Made your picks for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game yet? Be careful. You are not just choosing All-Stars. You are also selecting the 24 best players in the world. If you are nervous about that, relax, take a deep breath, and examine my list below. February 15th will be here before you know it. Select well, or you’ll be left out in the cold Phoenix desert.
My Selection Criteria: Slam Dunk Selections, Statistical Debates, Team Success, Key Injuries
Putting together an All-Star team is a subjective process. I use four primary criteria in my selections. First, the NBA is a league of stars. That is unfortunate in a many ways, but not at All-Star time. It is easy to look at NBA team rosters and select several handfuls of players that everyone would agree upon. These players are the cream of the crop, the headline grabbers, superstars in name and game. I call these guys Slam Dunk Selections and have chosen seven this year.
That leaves seventeen debatable picks. Let the hollering begin. My two criteria for determining these remaining roster spots is the stat sheet and the success each player has contributed to his respective team in terms of victories. Be careful with these criteria though. You can’t pick players based merely on good statistics. Neither can you pick someone solely because they are on a good team, or conversely, leave someone off because they are on a bad team.
Finally, key injuries will make this year’s picks particularly daunting. I have chosen to leave three players off of the Western Conference roster because they have been or will have been on the injured list for about a month. Unfortunately, these three players are among the best at their respective positions, but missing 1/3rd of the first half of the season means they need to spend All-Star weekend with their families rather than their colleagues. Sorry, Tracy McGrady, Deron Williams, and Carmelo Anthony. You are three of my favorite players in the league, but you need to use the weekend to rest and heal up for the stretch run. Your teams need you.
Western Conference Slam Dunk Selections
Kobe Bryant, the preeminent player in the game. Chris Paul, the best point guard in the league. Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward around. Yao Ming, the best all-around center on the planet.
Western Conference Debatable Roster Picks
Let’s start with some pretty good forwards: Amare Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzi. Both are dominators. I also like Zach Randolph’s stats, especially since he was traded earlier from the Knicks. Randolph is one of a handful of players averaging 20/10 or better, according to ESPN.com. Add second year man Kevin Durant, a high energy scorer, and Al Jefferson, one of the best low post players around, and you have a tight collection of forwards. Jefferson and Durant are up and coming stars that should not be overlooked, even though their teams stink.
Yao Ming will benefit from some rest provided by Marcus Camby. What, you don’t like the Camby selection? Hey, ESPN.com lists him as the second best rebounder and second best shot blocker in the league. That’s good enough for me to include this former Defensive Player of the Year.
At guard, Kobe and Chris will be spelled by Brandon Roy and Chauncey Billups. Every time I watch Roy play, I’m amazed at his ability to dominate a game for such a young guy. And Chauncey? He’s taken the Denver Nuggets to the number two spot in the recent ESPN.com Western Conference standings.
Western Conference All-Star Roster Selections
Forwards: Tim Duncan – San Antonio Spurs, Amare Stoudemire – Phoenix Suns, Dirk Nowitzi – Dallas Mavericks, Kevin Durant – Oklahoma City Thunder, Al Jefferson – Minnesota Timberwolves, Zach Randolph – Los Angeles Clippers
Guards: Kobe Bryant – Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Paul – New Orleans Hornets, Brandon Roy – Portland Trail Blazers, Chauncey Billups – Denver Nuggets
Centers: Yao Ming – Houston Rockets, Marcus Camby – Los Angeles Clippers
Eastern Conference Slam Dunk Selections
LeBron James, Mr. Everything. Dwayne Wade, the third best player in the game (behind Kobe and LeBron). Dwight Howard, the most dominating big man since Shaq. You’ve heard of the Big Three in Boston? LJ, Dwayne, and Dwight are the Monster Three in the East.
Eastern Conference Debatable Roster Picks
The Western Conference is excessively easier to pick than the Eastern Conference because of those three key injuries. Over in the east, I had to turn away a solid nine players with near All-Star credentials. Plenty of good players in the East did not make my cut for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. They include the Cavs Mo Williams, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson of Orlando, Rajon Rondo of Boston, the Bucks Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson, super rookie Derek Rose and Ben Gordon of Chicago, and Washington’s Antwan Jamison.
Enough of the good players though, let’s move on to the best. Remember these are 12 of the world’s 24 finest ballers.
The East has a fine assortment of forwards in its own right. We have to start with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett of the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics. Throw in Olympic stud Chris Bosh, all around Caron Butler, Mr. I-Bring-It-Every-Night Danny Granger , and Rashard Lewis, who is making the season Magical in Orlando, and I see a lot of points being scored in the Phoenix desert.
The guards for the East are outstanding. The New Jersey Nets backcourt, probably the best in the game, gets in with Devin Harris and Vince Carter. Joe Johnson? Well, he just keeps scoring night in and night out. He scores from the three, hits the mid-range jumper, and takes it to the hole all night long.
Eastern Conference All-Star Roster Selections
Forwards: LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Garnett – Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics, Rashard Lewis – Orlando Magic, Caron Butler – Washington Wizards, Danny Granger – Indiana Pacers, Chris Bosh – Toronto Raptors (Bosh would also be my back up center)
Guards: Dwayne Wade – Miami Heat, Vince Carter – New Jersey Nets, Devin Harris – New Jersey Nets, Joe Johnson – Atlanta Hawks
Center: Dwight Howard – Orlando Magic
2009 NBA All-Star Game Projected Starters, MVP, and Outcome
If I was the coach, I would start these five for each team.
For the West, I would start Kobe and Chris Paul at the guards, Duncan and Dirk at the forwards, and Yao at center. I would put Yao down on one low post, Tim at the free line extended opposite Yao, Kobe and Dirk on opposite wings, and give the ball to Chris Paul at the top of key. I’d tell Paul to bring it up and look first for Yao down low. If he isn’t open, look for Dirk and Kobe on the wings, and if they are covered, then he dishes to Duncan who can shoot or pass it down low to Yao or to the wings. Paul is great at beating his man off the dribble and drawing the double team. He can score at will down low or draw the defender on the wings allowing Dirk and Kobe to shoot all night long. Unstoppable.
Unless they are playing the East starters, that is, with Wade and Johnson at the guards, James and Garnett at the forwards, and Dwight in the middle.
Wade is the best defending guard in the league, so he’ll take care of Paul.
Garnett is the best defending forward in the league, so he’ll take care of Dirk.
James is a top defender who will have his hands full with Kobe, but Kobe will be worn out defending LeBron on the other end, so they’ll wear each other out.
Dwight’s power is greater than Yao’s finesse.
That leaves a mismatch with Joe Johnson giving up six inches to Tim Duncan. This is the West’s best opportunity to score. But Joe will get help from Dwight on the inside, and on the other end of the court, Joe will drive Tim crazy.
All in all, I see the East taking the 2009 NBA All-Star Game with Dwayne Wade winning the MVP. The season has been great so far, with pre-season predictions holding steady. The second half of the year will be thrilling.