HOUSTON – NBA All-Star weekend is upon us and it’s time to take a break from the condensed schedule to celebrate the best basketball players in the world. Before we get to Sunday’s game (8 p.m. ET, TNT), we’ll dig deep into each All-Star’s first-half statistics.
You already know the basics (scoring, rebounding, etc). So here are some noteworthy, below-the-surface numbers regarding each of the 13 Eastern Conference All-Stars, coming from the new NBA.com/stats site. Click on the nuggets below to go even more in-depth.
All stats are through Wednesday, Feb. 13. Minimum requirements were set at 100 field-goal attempts for shooting stats, 500 minutes for non-shooting stats, and 100 minutes for lineup data, unless otherwise noted.
Has assisted Blake Griffin on 135 baskets. Russell Westbrook has more assists (149) to Kevin Durant, but the Paul-Griffin combination has more on a per-minute basis: 5.1 vs. 4.2 per 48 minutes played together.
HOUSTON –Andre Drummond can’t change the past. He can only change opinions.
Panned in the lead up to the 2012 NBA Draft, Drummond was billed as a big man with superstar talent but a motor that didn’t match. It’s one of the reasons the 7-footer lasted until the ninth pick, where the Detroit Pistons cashed in with what has turned out to be one of the steals of the entire draft.
Drummond’s work through the pre-All-Star Weekend break of his rookie season has been an eye-opener. In addition to that potential superstar talent, he’s shown off a motor that more than matches. In fact, he’s been lauded by Pistons insiders for being even better than they had hoped in terms of his work ethic and the energy he brings to both practices and games.
A stress fracture in his back will cost Drummond at least a month, and that includes his participation here this weekend for the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. But it won’t deter him from his goal of silencing those who questioned his character and game before the Draft.
“”I think coming into a situation where the game is as fast-paced as NBA games are was beneficial for me to pick things up and move forward,” said Drummond, who averages 7.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 19.7 minutes a night. “My coaches and teammates helped me move adjust and nip some of that stuff people had against me in the bud. I think Detroit is a great city, the fans are definitely great out there, and having the right environment to g to work in makes a big difference.”
Drummond is just 19 and with his combination of size (he’s just shy of 300 pounds with just six percent body fat) and skill along with the physicality he brings to the floor, the notion of him being a dominant big man in the league alongside the Pistons’ other budding young frontcourt star Greg Monroe.
The injury to Drummond is setback, but by no means the end to what has been a promising rookie season.
“I want to maintain the effort and energy bring every day and continue to get better,” Drummond said. “We have plans on being a playoff team [someday] and I want to be a big part of helping make that a reality.”
What stands out as your favorite all-time Dunk Contest dunk?
Steve Aschburner: I’m going with my pick of the most neglected, underappreciated dunk in Slam Dunk contest history. When Andre Iguodala came from back amongst the photographers on the baseline on one of his throwdowns in Houston in 2006, the geometry seemed impossible. Somehow, as a helper bounced the ball off the back of the backboard, Iguodala grabbed the carom, ducked his head to avoid the both the glass and any support bars and dunked from behind the board. It was stunning, and remarkable that he didn’t slam-head-dunk-himself. The Sixers’ young forward had two other terrific dunks, including a windmill in which he passed the ball behind his back … and he came away with nothing. That was one of the years in which people were fascinated with Nate Robinson‘s little-man theatrics, which meant sitting through about 20 straight misses (yawn) till he got a big one right. Said it then and I’ll say it again: Iggy was robbed.
Fran Blinebury: I’ve seen them all in person since Larry Nance upset Dr. J in the first back in 1984 at Denver. Michael Jordan beating Dominique Wilkins at Chicago in 1988 was spectacular. Vince Carter putting his elbow on the rim in 2000 in Oakland was awesome. But I had the best seat in the house — front row courtside, straight out from the free throw line — at Dallas in 1986 and 5-foot-7 Spud Webb was simply breathtaking. He started by slamming a backwards dunk so hard that ball went through the net and bounced off his head. He did a pair of 360s and a double-clutch, two-hander. Then he finally took down Dominique in the finals by bouncing the ball just inside the free throw line and off the glass, catching it in his right hand and slamming it home. One of the photos from Sports Illustrated shows his feet even with referee Wally Rooney‘s chest. Air Spud. I can still see the little guy flying.
