Examining the Western Conference All-Star Landscape
The starters for the 2015 All-Star game were announced on Thursday evening, and this morning Lang Greene discussed how the fans did voting for the Eastern Conference starters, and what that now means for the East reserves to be selected soon by the league’s 30 head coaches.
That of course leads to a conversation about the Western Conference All-Stars, which already has proven to be very interesting with Kobe Bryant in the starting lineup (for now) and Kevin Durant out of it.
Did the Fans Get the All-Star Voting Right for the West?
As is typical every year, the All-Star voters put together an interesting mix of highly-intelligent voting and borderline silly omission, with this year’s most egregious error coming in the form of 36-year-old Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, selected to start in the backcourt alongside MVP candidate Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, is not having his finest season by a longshot. The Lakers, for starters, are among the worst teams in the NBA, and the statistics show that they’re actually a more efficient team when Bryant is off the floor than when he is on it. Their offensive efficiency is 4.1 points lower when Kobe’s on the floor, while their defensive efficiency is actually 9.8 points better when he’s on the bench. Bryant is 74th in the league in PER and 361st in win shares.
In short, he’s not having a landmark season, but Rockets shooting guard James Harden is. Harden is currently leading the league in points per game and win shares, is second in PER and third in real plus-minus. By nearly every advanced metric, he’s a candidate for MVP of the entire league, so fans failing to vote him in as one of the five best players in his conference seems a little ridiculous. He should have started alongside Curry rather than Bryant, without question.
This, of course, is what will likely happen now that Bryant is reportedly out for the rest of the season due to his torn rotator cuff. The Lakers haven’t announced that Bryant will undergo surgery, but multiple reports have indicated that he will and his 2014-15 campaign is over. Harden seems like the no-brainer replacement for Bryant. Even still, it’s just odd that the same millions of fans who acknowledged Curry’s MVP-caliber season by making him the leading vote getter overall also failed to acknowledge Harden’s MVP-caliber season with at least enough votes to top Bryant.
As far as the frontcourt is concerned, it’s hard to argue with Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis rounding out the starting lineup. All three guys earned their votes. Although it’ll be interesting to see who has to play some small forward since all three are big men.
Who Are the Likely Reserves?
Who else will get onto the Western Conference team as a reserve? Here’s a look at the likely choices:
It’s interesting that Bryant was popular enough through a down season to earn a starting nod, but Durant, the reigning MVP and easily one of the league’s most beloved and marketable superstars, was not. While it’s true that Durant only has 19 games under his belt, those 19 games have been played at an MVP level and the fans could have easily voted him in.
The question now is whether the coaches will think Durant has put in enough work to make the 2015 All-Star team. Back in December, Basketball Insiders staff did not unanimously include him among their picks for reserves; only three of the five voters put him among the final seven spots on the Western Conference squad.
Since late December, however, Durant has gotten his minutes back up and looks like the dominant guy he’s been his entire career. Chances are pretty good he gets a nod as a reserve, even with so few games under his belt this season. He’s a cornerstone of the sport, so to exclude him would make the event feel empty somehow, especially with the momentum he’s built for himself the last few weeks.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
For all of the reasons listed above, Harden is a shoe-in. The fans didn’t vote him in, but the coaches absolutely will.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Clearly in the midst of a breakout season, Cousins is averaging career-highs with 24 PPG, 12,7 RPG and 1.7 BPG. That puts him fourth in the league in scoring, third in the league in rebounding and 11th in the league in blocks. There’s no way this kid doesn’t make his first All-Star appearance this winter.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are having an outstanding year, leading the Northwest Division by a wide margin, and with LaMarcus Aldridge now sidelined for six-to-eight weeks with an injured thumb, Lillard is the obvious choice to represent them in the All-Star game. He’s having an All-Star season anyway, averaging 22.1 PPG (10th in the NBA) and 6.2 APG (15th in the NBA), so while it seems like there are half a million elite point guards in the West, Lillard has been good enough this season to stand out among them.
