Per ESPN insider:
http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/insider/ ... iem-101228
Choosing an All-Star team is never easy, but in the Western Conference this season it may be particularly difficult.
While the East and West aren't that far apart in the standings, they're still miles apart in depth of star power. Once again we find ourselves scraping the barrel to come up with 12 players in the East worthy of an All-Star selection, while in the West we must winnow down a much larger field.
Additionally, the West offers one particular wrinkle this season that may be unusual for the coaches doing the selecting -- the huge volume of players from bad-to-middling teams who are having All-Star caliber seasons.
This season's process may fly in the face of standard operating procedure, which is to fill the ballot with players from teams with winning records and deign to select players from sub-.500 teams only if they have an overwhelming case for inclusion. And by "overwhelming," I'm talking KG-in-Minnesota levels.
Indeed, the Western coaches could very well fill out the roster simply by taking players from teams with the top seven records, and they'd end up with 12 defensible choices at the end of it: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and either Paul Millsap or David West. Given the historical trend in this department, there's a fairly strong chance this will happen.
On the other hand, a list of the top 16 Western players in estimated wins added (EWA) includes only nine of those players, giving us seven interlopers from the West's lower classes with reasonably strong All-Star cases. Let's take a look at the résumés and see who might buck the recent trend:
Kevin Love, Minnesota (PER 23.67)
Love's team is a dismal 8-24, which normally would make him persona non grata for the coaches when making their All-Star picks. In this case, however, his résumé may be so overwhelming that he still gets in. Love leads the league in rebounding with a phenomenal 15.3 per game, even though his coach was limiting his minutes early in the season. He's also averaging 20.6 points per game with high efficiency, including a 44.1 percent mark on 3s, and is money from the line (87.6 percent). As a gold-medal winner for Team USA with a propensity for racking up headline-grabbing rebound totals, his statistical prowess might get him a closer look from the coaches.
Can all this overcome the name of the team on the front of his jersey? Based on history, I have my doubts, especially given how packed the Western Conference power forward position is -- it will be easy for coaches to find alternatives if they go searching. Nonetheless, Love's play thus far makes his candidacy hard to ignore, and in a fair world he'd get in.
Steve Nash, Phoenix (PER 23.63)
There may not be much room left at the inn for Western Conference guards, as Bryant, Paul, Westbrook, Williams and Ginobili are near-certain picks, leaving a maximum of one roster spot left over. The likes of Nash and Kevin Martin will vie with Parker for that spot.
Which, ironically, could leave Nash on the outs despite his threatening to set a career-high mark in PER. Nash's per-40-minute totals (21.0 points, 13.1 assists) remain phenomenal, and despite some unusually wayward 3-point shooting, his 61.5 true shooting percentage is stellar for a third straight season.
Unfortunately, the dismantling of the Suns' formidable supporting cast may work against him in the All-Star voting. Because of Phoenix's sub-.500 record, coaches will be more willing to ignore him in favor of Parker; and playing in a Western Conference where three point guards are MVP candidates does Nash few favors, even as a two-time MVP himself.
Nonetheless, I'd argue he's more worthy than Parker as the sixth Western guard, and if any injuries crop up, he'd be an easy replacement choice.
Kevin Martin, Houston (PER 22.58)
Here's an amazing stat for you: Martin leads the league in both 3-pointers made and free throws made. He'll be the first player in history to accomplish that double if he keeps it up the rest of the season.
Even more amazing, perhaps, is that he's doing this while playing only 31.8 minutes per game. As a result, Martin's scoring average (23.4) looks good rather than amazing, but on a per-minute basis, only Kobe Bryant scores more frequently.
Will those statistical markers be good enough to get him selected from a .500 team? (Houston players make this list because the team started 3-10 and didn't reach .500 until its comeback win over the Wizards on Monday.) I have my doubts.
First, Martin doesn't fit a lot of people's stereotype of what a go-to player "ought" to look like -- he rarely has the ball in his hands except when he's depositing it in the basket. This, unfortunately, tends to hurt his standing with old-school types. Second, there are some legitimate criticisms of his defense. Third, his teams haven't had a lot of success. And finally, the relatively low minutes and per-game totals are going to hurt him.
Blake Griffin, LA Clippers (PER 22.40)
Coaches get one pick for backup center, and I'd love to see them stretch the definition and include Griffin as that player. His YouTube dunk collection speaks for itself, but he's done a lot of the nuts and bolts of making an All-Star team too, by averaging 21.2 points, 12.5 boards and shooting 51.9 percent.
Like the other players here, Griffin has a major negative on the front of his jersey. The Paper Clips are just 10-22 in a conference that could have 11 teams finish at .500 or better. Will the coaches really plumb the depths of the standings this far down?
He faces another challenge known as "Kevin Love." One might imagine the coaches reaching for one exceptional player at the bottom of the standings -- but two? Given recent history, that seems highly unlikely. Yet on pure merit, Griffin probably belongs.
Luis Scola, Rockets (PER 19.85)
Despite an impressive start to his season and a résumé that would almost certainly get him selected in the East, Scola has virtually no chance of making the Western squad. I don't list him here to belittle his credentials, but rather to illustrate the incredible depth of the Western Conference power forward position this year. Scola, Love, Griffin, Millsap, West and Nowitzki appear to be competing for a maximum of four spots and perhaps as few as two. And that list leaves off other luminaries having strong years, including LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph and Lamar Odom.
(Side note: After hearing Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy talk about Lamar Odom's All-Star candidacy on the Christmas Day broadcast, one might think he holds a more prominent place in the West pecking order. In reality, he's fairly far down the list, especially if the Lakers stay in only third place in the West.)
Eric Gordon, LA Clippers (21.19) and Monta Ellis, Warriors (20.40)
Gordon has no chance whatsoever because of Griffin's candidacy -- it's almost inconceivable that coaches will write two names from the 10-22 Clippers on their ballots when submitting just one name from such a squad is a rare feat in itself. Nonetheless, I wanted to note his impressive start to the season, one that has him tied for 11th in the West in EWA.
The man he's tied with, Ellis, is in a similar conundrum. Like Gordon, he is playing a ton of minutes for a lousy team (Golden State stands at 12-18), and the depth of the guard position out West and his team's aversion to defense both conspire against him. So does his plus/minus; while better than last season's league-worst differential, it still doesn't make much of a case that he's a difference-making player. The Warriors have been only 0.8 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the court compared to when he's on the bench.
As with the players above, Ellis' strengths -- a stellar 25.4 points per 40 minutes and improved shooting percentages -- would probably be enough to help him make the cut in the East. In this conference, however, he faces long odds to selection, as do most of the other names on this list from the lower regions of the Western Conference standings.