Jeff Caplan: I just ran into Dominique Wilkins the other night and he’s not all that fond of this year’s dunk contestants. Nothing against the guys personally, but he’d like to see some bigger names go at it like back in the day. So, I’m going way back to the Human Highlight Film’s windmill dunks because, frankly, I think he’s the one that introduced the windmill dunk or at least elevated it to an artform converging out-of-this-world athletic, finesse and raw power. So which windmill dunk? After all, Wilkins is a two-time dunk champ and probably should have won one or two more considering he was in five of them. Anyway, I’ll take Niques’ two-handed windmill jam that earned him the ’85 title in a showdown with Michael Jordan, who, by the way, brought out the rock-the-cradle jam.
Scott Howard-Cooper: If we’re talking NBA dunk contest, that leaves out the great Julius Erving-David Thompson moment at halftime in Denver in the ABA days. In the orange-ball world, I’ll go with Blake Griffin redefining the term carhop. So much hype had built through the season about Blake Superior and his dunk arsenal that it seemed there was nothing he could do step up to the moment. And then he did. The car, Baron Davis with the assist, the choir — pure theater. It was way over the top, but what the event needed after years of losing excitement.
John Schuhmann: There’s something — the power, really — about Dominique Wilkins‘ dunks that gets me fired up. My favorite in-game dunk might be the time he destroyed Larry Bird on a fast break, and my favorite dunk contest dunk was his two-handed windmill (8:20 mark here) in the finals of the 1988 contest in Chicago. He got up high, he brought the ball all the way around from left to right, and he almost tore down the rim. Elevation, finesse and oh, the power. We’ve seen more difficult dunks since then, but I’ll always think of ’88 as the best dunk contest ever, because it was two stars going head to head and just thinking up stuff on the fly. Nique did a variety of windmills that night, but the two-hander was the highlight. That the judges gave him a 45 (to open the door for Jordan to win on the final dunk) was pretty ridiculous.
Sekou Smith: “You’re going to a reunion of all the JET Beauty of the Week superstars of the past 40 years. Give me your favorite?” It’s an impossible question given all of the options. Being the lover of hang time that I am, it’s hard to ignore the icons of the contest (Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Dr. J). But as far as anticipation and delivery, I’d have to go with Vince Carter’s work in the 2000 contest. It was a rebirth for the contest, after a two year layoff, and an introduction to a new breed of dunk champ. Vince was the first guy I saw in the contest that took me back to MJ and ‘Nique. His first dunk, that 360 windmill with the cuff, was just plain wicked. Made me love the dunk contest all over again.
The Foot Locker Three-Point Contest will be held Saturday night with five stations arranged around the arc and five balls at each spot, the first four worth one point and one red, white and blue “money ball” worth two points. Players will have one minute to try and complete all five locations.
Kevin Love of the Timberwolves, out with a hand injury, will not be defending the title won a year ago in Orlando.
The Eastern Conference lineup:
Paul George, Pacers: Though not known for his 3-point shooting, George is on pace to improve his percentage behind the arc for the third season in a row. That has been part of a climb from 7.8 points a game as a rookie to 12.1 in 2011-12 to 17.5 the first 61 games this season.
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: The escalation from No. 1 pick and Rookie of the Year in 2011-12 to All-Star in 2012-13 includes an improvement from pretty good on 3-pointers to challenging for a top-10 finish. Imagine where his scoring average goes if Irving starts to make threes more of a priority.
Steve Novak, Knicks: A man made for this competition. Novak is a career 3-point specialist, often posting a better percentage from behind the arc than on two-pointers. He was fifth in the league in 3-point accuracy heading into Wednesday’s games.
The Western Conference lineup:
Ryan Anderson, Hornets: The winner of Most Improved Player last season while in Orlando is the ideal complement for Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon after moving to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade. Now Anderson is on pace to finish better than 40 percent on 3-pointers for the first time in his career.
Matt Bonner, Spurs: He is averaging all of 12.1 minutes (11th on the team) and 4.1 points. And he absolutely deserves to be at All-Star weekend. Bonner is second in the league in 3-point percentage and on pace to shoot better than 45 percent behind the arc for the second time in three seasons.
Stephen Curry, Warriors: Barring a late injury on the Western Conference All-Star squad for the Sunday main event, appearing in the 3-point contest will have to do as a consolation prize. It may do very well, though. Curry is third in the league in accuracy behind the arc, making him one of the favorites to win the title.
