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All-Star Reserve Predictions – Western Conference

Garbhan Madigan decides who he wants to see as the fourteen All-Star reserves on All-Star Sunday night.


 

Make sure to catch part one of the All-Star discussion here

It’s that time of year again…

It’s the most frequent fight in the NBA.  Who should we put on the All-Star teams?  The flawed starters system has already been explained on PunditArena, but that’s the very least of our problems.  Let’s not even go into how little the players care about playing in the game and are only there to boost their own brands.

It’s time to cut the crap for this one.  The players either deserve it or they don’t.  Most websites at this time of year are going to bore you to death about legacies and how many teams a player has made in the past.  Here, we give you the seven best players in each conference who on this year’s statistics deserve to play in New York.

In previous years this author has personally rewarded players who were on winning teams.  we’ll only abandon that principle if the alternative player on a poor team is having an astronomical year.  However, players with mediocre lines will not feature simply because they are on top ranked teams.  Hopefully a delicate balance can be struck. The reserves are split into two point guards, two wing players and three forward/centres.  This is the most even split and actually works this year.

The real announcement will be made on TNT tomorrow night (Thursday) before the Nuggets visit Memphis to play the Grizzlies.

 

Western Conference Starters:  Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol.

Lets not get worked up about Kobe starting again, mainly because it’s never going to happen.  Per NBA.com, Bryant had surgery on his torn right rotator cuff and will be out for nine months, perhaps ending one of the greatest careers in NBA history, as discussed a few months ago in a column you can see here.  In his place, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver may name a worthy replacement after the fans screwed up the voting process by putting the Mamba in at all.  Below is a graphic showing some of the 73 players with better win shares than Kobe.

 

Garbhan’s Western Conference Reserves and Replacement SG

Replacement G: James Harden – Houston Rockets (5)

G: Damian Lillard – Portland Trail-Blazers (3)

G: Chris Paul – Los Angeles Clippers (4)

Wing: Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors (1)

Wing: Monta Ellis – Dallas Mavericks (6)

F/C: LaMarcus Aldridge – Portland Trail-Blazers (3)

F/C: Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs (7)

 

James Harden:  Harden is the first player that should have been on the reserve list and should be the player to take Kobe Bryant’s place on the starting line up.  No player has a bigger gripe with the fan voting system than Harden. Not only is he a top-five MVP candidate this season – many would argue top two – he also finished with the fifth-most All-Star votes overall.

That’s right, Harden pulled in more votes than six of the 10 starters but he’s relegated to a reserve spot because he happened to trail both Curry and Bryant. Obviously he didn’t do enough Footlocker ad’s to outpace Kobe’s Asian support machine.

Harden (27.2 PPG, 6.7 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG) is the no-brainer choice to replace him in the starting lineup. Either way, he needs to be in New York City: per basketball reference he ranks No. 5 overall in PER (first among two guards), and first overall in win shares.

Harden also leads the league in scoring, ranks fifth in steals and 11th in assists. One of the league’s top offensive talents, Harden succeeded in carrying the Rockets through Dwight Howard’s injury absence, in large part because he’s stepped up his defensive intensity.  Really, we should be angry that he could play defence but chose not to in past seasons.

Damian Lillard:  There may not be a more fun player to watch in the league than Lillard when the game shifts into the fourth quarter. He may not be quite the shooter that Steph Curry is, but no one is as fearless as Lillard when the game is on the line, as he’s shown time and time again by making one huge shot after another for the Blazers.

His stat line – 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists – doesn’t hurt his case, either.  Lillard’s game will always be based on outside shooting, shot-creation and his unbelievable clutch gene, but he’s starting to diversify his offensive attack.

He is option 1B to Aldridge’s 1A in Portland. With Aldridge questionable (even though I am naming him here), Portland needs a representative in the game to reflect their team success as a third seed in the West. Lillard competed in five All-Star Weekend events in 2014, and he should make his second career trip this time around.

Chris Paul:  This was a toss-up between DeAndre Jordan and Paul. However, the Clippers, the West’s fourth best probably deserve a second player on the team.

The Clippers are starting to pick up the pace after some ups and down, and Paul (17.6 PPG, 9.6 APG, 4.6 RPG, 1.9 SPG) continues to orchestrate brilliantly. He ranks third among point guards in PER and fourth overall in Win Shares. Wall and Curry have overtaken Paul as the best point guard in the league but he ranks third in assists and seventh in steals, and he’s heading up the league’s most efficient offense. New York City should mark his eighth straight All-Star selection – and my hesitancy probably just stems from voter fatigue.

 

Klay Thompson: All that’s needed is the clip of Thompson’s record setting thirty-seven point quarter as justification.  However, Klay is much more than that and is now a legitimate 1B to James Harden’s 1A as the best shooting guard in the league. (If he was playing this well as his team’s number one option that would be different.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxjsz92v53M

The strides Thompson has made since the summer in terms of expanding his overall game have been as staggering as the ones his teammates have done collectively to help lift Golden State to the NBA’s best record thus far.  Thompson is posting career numbers virtually across the board (21.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG) as the number 2 option in Golden State’s league-destroying offensive machine.

A deadly sniper (top five in three point percentage) Thompson is also one of the league’s most disciplined and effective perimeter defenders ranking third among two guards in PER. Given the Warriors’ dominance so far this season, sending Curry as the Warriors only representative would feel wrong if multiple other teams had multiple players on the West roster. The best transaction of the summer (outside of LeBron going to Cleveland) is the one the Warriors did not make – refusing to send Thompson to the Wolves for Kevin Love.

