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.
My picks: George, Pierce.