HANG TIME, Texas — If all goes according to plan, this might just be an advance preview for June when Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul could captain lineups with another championship on the line.
If they meet in four months in the NBA Finals, they’ll have the Larry O’Brien Trophy up for grabs. For now, it will be strictly for bragging rights as the All-Star guards for the Heat and Clippers square off in leading a first-ever overall team format on All-Star Saturday Night.
Miami’s Wade will lead the Eastern Conference and L.A.’s Paul the Western Conference in a night of competition that will raise money for charity. The selections were made by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. The captains were chosen, in part, for the leadership they have shown in supporting charitable causes.
As part of the new format, points earned by each conference throughout the four All-Star Skills Competitions will determine the conference that earns the title of 2013 State Farm All-Star Saturday Night Champion.
In addition, NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $350,000 going to the winning conference’s charities and $150,000 to the runner-up conference’s charities. All of the charities will be selected by the conference captains, the NBA, and State Farm.
State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, an all-inclusive skills showcase, will take place on Feb. 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston and will be televised live by TNT at 8 p.m. ET. The event consists of the Shooting Stars, a competition featuring NBA players, WNBA players, and NBA legends; the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a contest of top guards working against the clock to complete a series of passes, free throws, layups and agility drills; the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; and the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.
The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played on Feb. 17, at the Toyota Center, which will also host the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. NBA All-Star Jam Session, the hugely successful interactive basketball celebration, will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center and will host the Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and the Sprint Pregame Concert.
While James Harden of the hometown Rockets will be in the lineup to serve as unofficial host for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston, evidently the voters — fans and coaches — haven’t received the memo that the NBA is making a big splash in Brooklyn this season.
Harden, who was traded from Oklahoma City four days before the season opener and made a splash by scoring 37 and 45 points in his first two games, will make his All-Star debut in his brand new home town.
Yet despite their being the hottest team in the league with nine wins in the last 10 games and currently holding down the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Nets were shut out when the reserves were announced for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game Thursday night.
A poll of the league’s head coaches added seven players to each team.
Chris Bosh joined teammates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade on the East team, making the defending NBA champion Heat the only team with three players that will take part in the 62nd All-Star Game, which will be played at Houston’s Toyota Center on Feb. 17 (TNT, 8:30p.m. ET).
In the Western Conference, the Spurs’ old reliable twosome of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were voted in for their 14th and fifth times, respectively, while the vote split up potential duos from other teams.
– Chris Bosh, Heat — If they were the Three Tenors, LeBron James would be Pavarotti, Dwyane Wade would be Domingo and Chris Bosh will always be “that other guy.” Numbers aren’t flashy, but he sacrifices his game to make it all work. | Highlights
Tyson Chandler, Knicks — He averages a double-double of 12.1 points-10.9 rebounds, leads the league in shooting (.674) and defends the rim as if he were a hungry fat man protecting the last cheeseburger on the planet. Justice is done. | Highlights
Luol Deng, Bulls – Coaches love the lunch pail players, the guys who show up for work every night. He leads the NBA in minutes, is his team’s top scorer and top defender in a season when the Bulls are surviving without Derrick Rose. | Highlights
Paul George, Pacers — He’s not just keeping the seat warm for Danny Granger, but playing like the Pacers’ MVP. With six double-doubles in the last two-plus weeks, he closed fast and has led Indiana’s surge after a slow start. | Highlights
Jrue Holiday, Sixers – In a season when Philly fans search for rare and exotic sightings of Bigfoot and Andrew Bynum, the dynamic guard is the reason to go to the games. He’s the only player in league averaging 19 points and nine assists. | Highlights
Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers — Look past the Cavs’ 11-32 record at these more pleasant numbers: 20.7 points, 5.7 assists, 39.9 3FG%, 20.7 PER. And the kid is only 20. Are the coaches already buttering him up for free agency? | Highlights
Joakim Noah, Bulls — The numbers say it all — 12.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.1 blocks, 1.3 steals per game. The hyperactive one is having the finest season of his career and symbolizes coach Tom Thibodeau’s driven attitude. | Highlights
