out the Eastern Conference’s squad. Tomorrow I’ll do the West.
First let’s get the likely starters out of the way. These 10 players, with the exception of the West’s center, are the current fan vote leaders.
East: PG-Derrick Rose, SG-Dwyane Wade, SF-LeBron James, PF-Amare Stoudemire, C-Dwight Howard
West: PG-Chris Paul, SG-Kobe Bryant, SF-Carmelo Anthony, PF-Kevin Durant, C-Tim Duncan (Replacing the injured Yao Ming)
There should be no real beef with anything selected here—besides Rose starting over Rondo, which defines nitpicking, but in an All-Star atmosphere, the league’s best passer might make for a more entertaining floor general. Regardless, 60 percent of these starters will end up in the Hall someday; three of the 10 being first ballots even if they e-mailed their retirement papers today. Now finally, onto the backups…
First Guard: Rajon Rondo. In full disclosure, he’s my favorite player. So far this season he’s cut the head off of the chicken or egg argument about whether it’s Rondo who makes the Big Three go or the Big Three who make Rondo’s crazy assist numbers look easy. It’s clear he’s lengthening the other four starter’s careers (especially Shaq and Pierce) with impeccable vision, an uncanny ability to handle the ball and control the game’s offensive and defensive tempo, and more raw athleticm than any point guard in the league. Rondo’s attitude on the court is one that screams “I’m the greatest!” and his league leading 12.9 assists per game proves it. Also, despite the general public continuing to believe Rondo can’t shoot, he can. I’m serious. From 16-23 feet, he’s 46 percent from the field. Same as Deron Williams and Steve Nash, who surprisingly attempt just 0.3 more shots from that distance per game than Rondo. No mention of free throws here! It’s all love!
Second Guard: Ray Allen. The chapter of Ray Allen’s career where he’s able to create his own shots and get where he wants dribbling the basketball are over. Finito. But at 36, he’s arguably shooting the ball better than ever before. Allen’s true shooting percentage (63), field goal percentage (51), and three-point percentage (45) are all career highs (by the time All-Star weekend rolls around, he’ll have passed Reggie Miller as the NBA’s all-time leader in three pointers made) and after watching him run circles around guys 10 years younger, 36 minutes a night through 44 games—he’s yet to sit one out—it’s astonishing to think how much longer Ray Allen can play professional basketball at such a high level.
First Forward: Kevin Garnett. In a late January regular season loss to Orlando last season, then Magic starter Rashard Lewis took an inbound from the wing to the basket, making Kevin Garnett look like a rusty screen door, laying in the winning bucket with 1.3 seconds left. It was like watching a Roman gladiator refuse to leave the battfield even though his right leg is dangling from his hip by a thread. But imagine if that Roman gladiator had access to the finest in modern medicine, arthroscopic surgery, and months of mental and physical rehabilitation to avenge the most painful loss of his life (Game 7). This is roughly what that would translate to:
He’s playing the same fiery defense he put on display in 2007-08 while continuing on as one of the best shooting forwards in the game. Kevin Garnett is an indisputable lock at this spot.
Second Forward: Paul Pierce. Noticing a pattern? The Boston Celtics are the Eastern Conference’s best team and they’ve been playing without their starting center. While the previous three players are irreplaceable in what they do to make Boston’s system thrive, Paul Pierce is arguably the most important piece. I won’t go into too much detail right now because (SPOILER ALERT!!) I’m putting a little mid-season MVP list together, but speaking as someone who has watched a vast majority of games Paul Pierce has played in, this season has to be one of his most impressive. He still has an ability to average 25-28 points per game—if he really wanted to ruin Boston’s flow—and at 33, he remains near the top in terms of players who can’t be guarded one on one. His name still gets lost in the national stage’s shuffle, but he’s right there with the best of them at getting the shot he wants when the clock’s winding down.
Center: Shaqu—just joking!—Al Horford. The definition of a key asset. He’s the best mid-range shooting center in the game and it’s not even close (including Bargnani) and even though he plays undersized at the five every night, Horford is a solid low post defender and has notched 22 doubles, nine of them with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. He also plays through injury and at only 24 is one of the league’s more determined competitors. Now, here are two hypotheticals for you. If Horford and former Gator teammate Joakim Noah were to switch teams at the beginning of the season, would that have changed LeBron’s mind about joining Rose in Chicago? I don’t think it would, but it’s an interesting question. And number two, would the Bulls pull the plug or the trigger on a deal involving Carmelo if they had Horford to give up instead of Noah? Here, I think they would’ve made the deal.
