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…
Monta Ellis is a dazzling basketball player. The type of pound-for-pound, straightforward talent who’s been one of the league’s most potent offensive threats his entire career. Unfortunately, Ellis’ perception belies what makes him so great: Now in his seventh season and younger than LeBron James, more than ever before Golden State’s best player falls victim to two very strong trends firmly entrenched within contemporary American society: statistical analysis and time zone differential. Read more…
Yesterday, it was reported that Tyson Chandler, the much desired free agent center who’s assumed a fair share of praise for helping Dallas defeat Miami in last year’s NBA Finals, will meet with Golden State team officials this week. The cement mix is far from dry—Houston, New Jersey, Dallas, and an always lingering team in the shadows all want him badly—but if the Warriors are able to use Chandler as an announcement to the league that they’re serious about trying to win big—and soon—then we might be witnessing the birth of a legitimate contender, sooner than anybody could’ve imagined. Read more…
That’s a tough question to answer. Really, really tough. To be nice, Martin dooooes look quick…
(We’ll leave it at that.)
Last night O.J. Mayo saw himself in the Grizzlies’ starting lineup for the first time since early April, when his team was actively trying to lose basketball games. He was tremendous, going 6-12 from the field for 16 points, four boards, and four (!) steals. What most sticks out to me is his ability to stretch the floor, allowing Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to do what they do best, unimpeded with no double teams. (Randolph absolutely murdered Serge Ibaka when the two were on an island last night.) In the first postseason of his young career, Mayo’s shooting 43% from the three-point line. For Memphis in these playoffs he’s fourth in scoring, third in assists, first in three-pointers, and he’s averaging more minutes a game than Shane Battier, Tony Allen, and Sam Young. He’s still the same guy who insists on driving wildly to the basket every now and then, but quite possibly for the first time in his professional career, O.J. Mayo’s giving his coach a legitimate reason to keep him on the floor.
If you happen to fall, get up and try again. Unless, of course, you were victim of a Stephen Curry crossover and figure it’s a good idea to guard the backcourt Batman to his Robin, Monta Ellis, on the very next play. Since joining the Mavericks, Brewer has tried to carve a specific niche as a valuable perimeter defender. This clip pretty much sets his case on fire.
The construction of all these ridiculous super teams has got me thinking: Can a team constructed entirely of players who have never made an All-Star team win a championship? Last night’s Heat-Knicks game featured six players who’ve danced the All-Star jig at least five times in their careers, and out of all of them only two rings were won (and two Finals MVPs). The rules in making my made up team (we’ll call them the Las Vegas Ponies) were simple: salaries are taken into account, so as not to have a ridiculously high or low payroll; chemistry and defense would also be noted, along with an ability to fit into a certain role, championship experience, and leadership qualities; and, as previously mentioned, no player on the team can have ever been selected to an All-Star team. That isn’t to say they aren’t talented enough to someday make one in the future, as a few guys on this list are arguably in the top 24 players in the league category today, but for whatever reason they failed to make the mid-season exhibition this year. That being said, this isn’t strictly an All-Star team of guys who’ve never been All-Stars—no Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Jamal Crawford—but more of a collective unit which I believe could cohesively win ball games, most notably come playoff time.
Here’s the starting five:
Point Guard: Andre Miller ($7.3 million). One of the most underrated players the NBA has ever had, Miller is a seamless fit, here. He’s spent a career bouncing around from city to city, stabilizing offenses, methodically schooling the athletically superior on a nightly basis, and then vanishing without a trace once his enigmatic personality wears out its welcome. Miller is a pro’s pro; the last of a dying breed basketball player who takes no nonsense and is pound for pound one of the tougher guys on the court. In his 11 year career with five different teams (after leading the league in assists at the age of 25, Miller was traded from Cleveland to the Clippers for Miles, Darius and Jamison, Harold) he’s never missed more than two games in a season, which, obviously, is incredible. I like Miller because of how he beats players with his mind. There’s such a cool patience to his game that has resulted in unbelievable consistency and pretty efficient play. He doesn’t take threes and is one of those players who could dominate any era without anyone noticing. While I’m not sure what that means, exactly, I know it when I see it. As the Ponies floor general, Miller would set the tone by establishing himself as the perfect point guard to take on the grind it out, wear you down style the NBA playoffs embody. On that note, defense could be another story.
Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis ($11). Speaking of defense, this backcourt doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing guards—unlike the name of this team—but Ellis isn’t as atrocious on the defensive end as his reputation allows. He’s undersized, which sucks, but is just as good a ballhawk as Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul. I know this because he steals balls with the same frequency. This isn’t what he’s known for, of course. What Ellis does do is score. A lot. He leads the league in both minutes and shot attempts and this season he’s made more baskets than Kevin Durant. In my opinion he should’ve been an All-Star, but alas, he wasn’t (thankfully for this team). What Ellis provides is a scoring punch; the ability to take over games offensively for stretches at a time and disallow his team from having a drought of any kind.
Small Forward: Carl Landry ($3). The Keith Bogans of this starting lineup, and I say that gently. Landry is a much more reliable/talented/better player than Bogans, especially on the offensive end, but scoring isn’t what this team will need. An ability to crash the boards and defend some of the league’s more talented players is the task at hand, and whether or not not Landry would be up to it is the $3 million question.
Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldridge ($10.7). The breakout player of 2011. With all the talent this team has, Aldridge stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Him being on this team probably isn’t fair, as he would’ve been an All-Star this season had he played in the Eastern Conference, and his consistent domination in a front court loaded West has been overtly impressive. Aldridge made a full five point per game improvement over last season, doubled his blocks, and is second in the league in minutes played. In short, he’s an MVP candidate and would be the Las Vegas Ponies franchise player. What Aldridge also does is provide length on the defensive end and he can run the floor as smoothly as any big man in the league.
Center: Roy Hibbert ($1.7). To complement Aldridge in the Ponies front court is one of the most aesthetically gifted seven footers in the league. Since being drafted out of Georgetown three years ago, Hibbert has shown significant improvement in both rebounding, minutes, blocks, and scoring. It’s looking like he’s never going to be a franchise caliber big man, but as a complimentary starter with offensive talents like Aldridge, Ellis, and Miller surrounding him, Hibbert can snatch rebounds, whip his wrists for long outlets, and get the fast break going. Defensively, Hibbert will have his work cut out for him, mostly covering for the mistakes of his back court teammates who have been known to show the occasional lapse.
Stephen Curry: ($2.9). We finally get to covering one of this team’s bigger issues, and that’s the lack of three-point shooting. Curry, who shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc, would fill that hole like tar in a pot-hole. We’ve seen and heard about the defensive issues Golden State is presented playing Curry and Ellis together, but I’m convinced they’d be greatly benefited with Hibbert, Aldridge, and Noah behind them. He’s a starter in this league and might get some time there, but Curry’s playmaking abilities would likely take a backseat to his sharpshooting and floor leadership abilities.
Paul Millsap: ($6.2). One of my favorite players in the league, Millsap was born to come in off the bench and dominate second units with sheer energy and hustle. That’s not a knock on his offensive skill set—this season he’s taking 13 shots a game to last season’s 8.7, and his field goal percentage only dropped from 54 to 53 percent—and Millsap is quietly putting together one of the more impressive seasons that nobody’s talking about. His 17.3 points and eight rebounds a game are exactly the workman like consistency any basketball team in the league could use. Perfect Pony fit. When the team has to go big, Millsap could seamlessly fill in for Landry with the starters and put out one of the most difficult lineups to defend against in the league.
Joakim Noah: ($3.1). The energy guy. The man in the middle who knows his role and can fit in on any basketball team in the league. What really makes him attractive for the Ponies, though, is his size. As much as the league has changed its rules to cater to guards (much like the NFL did to help wide receivers and help the passing game flourish), basketball is still decided by the big man; it likely always will be. They protect the basket and can dictate pace with offensive rebounds and methodical post play. Noah has yet to establish himself as a go-to guy down low, but what he does with tip-ins and his defense of the pick and roll is vital to a team’s success.
