Friday, January 7, 2011

Western Conference All-Stars: A Bold Move At Center Will Boost Excitement

By simply taking a look at the latest voting returns for the 2011 NBA All-Star Game, one can fairly accurately predict a majority of the stars that will take the Staples Center floor on February 20.

Almost certainly, the forwards fort he Eastern Conference will be LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire, Paul Pierce and Chris Bosh, with Josh Smith a likely replacement if Garnett remains sidelined with a leg injury.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin (take that one to the bank) and Pau Gasol will almost certainly represent the West, with the possibility of Tim Duncan or Lamar Odom sneaking in and the likelihood of Kevin Love being left out.

The backcourts present more suspense, but aren’t exactly nail-biters. In the West, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Manu Ginobili will be joined by Steve Nash, Monta Ellis (25.4 ppg, 3rd in the NBA, on 47.4% FG), Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook.

In the East, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are locks, and Ray Allen, Raymond Felton are decent bets to make it, with #1 overall pick John Wall as a dark horse, though he’s likely not played enough games (21) to warrant serious consideration.

In the middle, Dwight Howard, the leading vote-getter in his conference, with anchor the East, as he’s done for the past four years and will likely continue to do for the foreseeable future, barring a Western migration. Behind him it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, with either Al Horford (16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg) or Andrew Bogut (13.3- 11.1) likely to get the nod.

However, with injured Rockets’ big man Yao Ming (754,583) and until-recently-injured Laker Andrew Bynum (493,237) dominating the voting, the center spot in the West is far more open to debate. It’s worth noting that in cases such as this, when the leading vote-getter is unable to participate due to injury, the selection is not automatically given to the second-place man, but decided upon by the commissioner- and with averages of 9.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg in just 12 games, Bynum’s not likely to be on the receiving end of that call.

At the moment, it fairly safe to assume that the center role for the Western Conference will go to Nuggets’ big man Nene, who’s third in the voting. His solid stat line (15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg and a league-best 62.6% FG) and status as a key contributor to a high-profile team (in NBA circles, at least) should give him an edge over the competition. In addition to Nene, there are five centers in the West that are having very productive seasons and are worthy of at least a mention as All-Star candidates:

Based solely on numbers, the Hornets’ Emeka Okafor (10.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 58.5% FG) and Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol (11.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 52.2% FG) are worthy candidates. Okafor is the inside presence for the sixth-best team in the West, and has played some of his best ball lately, averaging a double-double and shooting better than 60% from the field in 19 games since the start of December. The factors working against Okafor are that a) his numbers aren’t that good, b) since sprinting out to an 11-1 start, the Hornets have been a sub-.500 team and c) the next memorable thing Okafor on an NBA floor will be the first.

Meanwhile, Gasol has been a solid but (very) unspectacular contributor for the Grizzlies. The ~12-7 he’s averaging is more or less what you can expect from him on a nightly basis. He’s still a good player, but has slipped from a year ago. He’s got just five double-doubles on the year and has scored 15+ on just eight occasions- not exactly an All-Star formula for a guy on a sub-.500 team that’s also yet to produce a single signature moment in his career.

Next up we’ve got the Dallas Mavericks’ Tyson Chandler. Acquired from the Charlotte Bobcats over the summer for next to nothing, Chandler, who’s finally healthy, looks a lot like the athletic freak that not too long ago hooked up with CP3 to form the Crescent City Connection. Through 34 games, Chandler is averaging a rock solid 9.1 ppg and 9.4 rpg, while shooting a scorching 69.1% from the field (he doesn’t yet qualify for the league leaders, as he’s not on pace for 300 made FG), and stepped his game up in the recent absence of Dirk Nowitzki, averaging 10.8 ppg and 11.1 rpg in the six games that the team’s superstar has missed.

Beyond the numbers, however, Chandler has had an even bigger impact on the Mavericks, with his length and athleticism at both ends. On defense, he not only changes shots in the lane and is a solid shotblocker, but he’s given the team a an attitude and a swagger that they’ve long lacked on D. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, he’s developed a great rapport with the Mavs’ guards, giving Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea a freak athlete to whom they can throw lobs, while giving only moderate thought to accuracy.