Monta Ellis:  OK, so it might be cheating to call Ellis a wing player.  At 6’3 you wouldn’t have him guarding a wing small forward either.  However, the Dallas Mavericks have to get an All-Star nod for their 30-16 (6th seed) record and Ellis deserves it more so than Dirk Nowitzki.

But this is not a sympathy pick.  Ellis is averaging 20.7 points, 4.5 assists, and two steals a night on more than 46 percent shooting, transitioning his game from a high-volume scorer, to more of an all-around elite guard. Already known for his ability of getting a shot off in even the most difficult of situations, Ellis has improved his decision-making skills and overall court awareness, as evidenced by the drop in his turnovers this season to around two nightly.

Adding to his claim, Ellis has been the best scoring clutch player in the league this year.  While probably not a popular pick, he deserves it.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge: As the consistent star piece on what had been the West’s third-best outfit, Aldridge was putting up monster individual numbers (23.2 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.9 APG) and chugging along towards another All-NBA worthy campaign.

His ill-timed thumb injury would have cost him the razzmatazz of All-Star Sunday night and given the coaches and writers get to cop-out. Similar to the Kobe Bryant situation above, Aldridge would have been replaced by a player of Adam Silver’s choosing, however, he has told the press he will now be playing through the injury for the season, getting surgery in the off-season.

Aldridge is the fulcrum of his team, even with the ball-dominant Lillard and provides them with a get out clause and a focal point on every offensive possession.  A nightmare to guard at 6’11 with range, one must question how the injury will affect him and can the Blazers hold on to the third seed without a 100% Aldridge.

Tim Duncan: They may be the seventh ranked team in the West but the Spurs still deserve an All-Star player given their squad has been decimated by injury. Its funny how puny Duncan’s numbers look compared to his fellow Western Conference adversaries, however they would probably get him a starting nod in the East!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am entirely biased towards Duncan and the Spurs but this is deserved.  This may be Duncan’s final shot at an All-Star berth as there is some speculation this could be his last season in the NBA, but Duncan has been incredible for San Antonio this season, averaging 14.7 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2 blocks.

When you see these numbers, note he achieves them in less than thirty minutes of time nightly – phenomenal.  He can’t even jump anymore (let’s be fair – he’s 38) yet his smarts get him two blocks and the same old man sweeping hook shot – a timeless signature of the understated Duncan. While all the attention has been on fellow pensioner Kobe Bryant, Duncan has been phenomenal and is more than worthy of an All-Star selection this year on merit – not just as a lifetime achievement award.

The day he passes on from the NBA is the day I’ll write a thesis on basketball.

Who Misses Out?

A Second Grizzly – Mike Conley or Zach Randolph: Despite having a 33-12 record, One couldn’t make a case for a second Grizzly to join Marc Gasol at the All-Star Game.  ZeBo has missed time and his numbers have taken quite a dip while Gasol has blossomed.  Conley continues to play up to the “under-rated” tag to the extent that he is soon going to be over-rated.

While he has had a strong season, Memphis play team basketball without superstar numbers.  While that managed to net four All-Stars for the Hawks in the East in my earlier ranking, that crap doesn’t fly in the West.  The standard is just too high for Conley to get in anywhere along with the stacked point guard depth of the West.

 

Kevin Durant:  Yes we know he is MVP of the league but All-Star berths are awarded on a seasonal basis.  Durant has been excellent while on the court but including tonight (Thursday’s) game against the Knicks (sprained toe), he has now missed 22 games of 46 games.

Also, again rewarding winning, there is a definite need to reward the playoff teams at present.  While I have no doubt the 23-22 Thunder are going to catch the 26-20 Phoenix Suns for the eight seed come playoff time, I can’t give them an All-Star over them in January.

 

Russell Westbrook:  Westbrook has not missed as many games as Durant, but we are omitting him for the same reasons.  Westbrook, who would have a strong case for a starting spot (and possible MVP consideration) if not for the early-season hand injury. He’s bounced back to top all point guards in PER and have a 25.1 points, 7.4 assists, 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 steals line.

DaMarcus Cousins:  Feeling really guilty about this one after promising to stick to the “reward winning” epitaph and the Sacramento Kings are a poor 16-27, tied for twelfth in the Western Conference.  In essence,  Boogie can’t be allowed in on that basis.  There is nothing in the NBA like peak Cousins.

He is an un-guardable monster on the block. The Kings are formidable when he plays and a D-League team when he sits. He was on track to be a no-brainer All-Star before coming down with viral meningitis (missing a quarter of their games so far) and watching as the Kings threw away a great start to the season.

Cousins hasn’t been as diligent getting back on defence, he’s resorting more to lazy reaches, and he’s constantly sagging his shoulders and shooting dirty looks at teammates.  The All-Star game needs Boogie, but even with the phenomenal 24 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 blocks per game and 1.3 Steals per game, he has to be omitted.

WOW that was difficult.  The balance here is as close to “perfect” as can be managed: the Warriors, Blazers and Clippers all have two representatives while the Spurs, Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies and Pelicans each get one. That covers seven of the current playoff teams and the exception, Phoenix, are on the outside in part because their top players split the numbers and the attention with their team mates to a greater degree than the players selected above.

Did I really just write over 4,000 words in one night on an exhibition game? Sadly, yes.  Welcome to the NBA.

Make sure to catch part one of the All-Star discussion here

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.