The lowdown:The pair of Bulls on the frontline probably squeezed Nets center Brook Lopez out of a spot. Deron Williams would have been everyone’s preseason pick, but struggling with his shot didn’t help. Maybe coaches also didn’t like his griping that led to his coach, Avery Johnson, getting fired. You could have made a case for Boston’s leading scorer Paul Pierce, but with Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo already voted in by the fans, it’s unlikely the coaches wanted to reward the 8th-seeded Celtics with a third man. Do you really see a group of coaches warming up to J.R. Smith? Brandon Jennings of the Bucks and Greg Monroe of the Pistons are just too far under the radar.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers — The plan was to build Blazers into a playoff team next summer. But on a roster with less depth than a wading pool, L.A. scores (20.6), rebounds (8.6) and keeps them as a surprise club in the mix this season. | Highlights
Tim Duncan, Spurs — Oh, so you foolishly left him out of the All-Star Game for the first time last season? Well, the 36-year-old geezer responds by turning back the clock and turning up the heat to keep the Spurs as a real threat in the West. | Highlights
James Harden, Rockets – A bit ironic that The Beard’s first All-Star honor comes just when he’s shot 28-97 (.289) in his last five games. But he’s shown he can carry the mantle of the top dog and will represent the home team in Houston. | Highlights
David Lee, Warriors — Statistically, a no-brainer as the top PF in the West — 19.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists. His biggest challenge was probably splitting votes with teammate Stephen Curry on a Warriors team that has truly surprised. | Highlights
Tony Parker, Spurs – Coach Gregg Popovich keeps ratcheting up the pressure on him every season by raising the bar of great expectation and Parker goes right on clearing it. Seems the coaches understand just how hard that is to do. | Highlights
Zach Randolph, Grizzlies – You could make an argument for teammate Marc Gasol anchoring the defense. But flip the light switch every night and there’s Z-Bo with 16.1 points and 11.6 rebounds, which add up to a league-leading 27 double-doubles. | Highlights
Russell Westbrook, Thunder – The most polarizing player in the NBA has struggled all season with his shot, but ranks in the top five in steals and the top six in assists while churning away with fellow All-Star Kevin Durant to build OKC’s league-best record. | Highlights
The lowdown: As difficult as it was to pare down the list, imagine how much harder things might have been if Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Kevin Love were healthy/up to par. In many cases in the West, it became an intramural competition with Lee beating out Curry, Randolph elbowing Marc Gasol aside and Aldridge getting the nod over rookie Damian Lillard. The surging Nuggets were overlooked, maybe because they’re too well-balanced. The Clippers’ turbo-charger off the bench, Jamal Crawford, was also snubbed. But if anybody’s got a reason to complain here, it’s Curry. a
Depending on your sense of history and your definition of “All Star,” that statement about the NBA’s All-Star Game and selection process either is painfully true or a little snarky.
Every year at this time — the day the reserves for the Eastern and Western Conference squads are announced, as chosen by the coaches (7 p.m. ET on TNT) — someone (or some two or three) who played well enough in the season’s first half to earn an invitation instead gets snubbed. Then again, by the time you get to the 12th man on each side, the step down from the starters generally is evident and a pecking order seems clear.
Mathematically and historically, however, one can make a solid case that 12 is an insufficient number of All-Stars for the modern NBA.
In the game’s infancy — which also was the league’s relative infancy — All-Star rosters went 10 deep. Back then, the NBA was an eight-team league. Later, the rosters bumped up to 12 players per side, which became the standard, mirroring the NBA roster limit during the season.
Actually, there were a few years in the 1970s when All-Star rosters were increased to 14 as the league’s membership expanded to 17 franchises, then 18.
Even with the absorption of four ABA franchises in the late 1970s and the expansion into Dallas, the All-Star rosters dipped briefly to 11, then settled back at 12. And that’s where they have been ever since. Through the addition of Miami, Charlotte, Orlando and Minnesota in 1988 and 1989. Despite the creation of the Raptors and the Grizzlies and, after the Hornets relocated to New Orleans and the NBA’s return to Charlotte.
For the past two regular seasons, sparked by the post-lockout scramble in 2011-12, teams have been permitted to carry 13 active players. So let’s do the math:
17 teams (12 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 1.41 All-Stars per team, with 11.8 percent of the league’s players classified as “All-Stars.”
30 teams (13 players each) / 24 All-Stars = 0.8 All-Stars per team, with 6.2 percent of the league’s players classified as “All-Stars.”
Clearly, All-Star-ness hasn’t been keeping pace with inflation.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau talked with reporters Wednesday about the difficulty of filling out his ballot for the seven East reserves. “There are a lot of guys who are deserving, and you hate to leave anyone off,” he said. “It’s unfortunate there are limited spaces.”