Moving a bit further away from the numbers, we run into Portland’s Marcus Camby. Heading into the season, Camby was expected to play limited minutes off of the Blazers’ bench, as a backup/insurance policy, behind Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla. Man were those claims filed quickly! At nearly 37 years of age, Camby’s been called into full time duty, with no one backing him up (Sean Marks? Dante Cunningham?).

Sure, he’s scored in double-figures just nine times in 2010-11, but he’s been a monster on the boards. His 11.5 rpg average (3.3 of them on the offensive glass) is good for fifth in NBA, a feat that’s even more impressive considering he’s averaging just 28.5 minutes of burn a night. And he’s been even better when logging bigger minutes. Camby’s averaging 13.9 rpg (4.2 orpg) in the 17 games in which he’s played 30+ minutes, and 17.3 rpg on last six such occasions, including four games of 18+ and a pair of 20-rebound outings. Given what was expected of him heading into the season, and all that’s been demanded of him since, it’s not hard to argue that Camby is deserving of an All-Star nod.

And finally, we have the longest of longshots, the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan. Through 35 games, Jordan has averaged just 6.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg, but he’s really gaining momentum! Since the start of December his averages have climbed to 8.1 ppg and 9 rpg (along with 2 bpg), in his last five games he’s averaged 10.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 3.8 bpg (including a 14-point, 20-rebound, 6-block night in a 106-93 win over Nene’s Nuggets on January 5), and has 37 rebounds and 19 blocked shots in his last three. While he, like Chandler, doesn’t yet qualify for the league lead in FG% (both should get there by year-end), no regular player in the NBA makes a higher percentage of his shots (sure they’re mostly dunks, but why shy away form your strengths?) than Jordan, who’s made 68.8% of his shots this season, and 71.5% of them since December 1.

Statistically, Jordan ranks at the bottom of this list of candidates. Team success? Not much to speak of there either, with the Clippers sitting at 11-24, though they are 6-4 in their last 10. Track record and pedigree? Not much to speak of for the third-year man, who entered the season with career averages of 4.6 ppg and 4.8 rpg (albeit in just ~15 minutes per game).

Now, given the size and versatility of the West’s other frontcourt guys, Nene is likely to be the only true center to be named an All-Star, in order to make room for more of West's fantastic guards and forwards, and if you were going to pick a second guy from this group, based on a combination of numbers and team success, Tyson Chandler would probably be your guy.


With all of that said- and with apologies to Camby, for whom I’ve lobbied, both on Twitter and in a previous article- if the Commish were to pick a second center, it’s my contention that DeAndre Jordan should represent the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. Why not? We are talking about an exhibition game that’s intended to entertain fans, right?

Plus, while the other guys in the running are all having very nice seasons, it’s not like we’d be snubbing 1994 Hakeem or 2001 Shaq. So why not think outside the box a bit? At worst, a talented big man would miss out on being inducted into the Jamaal Magloire Forgettable All-Stars Hall of Fame.

First off, the Clippers are technically hosting this year’s ASG, so why not get as many of their players involved as possible? Second, even though he’s not actually putting up All-Star numbers, Jordan’s playing really well, especially of late, and keeps improving. Third, he’s an absurd athlete- the most exciting center in the NBA to watch- and uses his athleticism spectacularly at both ends, making him a fan favorite and an exceptional side dish to the king of NBA League Pass appointment viewing, Blake Griffin.

Finally, he and the aforementioned Griffin (again, a freaking LOCK to be there) have developed a fantastic rapport that would likely lead to at least a couple of moments that would get their hometown crowd on its feet, going bonkers.

Just sayin’… This is an event for the fans, right?


Qmungous said...

DJ's been playing like a mad man this past week! the west is pretty thin on centers so maybe he'll be considered. i was hoping he'd also be in the dunk contest with Blake. the two of them would put on a mean show!

asdfasdf said...

I am a clippers season ticket holder for the clips and yes, DJ has been playing amazingly these past few weeks. But your idea to have him in the all star game is ridiculous. Kevin love deserves the honor 20 times over.