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
Still one of the best point guards in the NBA, Paul is third in the league in assists (9.8 APG) and has a way of making All-Star games incredibly fun. For the sake of the game, let’s hope he gets in over an amazing crop of Western Conference point guards this year. Guys like Mike Conley and Tony Parker are plenty deserving, but Paul has done nothing to rescind his perennial All-Star crown to either of those guys.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
The honorary aged veteran spot could just as easily go to Dirk Nowitzki, who’s helping lead an awesome resurgence in Dallas, but the ageless Duncan gets a slight nod for no particular reason. He is averaging 14.7 PPG and 10.0 RPG (his highest average in five years), but flip a coin. It could be either guy here, especially considering Dallas is having the better season.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
The last wild card spot is nearly impossible to fill considering the remaining players who could all reasonably put in that spot, but based on the Warriors’ success and the incredible breakout season by Thompson, who is averaging career-highs essentially across the board, he’s the big winner over some undeniably deserving competition. What a tough vote in the West this year. So many good players aren’t going to make it in simply because of math.
Who Are the Likely Snubs for the Western Conference?
And, as always, there are deserving players left off of the team. It’s worth noting that two of these players could be added to the team as injury replacements (select by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver) for Kobe Bryant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Here are the nastiest snubs should the aforementioned players end up being the ones voted in by coaches:
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers
Speaking of Aldridge, there’s actually a chance that he gets voted in over Duncan based on merit, despite the fact that he won’t actually play in the game and Duncan will likely take his spot eventually anyway. He’s sixth in scoring and 11th in rebounding for a killer Portland team, so the only way he doesn’t make it in is if the coaches consider the injury. Hopefully he’ll get the honor, even though he’ll likely have to miss the game due to the injury.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some point guard has to lose out here, and while Westbrook is doing all the same stuff he always has, Oklahoma City just isn’t getting two guys in this year with all the talent involved, particularly not two guys that have each failed to play at least 30 games to this point. The reigning MVP Durant will probably be the Thunder player representing OKC this winter, which leaves Westbrook out in the cold.
Mike Conley, Memphis Grizzlies
It’s such a shame because Conley is having an unbelievable individual season for a good Memphis team, but like Westbrook, he may not make it because there are just too many good point guards in the mix this year. Throw Tony Parker and Monta Ellis into this category, too. So many good players with just no shot at making it in.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
If Duncan’s out, Nowitzki’s likely in, but we’ll be talking about one of these guys as a snub once the reserves are announced. Like Duncan, Dirk keeps getting older but still remains relevant. It will be interesting to see which player starts to slow down first (if they ever do – it’s possible these guys are robots).
Who do you expect to make the Western Conference team as reserves? Hit up the comments section or keep the conversation alive on Twitter. The actual reserves will be announced on Jan. 29.
Seattle Mayor Thinks Team Isn’t Coming Any Time Soon
The annual storyline of Seattle getting an NBA team back somehow is a beacon of hope for those living in the Great Northwest, but according to Seattle mayor Ed Murray, it doesn’t sound as though this particular beacon should remain lit, at least not for the next few years.
“[The NBA’s] official line, and I think they’re being straightforward with me, is a city grabbing a team or a new [expansion] franchise at this point is not, in their mind, something they see happening,’’ Murray told the Seattle Times following a meeting with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Monday. “They actually expressed to me that they felt expectations in Seattle had been raised that weren’t consistent with what they had been sharing about a path to get there within the next few years.’’
That’s not great news for Seattle since the Chris Hansen ownership group has a memorandum of understanding with the city to help fund a new arena that could potentially run out by the time some team does look ready to relocate.
“I worry that it may not happen,’’ Murray said. “I worry that both councils will not go the full way toward approving this [arena] if there is no team. If it’s two or three years away, this will run out in 2017 and the whole thing will have to start over again.’’
That doesn’t necessarily mean that basketball will never return to Seattle, but it does appear as though Silver isn’t under the impression any team will be moving to Washington state in the near future. Also, it doesn’t look like Silver is interested in going the expansion route either, as it’s very unlikely the current 30 owners would enjoy splitting revenue with another team or two.
In short, the Seattle think isn’t on the horizon at the moment, and it might be a few more years before it is.
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