NBA All-Star Breakdown
Earlier this week, the NBA announced the full roster of players selected to the 2017 All-Star game. While the starters had been announced earlier in the week, the reserves make up the bulk of the team and the starters announcement only featured only one surprise (or mistake, depending on how you want to look at it), and the reserves announcements are usually the cause of more controversy than the starters, simply because players getting snubbed from starting always make it as a reserve, and making it is the thing that counts. Without further ado, lets look at the rosters (starters marked with a *):
Guards: J. Harden* (HOU), S. Curry* (GSW), R. Westbrook (OKC), K. Thompson (GSW)
Forwards: K. Leonard* (SAS), K. Durant* (GSW), G. Hayward (UTA), D. Green (GSW), A. Davis* (NOP)
Centers: D. Cousins (SAC), D. Jordan (LAC), M. Gasol (MEM)
No, that is not a typo, Russell Westbrook, who is averaging a triple double, is not starting. While Curry is a phenomenal player and the two-time reigning MVP, Westbrook has unquestionably been the better player and deserves to start this game. It's a shame he won't, but it must be better for Kevin Durant, who gets to avoid Westbrook for just a little bit longer.
Beyond that, most of the selections here are solid. Everybody knew that Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Durant, Leonard, and Davis were locks to make the team if they were healthy. Cousins is a supremely talented stat stuffing machine and certainly one of the best twelve players in the conference. Marc Gasol has had an incredible season keeping Memphis afloat despite playing without Conley for stretches. Gordan Hayward as truly blossomed into a stud, and his career highs in PPG, FG%, and RPG have helped propel the Jazz to the 5th spot in the standings. Draymond has cut down on the kicking and gotten back to business, and his defensive presence and his playmaking ability make him a solid choice.
The two selections that I have problems with are DeAndre Jordan and Klay Thompson. Both are incredibly talented players, but I think that for this season, there were more deserving candidates. If it were up to me, I would replace Jordan with Utah's Rudy Gobert and Thompson with Chris Paul (and subsequently replace him, due to his injury, with Damian Lillard).
Here's a comparison of Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan:
Both of these guys play a similar style and role for their team, and they are both extremely effective at it. Their jobs are to protect the rim, rebound, and attract defensive attention as a roll man in the pick and roll. It is actually crazy how similar these guys games are, right down to their usage percentage (USG% in the 2nd picture), which is a measure in how many of their team's possessions are taken up by a shot, assist, or turnover from one of these guys. However, the advanced statistics give a slight edge to Gobert in PER (22.0 to 21.1), offensive (4.4 to 3.9) and defensive (3.7 to 2.9) win shares, box plus/minus (5.1 to 3.5) and value over replacement level player (2.9 to 2.1). In the statistics category, Gobert has a slight edge.
The main reason, however, that I believe Gobert is the more deserving candidate is because he has been the anchor of the 5th placed Jazz that has absolutely been riddled by injuries. Derrick Favors, Dante Exum, and Rodney Hood have all missed double digit games, while starting point guard George Hill has only played in half. Alec Burks has only played in 12 games this year, and Gordon Hayward missed the first 7 games of the season as well. Given the amount of volatility around him, it is impressive that Gobert has been able to play as well as he has this season and keep the Jazz in contention for a top seed in the West.
While most of Gobert's value comes from his defensive ability, highlighted by the fact that he will almost certainly be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, his ability to match Jordan's offensive output is another advantage in my eyes. Gobert manages to score more on less shots per game, which largely stems from his large advantage in FT%. However, the key component is that Jordan is playing alongside a Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul, a pick and roll maestro who gets the most out of Jordan's ability. While George Hill is a solid player, he is certainly nowhere near the level of Chris Paul, and even Hill has only played in half of Utah's games this year. The fact that Gobert, with all the injuries surrounding him, particularly at point guard, has been able to take a major step on offense shows that he is a excellent player and will be an All-Star for years to come.