What if, though, the NBA increased the size of All-Star rosters to 15? That would alleviate some of the tough calls and bruised feelings that follow each time a worthy candidate gets snubbed. It would get the per-franchise representation up to 1.0 All-Star per team. And conveying the status on 7.7 percent (30 of 390) of the league’s player population hardly would cheapen the designation.
One hitch: Some guys wind up with their feelings bruised not by being snubbed but by sitting too much on All-Star Sunday. They give up their one shot at extended rest or recreation during the grind of the season, then make only a cameo appearance in the big game.
“It’s very difficult to get playing time for 12 guys,” said Thibodeau, who served as East coach last February in Orlando. “You’re trying not to offend anyone in those games. You wish the game was a little bit longer so everyone could get an equal amount of time. But it doesn’t work that way.”
How ‘ bout a proportionate increase in the game itself? Boost the quarters from 12 minutes each to 15 — same as the rosters — for a game that lasts 60 minutes rather than 48. That would keep the per-player average at 20 minutes, same as now.
“I thought maybe a shorter game, to be honest with you,” joked Detroit coach Lawrence Frank, who also has worked the All-Star sideline.
Frank’s barb speaks to a coach’s concern for undue wear and tear on his players, along with the lackluster play of many All-Star Games. The defense and intensity that serve the NBA so proudly during the season and playoffs is largely absent until the final minutes or maybe the fourth quarter of a close All-Star contest.
Still, lengthening the game with deeper rosters wouldn’t boost anyone’s workload. Nor would it markedly hurt the quality. We’re still talking about the 13th-, 14th- and 15th-best players in each conference. And a 25 percent boost in game clock to enjoy them all.
Obviously it’s not going to happen this year. So players already secure on the East and West squads, and those added tonight via the coaches’ picks, should take a little extra pride in how select the status really is. They’re all part of the elite 6.2 percent.
As Frank said: “It just puts that much more value on it. Look, there are going to be times you get snubbed. It happens all the time. And there are going to be times when a guy gets voted in who maybe shouldn’t get voted in. But it’s an All-Star Game.”
The San Antonio Spurs are so accustomed to flying under the radar by now that it’s surprising they haven’t changed the name of the team to the Stealth Bombers.
So in a way, it’s business as usual as one of the biggest questions when the reserves for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game are announced tonight on TNT (7 p.m. ET) is whether the longtime partners Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will somehow get overlooked for their sterling work in the first half of the season.
The 36-year-old Duncan has been spry, spirited and splendid in his work at both ends of the floor and Parker continues to raise the level of his game with each season.
Yet the Spurs, who currently have the third-best record in the NBA, did not have a player voted onto the Western Conference starting lineup in the fan balloting. The reserves, seven for each team, are selected by poll of the league’s coaches.
Much of the focus in the Eastern Conference will be in the middle of the lineup, where Miami’s Chris Bosh hopes to join Heat teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the All-Star Game, but faces strong competition from Tyson Chandler of the Knicks, Joakim Noah of the Bulls and Brook Lopez of the Nets.
The 62nd NBA All-Star Game will be played Feb. 17 at Houston’s Toyota Center (8:30 p.m. ET).
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – During the 2011 Western Conference finals, Dirk Nowitzki called Kevin Durant the future of the NBA. The future is now, complete with Durant, named an All-Star starter this week for a third consecutive time, bringing Nowitzki’s old-world, one-legged leaner with him.
The All-Star Game starters are a good way to judge the passing of one era and the beginning of another. Just look, other than Kobe Bryant, 34, in the West, and Kevin Garnett, 36 (and maybe an aging Dwyane Wade, 31), in the East, it’s a young man’s game.
Nowitzki, 34, a fixture on 11 consecutive West All-Star teams (albeit all but once as a reserve), realizes his streak is coming to an end, just as Tim Duncan, 36, saw his run of 13 consecutive All-Star appearances and 12 consecutive starts, end a year ago.
“It’s obviously a disappointing streak to end, but it is what it is,” Nowitzki told reporters this week. “I had fun representing the Mavs all these years, but it was a tough year for me with injuries. I guess those four days I’m going to enjoy and get a good amount of work in as well and get recharged for the second half of the season.”
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Oct. 19. He has not been the same Dirk since, averaging just 14.0 ppg on 41.0 percent shooting. A career 87.7 percent free throw shooter, he’s hitting just 77.6 percent in his 14 games back, including unusual critical misses in several games. The Mavs, struggling at 17-24, are just 5-9 since his highly anticipated return.