First Wild Card: Chris Bosh. After one of the best seasons of his career, Chris Bosh is statistically having one of his worst, but that was to be expected—did you know he’s playing with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade now?!? He’s posted 15 double doubles in 42 starts compared to 49 in 70 last season. Bosh’s rebounds, points, and minutes are slightly down, but surprisingly, he’s only taking two fewer shots per game. I’ve never been a Chris Bosh guy. Maybe it’s his physical ineptitude on defense (in exactly half of his games this season, Bosh has logged either one or two fouls) or just the overall flair to what could be a more imposing post presence. Or maybe this is why. Either way, he’s averaging 19 and eight and plays for the most talked about team in the league, so he’s in.
Second Wild Card: Raymond Felton. While people talk about what a great job Felton’s done making Amare forget about Steve Nashty, I say look at what a poor job Charlotte did giving this guy an opportunity to run a successful team. Grabbing Amare Stoudemire isn’t exactly picking up Oreos from the supermarket, but Felton only had two 20 point per game scorers during his five years in Charlotte: Jason Richardson in 2007-08 and Stephen Jackson last year. Statistics aside, because we all know the inflation that comes with the system he’s in, Raymond’s been steady for the Knicks, with a few cold streaks mixed into some dreamy performances (the 20 point, 12 assist, five steal Christmas Day showdown against Derrick Rose comes to mind). He’s shooting the ball more, and better, than he ever has in his career, all while serving as his team’s number two offensive option. Felton hasn’t been spectacular this year, but he’s been overachieving under the bright lights. Sometimes that’s enough to get your first All-Star invite.
And with that, tomorrow comes the West.
Last night in Miami, the Chris Bosh-less Heat lost their fourth straight game in an ugly overtime battle with the Atlanta Hawks. Few bright spots can be taken from a game like last night’s, but it’s undeniable that Miami had one: Joel Anthony. Starting in place of Bosh, the 28-year-old Anthony embossed himself on the game with 16 rebounds (eight offensive, eight defensive), three blocks, and zero points—according to the Heat announcers he doesn’t even shoot the ball in warm-ups.
The Heat were going up against an Atlanta team that was playing with a chip on their shoulder (they tend to do this once or twice a season) after Larry Drew, their coach, reportedly called their play “soft” the previous night. Atlanta was clearly looking to out hustle and physically dominate Miami’s modest frontline, but Anthony’s presence altered all that. Granted the Hawks didn’t have their best rebounder, Al Horford, for part of the second half after he rolled his ankle, but regardless, Anthony was Moses Malone in spurts during his season high 43 minutes of action. On one sequence midway through the fourth quarter, he grabbed three offensive rebounds in 19 seconds, eventually leading to a Mario Chalmers three-ball.
The Heat are 17-5 when Anthony sees 20 minutes or more of action, but only 5-5 when he starts (two of the losses were against Boston and one of the wins came against Orlando). If it weren’t for a strange sequence in overtime where all five Miami players assumed Atlanta was going to call a time-out, turned towards their bench and allowed Joe Johnson to find a wide open Mario West for a go ahead three pointer (this would never happen to the Celtics, Spurs, or Lakers), the Heat likely would have won the game.
Anthony may only be 6’9”, but in half the minutes Bosh plays per game (35.6 to 18.6), he averages twice as many blocks and slightly more defensive plays (steals, blocks, and charges). Is Joel Anthony better than Chris Bosh? No, I dare not go there, but sporting a starting lineup of Arroyo, Wade, James, Anthony, and Ilgauskas, with Bosh coming off the bench and continuing to play over 30 minutes a game, might give Miami their best scheme going into the playoffs. As was seen when he received a harsh facial courtesy of Josh Smith, Anthony is fearless protecting the rim (or at least trying to), and his selfless shot selection— he takes one every 18 minutes he’s on the floor—makes him a better complement for James and Wade when both are active on the floor.
It may sound like it, but the point I’m trying to make here isn’t so much that Anthony deserves to start, but that Bosh might be better served coming off the bench. Much like Lamar Odom or Manu Ginobili, Bosh’s ability should be utilized dominating second lines and providing energy, yet still ending games on the floor in crunch time. As a five time All-Star his skills are undeniable, but heading into this season I was a little skeptical on how all three of them would co-exist when it came to shot selection. From day one it was clear that Bosh would struggle the most with the adjustment, and surrounding Wade and James with three serviceable role players to start the game might be the most logical move. It probably won’t happen. The risk vs. reward ratio weighs too heavy on the side of “if this doesn’t work, I’m out of a job” for Spoelstra, but should the team ever hit a slump or fall behind two games in a playoff series, a Chris Bosh reinforcement off the bench might not be such a bad idea.