Now, how can we have two Jazz players and no Clippers players, especially when the Clippers have the advantage in the standings? That's a good player, but in my fantasy All-Star ballot which will never exist, I'm putting in Chris Paul over Klay Thompson, because he is having a much better season. If Paul was not hurt, this is a no brainer. Unfortunately, he is, which complicates things much further. Take a look at the five guys who deserved consideration for the last guard spot:
So you may be thinking to yourself, how the hell did Klay Thompson get in the All-Star game? He comes in dead last in every single measure of a player's overall value: win shares, box plus/minus (he's actually negative), value over replacement player, and PER, in which he comes in slightly above the league average, which is always 15.0. He manages to come in last in FT% and 2nd to last in 3PT%, so his strengths aren't even advantages in this conversation. If it were up to me, I would have voted in Chris Paul or Damian Lillard over Thompson, simply because they are both the primary options on their team and having stronger seasons than Klay. Yes, the Warriors are far ahead of the Blazers in the standings, but we already recognized Curry, Durant, and Green for their individual and team success. Klay is the 4th option on a fantastic team, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be in the All-Star game. In fact, I think it would be very hard to ever argue that four players from the same team deserve to make the game. My choice would be Paul, and therefore Lillard as an injury replacement, or just Lillard straight up over Thompson. Honestly, I would take any of the four guys over Thompson, because they all play a significantly more important role on their team. Although, Thompson's selection is probably just some ploy so that we can say LeBron vanquished four All-Stars come June en route to his 4th NBA title. Speaking of LeBron...
Guards: J. Wall (WSH), I. Thomas (BOS), K. Irving* (CLE), K. Lowry (TOR), K. Walker (CHA), D. Derozan* (TOR)
Forwards: J. Butler* (CHI), L. James* (CLE), K. Love (CLE), P. George (IND), P. Millsap (ATL), G. Antetokounmpo* (MIL)
Fun fact: When LeBron started his first All-Star game, he started alongside Vince Carter (who turned 40 this week), Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill, and Allen Iverson. He is also the oldest player in the All-Star game this year, which serves as a stark reminder that LeBron is better at basketball than you and I, and nearly everybody else who has ever lived.
There aren't a lot of bones to pick here. I could probably be talked in to any combination of guards starting the game, sans Kemba Walker, but all six guys are definitely deserving to be there. Ditto for the forwards, they have all been having strong seasons and are certainly worthy for consideration. With apologies to Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony, there is really only one guy who has the right to be upset about not making the midseason showcase: Joel Embiid.
Listen, I love Embiid. He's an absolute stud and it's been amazing to see him perform like this. He is a force to reckoned with, and the entire league is officially on notice as to what is being built in Philly (remember, Ben Simmons hasn't played yet and they still have a plethora of draft picks). The only reason that this is even a discussion is because of the amount of minutes he has played. Many people don't feel comfortable putting him in there, simply because he has not played enough, and it is hard to argue against that. Let's compare him to Paul Millsap, the player he would have made it over:
Based on these numbers, it is hard to argue that Millsap should make it in over Embiid. Embiid scores more points, grabs nearly the same number of rebounds, and plays about 8 minutes less per game. But that's part of the problem, he's only playing 25 minutes a night, plus he has missed 13 games. Millsap has played nearly double the amount of minutes that Embiid has. When the case becomes, would you rather have Joel Embiid for half of 70% of your games or have Paul Millsap playing regular minutes in every game, then it becomes a lot more difficult to decide. Millsap is an excellent player, and the Hawks are right in the thick of things for a top 4 seed, and given the recent departures of Teague, Horford, and Korver, Millsap deserves a ton of credit for the season he is having.
Now, in terms of pure entertainment value, there is nobody more deserving than Embiid. The Sixers, essentially all because of him, have turned into the darlings of the league, and Embiid is probably the most entertaining player in the league off the court. If the game was strictly for pure fun, than there is no way we could have the game without him. As long as the All-Star game is used as a measuring stick for player performance, which affects things like contracts and places in history, than we cannot select players based on pure entertainment value. Still, it is really a tough call picking Embiid or Millsap. If I had to pick, I would probably still side with Embiid, but no major issues, for me, with having Millsap in over Embiid.
In the end, the game will be fun, regardless of nitpicking a few selections. We'll be back with a preview of the whole weekend, including predicting how Western Conference Coach Steve Kerr handles the Durant/Westbrook situation during the game, how the dunk contest, skills challenge, and 3 Point Shootout looks, and whether Kyrie tries to suck the soul out of Curry in an exhibition game.