Anthony Morrow: ($4). Another player who has no trouble mistaking what his role is. Morrow shoots threes and shoots them well. He takes about five of them per 36 minutes and makes 44 percent. Not shabby. Stuck in New Jersey and playing in one of the leagues most obscure locations, hardly noticed for any on-the-court activity, Morrow is slowly establishing himself as one of the league’s better long range marksmen and would be a splendid fit hanging out in the corner, stretching the floor, and helping prevent any annoying double teams from crashing down on all the bigs.
DeMar DeRozan: ($2.4). To be honest I’m not sure how well DeRozan fits here. He’s an extremely athletic swingman who was indeed robbed in front of his hometown at the Slam Dunk contest, but apart from averaging double digit points and efficiently getting it done from the field, I’m not sure what he can supply. This season he’s scored 20 or more points in a third of Toronto’s games which is nice, but not otherworldly. Coming off the Ponies bench, DeRozan would likely be asked to do what he does best, and that’s please the crowd.
So there you have it; that’s my team. I realize that by making these players Ponies, we’re removing them from their current teams, thus depleting those organizations of significant talent (see: Golden State/Portland), but for all hypothetical purposes, let’s pretend a really sophisticated cloning machine has been developed and that these players can play on two teams at once. Great. Now that that’s settled, does anyone think this team as constituted can compete with the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Bulls, Heat, Thunder, or whoever else might be a spring time competitor? Remember, none of these guys have ever made an All-Star team—not that they’re terrible—and pretty much every champion in league history had at least one, predominantly two All-NBA superstars anchoring their franchise. I guess the point of compiling this team is slightly antagonistic, but more to play the contrarian role. Super teams are cool and seem to be the “in” thing, but building a competitive team through the draft, in a small market city, is equally possible if you’re smart and lucky. The Knicks have a history of not being smart, neither does Cleveland or Toronto. The Cavs and Raptors can still turn things around, though, all they need is a little bit of time.
In honor of yesterday’s Mr. Ellis All-Star selection by Shaky Ankles, today we have him embarrassing Lamar Odom on many a different level.
If you saw last night’s special on TNT, you witnessed an all-time intense All-Star debate between Kenny Smith and Chris Webber. The subject, more or less, was this: Much like the annual MVP debate—what specific criteria makes one player more valuable than another—it seems people are having a difficult time describing what constitutes an All-Star. Smith is on the side of rewarding good players who contribute on winning teams, while Webber and Charles Barkley believe All-Star games are made to showcase the best players, and the best way to gauge that is by looking at individual statistics. Neither side is right nor wrong. All-Star invitations should be made on a case by case, player by player basis; when you surround an argument with hypothetical points you’re going to run in circles more times than not. ”Does Lamar Odom deserve to make the team because he’s the third best player on a championship contender?” is a debatable question. “Would Odom lead the league in double doubles if he played for a losing team like Minnesota?” is not. Yes, it’s true that players on poor teams have more opportunities to dabble with impressive statistics than those who compete within the framework of teamwork and sacrifice, but as goes the case by case, player by player motto, just look at Kevin Love’s numbers! You’d have to be crazy not to vote for him. I’m talking John Malkovich “In the Line of Fire” crazy. It just seems incomprehensible how someone who dominates one of the most important aspects of his sport can’t be an All-Star. Now without further ado, here’s who I believe are the Western Conference All-Star reserves.
First Guard: Manu Ginobili. At 39-7, the Spurs have not only paced the entire league through their first 46 games, but their rejuvenated, up tempo offensive philosophy (up to third in offensive rating from last season’s ninth) has been the biggest surprise. And the number one reason for it is a healthy Manu Ginobili. He leads the team in points (18.7), three pointers (just over two a game—he also leads the league in attempts with 280), free throw attempts (just under six), and steals (just under two). If there were a section in the Hall of Fame devoted to the craftiest players in league history, Ginobili’s bust would greet visitors at the door. The way he maneuvers into the lane with such ease is almost cheating, like a caged mouse who somehow got his hands on the maze’s blueprint. Ginobili is a perfect example of a player whose stats could be borderline astronomical if he were a dim light on a crummy team, but instead he understands the importance of the extra pass. After all this time, and all the mileage on his thought to be busted ankles, Manu Ginobili is averaging more minutes per game than he ever has in his career. That’s why he’s worthy.
