Saturday, February 11, 2012

NBA West All-Star Roster

I looked at the Eastern squad yesterday, so today I will look at the All-Star team from the West Coast.
Prediction; The West is too old, so the East will win by six.

The Starters/No-Brainers
PG Chris Paul-CP3 struggled through a down year (by his lofty standards) last year, his first season back from knee surgery that caused him to miss nearly half of the 2009-2010 campaign.  More time to recover, along with the blockbuster trade that sent him to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Gordon, seems to have rejuvenated the Assocation's top point guard.  His 8.8 assists per game are on the low side considering a) he can reach double digits in his sleep and b) he has so much more talent around him in Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Mo Williams, and Chauncey Billups before he tore his achilles, but it's cruel to nitpick when he's knocking down more than half of his shot attempts and lighting it up from downtown with a 44 percent success rate.  His counting stats may never return to the 22 points-11 dimes-5 board figures he was putting up a few years ago alongside David West in New Orleans, but few can match his elite percentages, low turnover rate and gaudy steal totals. 

SG Kobe Bryant-Kobe continues to roll along, averaging just under 30 points per game as he looks back in top form.  I've already commented on his resurgence here and here, so I don't want to sound redundant.  Should a 33 year-old in his sixteenth NBA season play more than 38 minutes per game?  Probably not, Mike Brown.  Would it be nice if he got Bynum and Pau Gasol more involved on offense?  Of course.  Can he keep this up all year?  Probably not.  But we're witnessing vintage Kobe in what could be his last elite season, so let's just sit back and enjoy the ride.

SF Kevin Durant-I've trumpeted Durantala a few times in this space, and for good reason.  In some respects he's taken his game to another level this year by currently averaging career highs in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, and blocked shots.  Already an elite scorer, he has developed into a more well-rounded player, a complete package.  He has to be considered a frontrunner in the MVP race, a three-way struggle with heavy competition from Kobe and LeBron James.

PF Blake Griffin-Like Willie Mays, this man is made for the All-Star game.  The fan favorite known for his ferocious jams hasn't disappointed in his sophomore campaign, continuing to posterize helpless bigs while replicating the monster numbers from his Rookie of the Year season.  His field goal rate is up over 53 percent, a figure that is actually higher than his abysmal free throw percentage (52).  It's pretty difficult to shoot better from the floor than at the line, and if he doesn't at least return to last year's 64 percent clip then his combination of high volume (seven attempts per game) and atrocious percentage will be matched only by Dwight Howard.  But for the more casual fan, the defending slam dunk champ has to be considered the star attraction of All-Star weekend.  I mean, how does one manage to top jumping over a car?  And since the defense in the All-Star game is about as effective as France's military, this high-flyer should take off.  If the West wins, I think he'll get the game's MVP award.

C Andrew Bynum-LA's oft-injured center has been able to remain on the court this year, averaging a career high 34.8 minutes per game, and consequently his counting numbers have taken off.  Everyone knew he had the talent to be an elite center, but his body never cooperated.  Now he's finally healthy and picking up the slack in the wake of Lamar Odom's departure.

PG Russell Westbrook-Has been on fire as of late as he quickly erases a poor start to the season.  The rare shoot-first, pass-later point guard breed still commits too many turnovers and his assists are way down from last year, but most of his other numbers are trending up.  I'm just not sure if he can ever coexist with Kevin Durant, but they are just 23 and are still works-in-progress.  Westbrook's electrifying athleticism and explosiveness make him an exciting All-Star game player in the same mold as Derrick Rose.

PG Tony Parker-With Manu Ginobili out (but expected to return tonight) and Tim Duncan calcifying before our eyes, Parker has been forced to shoulder the scoring load in San Antonio.  He's playing his best basketball since 2008-2009, and is also averaging a career high in assists.

PG Steve Nash-The two-time MVP just celebrated his 38th birthday last Tuesday, but age isn't slowing him down one bit.  All Nash has done so far is knock down 57 percent of his field goal attempts (a career best that includes 45.5 percent from three-point land) while pacing the NBA with 10.1 assists per game even though his supporting cast is terrible outside of center Marcin Gortat.  He doesn't rebound much and his defense has always left something to be desired, but he's playing much better than fellow old-man point guard Jason Kidd.  To the tell you the truth I didn't know Nash was playing so well, but I still feel that Kyle Lowry of the Houston Rockets deserved this roster spot.

PF Dirk Nowitzki-Here more on reputation than anything else, as his numbers, while still good, have fallen from elite levels to more of the Danny Granger/Joe Johnson type and are down across the board.  For instance, he's scoring less than 20 points per game for the first time in a dozen seasons, and his percentages are down as well.  He's been playing better as of late, though, and like Paul Pierce he's shaken off a sluggish start and rounded into form.  At 33 his best days are probably behind him, and Dallas will probably follw the Greg Poppovich-Tim Duncan approach by limiting his minutes (down for the third straight season) every now and then to keep their superstar fresh for the playoffs

PF Kevin Love-Continues to pile up eye-popping statistics in Minnesota.  He's leading the league in minutes per game at just under 40 and is averaging over 25 points a night for the Wolves.  Moral of the story; it always helps to play alongside a talented pass-first point guard like Ricky Rubio.

PF LaMarcus Aldridge-Got absolutely stiffed last year, so it's good to see he made the squad.  One of the league's most underrated players because he plays in the Pacific Northwest, the first time All-Star is averaging career highs in points, dimes, steals, and field goal percentage.  His statistics compare well with the numbers Chris Bosh posted in Toronto before fleeing south to play with Lebron and Dwyane Wade.

C Marc Gasol-Much like Eli Manning, he's spent his entire career in his big brother's shadow but is beginning to establish himself as a top player as well.  Eli just won his second Super Bowl ring while Peyton Manning watched from the sidelines, and Marc will get to make the trip to Orlando while Pau missed the cut.  Career highs in just about everything earned him a spot on the team, and few players can match his 15 points, ten boards and two-plus swats per game with good percentages, to boot.  Memphis needed him to step up after Zach Randolph shredded his MCL, and the younger Gasol has answered the call.

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