Dirk’s All-Star streak could have ended last season when right knee trouble slowed him in the first half of the season. Even he said other forwards deserved to go more than he did, but Western Conference coaches awarded the 2011 Finals MVP with a nod as a reserve.
It doesn’t mean Nowitzki can’t make it back next season, especially if he starts the season on two good knees. Duncan is having a tremendous year in his 16th season and is a leading candidate to be selected as a West reserve.
But this is not how Nowitzki envisioned this season, which threatens to keep him out of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. In Saturday night’s 117-114 loss to Oklahoma City, he missed 10 of his first 11 shots and finished with 18 points on 5-for-19 shooting in a season-high 41 minutes.
“I have to keep working, I don’t know what else to say,” Nowitzki said after the game. “I had some great looks even there in the first half. It’s almost a tragedy that they don’t go in.”
Frontcourt. It must be frontcourt. None of this old-school centers nonsense because, we’re told, the game has changed, the dinosaurs have exited stage-and-tar-pits left and no one wants to get stuck watching Jamaal Magloire bang heads with Brad Miller in the league’s annual showcase.
Except that some of the best seasons in recent memory by legitimate NBA centers are being logged this season in the Eastern Conference. This is a real style vs. substance thing — you don’t seem baseball classifying guys merely as infield and outfield – and with the coaches holding sway over the All-Star benches, the hunch here is that size will matter.
Here are my thoughts on likely and deserving East reserves, who are not necessarily the same guys (for Scott Howard-Cooper‘s look at the West, click here):
Deron Williams has been an All-Star the past three years. But he’s not playing like one this season (16.6 ppg, 40.6 FG%). After only one year of voting for him, the East coaches haven’t formed the habit yet — and shouldn’t. Because Jrue Holiday (19.0 ppg, 8.8 apg, 2.29 assists-to-turnovers) has been better for Philadelphia, scoring and assisting more and turning the ball over less. And because Kyrie Irving (23.3 ppg, 40.5 3FG%, 21.9 PER) has been good enough to break through that bogus prohibition about “no All Stars from teams with losing records.” Hey coaches, it’s a team sport. You keep penalizing guys who are a little lonely in talent level, you’ll never get free agents to embrace the most challenging situations.
My picks: Holiday, Irving.
Roy Hibbert loudly proclaimed “Bull [bleep!]“ when asked his thoughts about the new frontcourt category. The Indiana center enjoyed his All-Star experience last winter and felt the rules were getting rigged to make a repeat performance more difficult. In fact, Hibbert’s own play (9.7 ppg, 8.2 rpt, 41.0 FG%) and that of some rival conference big men have made a repeat nearly impossible. Chicago’s Joakim Noah is having a breakthrough season, scoring (12.3 ppg), shooting (10.2 FGAs), assisting (4.1 apg) and blocking (2.0 bpg) more than ever to keep the Bulls afloat in Derrick Rose’s absence. Carlos Boozer (21 double-doubles) and Luol Deng (better numbers than last year, his first as an All-Star) have been solid, too. New York’s Tyson Chandler makes another bid for traditional centers with his 12.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 67.2% accuracy and rim defense. Chris Bosh’s numbers aren’t gaudy but on a 36-minute basis (19.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg) he’s been fine — and coaches like that sense of sacrifice for other stars. The Nets’ Brook Lopez is playing better (18.6 ppg, 51.7 FG%) than some guys who made it in the past but might miss out.
My picks: Noah, Chandler, Bosh.
THE WILD CARDS
The wild cards: What finally might have been Josh Smith‘s year to crack the All-Star roster fizzled this week with his performance – and one-game team suspension resulting from a reversion to old habits – in the Hawks’ 58-point mess at Chicago. I know the Knicks’ J.R. Smith has remade himself as a contributing team guy, but I can’t see the coaches falling in line on him in just a half season. Then again, Indiana’s Paul George has taken a giant step in the first half of his third season and, in picking up the slack of Danny Granger, is the most valuable Pacer (David West is pretty close). That leaves one spot for someone left over from above – or better yet, for Paul Pierce, still getting it done (21.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.2 apg per 36 minutes) for Boston. Some like Charles Barkley prefer half-season wonders but the All-Star Game still is a place to honor and enjoy all-timers in twilight, too.