Second Guard: Deron Williams. Utah is falling apart. It’s clear, it’s obvious, it’s sad. A recent article by John Hollinger cites their point guard as being far from why. Williams is slowly becoming one of those players who fans take for granted, yet right now he’s on pace to average career highs in points, minutes played, and shots taken. Thanks to Al Jefferson’s fitting into Utah’s offense like Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally, Williams has had more responsibility placed on his shoulders than ever before. (He’s led his team in scoring just once in his career, two years ago when Carlos Boozer only played in 37 games due to injury; this year will be the second.) Or, to make an open and shut case, you can just say Williams is averaging 22 points and nine assists per game.
First Forward: Dirk Nowitzki. Before he had that awkward leg injury, Dirk was the hands down leading MVP candidate—the team is 28-8 in games he’s played in. Nowitzki is a high volume jump shooter who is shooting a ridiculous 51 percent from the field, which happens to be a career best. I’ve never been a huge Nowitzki fan, but I will admit his career has either been transcendental or one in a billion. Those are both meant as compliments. I don’t know what else to say except he’s been an All-Star every season since 2002, and right now he’s shooting as well as ever.
Second Forward: Kevin Love. We covered him a little bit at the top. For whatever reason he’s one of the most controversial All-Star choices in recent memory. No offense to NBA fans across the country, but how on earth did Luis Scola get more votes than this guy? He leads the NBA in offensive, defensive, and total rebounds (15.7 per game!). He’s averaging 45 percent from beyond the arc while making exactly three a game. He’s had eight games with 20 or more rebounds and 29 of his 45 starts have resulted in at least 15. He already has 40 double doubles and is a 20 point per game scorer. Yes, his team has 10 wins but no, Love isn’t to blame—he’s fourth in the entire league in win shares, which estimates the number of wins contributed by a player. I’ve been a little back and forth on this over the past several weeks, but as of now my opinion is etched in cement: If Love isn’t an All-Star, nobody is.
Center: Pau Gasol. He’s placed here despite being listed as a forward on the ballot because every other option at center (besides maybe Nene) is a complete and utter joke. At the age of 30 and in his prime, Gasol is having a typical season for him: 19 points, 11 boards, two blocks. And with a 33-13 record and league leading offensive rating, so are the Lakers. Gasol is second in the league in win shares; he leads L.A. in blocks per game, minutes (37), and rebounds. With the incredible options we have at the forward position out west this year, Gasol fitting in at center will help assuage a few of the arguments.
First Wild Card: Blake Griffin. If you had to say, as a casual basketball fan, who the most exciting player in the NBA was, a highlight reel of Blake Griffin elevating over the New York Knicks in an earth shattering 44 point performance would pop into your head. Hands down, man down. Griffin is averaging 23 points (on 52 percent shooting) and 13 rebounds a night, while registering a jaw dropping 392 free throw attempts through the first 45 games of his career. That’s more than LeBron and Wade. The league didn’t have time to put Griffin on their radar; from day one they were in his bomb shelter. As long as he stays healthy, the guaranteed Rookie of the Year will see the All-Star game his entire career.
Second Wild Card: Monta Ellis. Without a doubt the most vexing choice I’ve made so far, but hear it out. Monta Ellis has played over 40 minutes 29 times this season (he leads the league in minutes), and in his 45 starts—with more bumps and bruises than the average prolific scorer—he’s posted at least 20 points 35 times. If being an All-Star is all about individual success, how can a case be made against Ellis? He’s tied with LeBron James at 25.8 points per game for third in the league (more than Dwyane Wade), he’s made 32 more shots than Kobe Bryant, and he’s third in steals while defending a bigger two guard each and every night. On top of all these numbers, the 6’3″ Ellis is one of the most effortless scorers in the league. He gets into the lane with an uncanny ease—he attempts five shots at the rim per game, tied for second among shooting guards—and to top it all off, Ellis is really fun to watch. Doesn’t that count for something?