No league does all-star like the NBA.
The NBA All-Star Game and weekend of festivities in New Orleans gets rolling this Friday, with the NBA All-Star Celebrity game, followed by the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. Saturday is even more exciting, with the first ever Skills Challenge, then the Three-Point Contest and finally the Slam Dunk. Of course, tip-off for the big game is Sunday night at 8 p.m.
A look at the rosters for both East and West sees a lot of the usual suspects among the starters who were voted in, including Kyrie Irving and LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
Among the reserves selected by coaches, deserving players in the East include Isaiah Thomas (Boston), John Wall (Washington) and Paul George (Indiana). Over in the West, Russell Westbrook (OKC), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) and DeAndre Jordan (Clippers) were easy picks.
We did a little digging among the league leaders in several categories (not just offensive, as most reserves were picked for scoring prowess) and found a few egregious snubs. Here are 10 including five from the East and five from the West (starting with the East).
10. Dwight Howard, C – Atlanta Hawks
Superman got passed over most likely because teammate Paul Millsap was chosen for the East Conference reserves. Millsap is having a great year, however, there are no true centers on the East team. Howard, 31, is in his 13th season and isn’t showing a lot of signs of wear and tear and not many have the star power the veteran has. Currently, Howard is fourth overall in the un-sexy stat of rebounds per game, hauling in 12.9 per game (8.7 defensive, 4.2 offensive which is first overall). Howard is also 21st in blocks per game at 1.28 (64 in 50 games) and sits second overall in field goal percentage at .645 (265-for-411). We believe he got snubbed because his overall points per game is a pedestrian 13.6, but consider that he’s not a three-point shooter and that number looks a lot better.
9. Goran Dragic, PG – Miami Heat
Only two teams out of a playoff spot in the East have representatives at the all-star game, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Charlotte’s Kemba Walker. With five point guards on the roster, too, it bears looking at Goran Dragic’s contribution to the 24-32 Heat. He is sixth in scoring among all point guards in the East at 20.3 PPG and every one of five ahead of him are on the roster (Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Walker). Drawing a conclusion, we think the four coaches picks were based heavily on scoring. Digging deeper, Dragic is tied for sixth in assists for PGs at 6.3 per game, ahead of Irving (5.9) and Walker (5.4). Defensively, Dragic is 10th in steals for PGs at 1.2 per game, ahead of Thomas (0.84). Most telling, Dragic is the leading in three-point proficiency among PGs at .437 (80-for-183). We think a snub was made here.
8. Kristaps Porzingis, C – New York Knicks
OK, Porzingis is on the World team roster for the Rising Stars Challenge, however, the argument could be made that he should be on the East Reserves. Like Howard, he is a center (of which there are none on the East squad) and even though he’s playing for a bad, bad team in New York, he is having a stellar season. The giant Latvian is currently 37th overall in the NBA in scoring with 18.5 PPG (18th in the East) and 17th in the East in rebounds per game at 7.1. For a big man, he can also shoot threes, at a rate of 38.7 percent (92-for-238), which puts him 16th in the East, ahead of all-stars Paul George, Kevin Love, Isaiah Thomas and LeBron James. On the defensive side, the popular guy known as “Godzingis” is sixth overall in the NBA in blocks per game at 1.96 (94 in 48 games). An oversight, we believe, but he’ll do well in the Rising Stars game.
7. Andre Drummond, C – Detroit Pistons
An all-star last year when he led the NBA in rebounds per game at 14.8 and scored a career high 16.2 points, Detroit center Drummond has been rumored to be on the trade block this season. But just like Kristap Porzingis’ lot in New York, Drummond is playing for an under-achieving Pistons team that is barely holding on to eighth in the East at 26-30. Yet, a look at his stat line this season still sees him second in rebounds with 13.9 (9.8 defensive and more importantly 4.1 offensive, which is second in the NBA). He is first in total rebounds with 762 and first in total offensive rebounds at 225. As far as scoring goes, Drummond has logged 14.7 points per game, which is down slightly from last season, but again, he has taken just six three-point shots (making two) and his field goal percentage is .528, good for 16th overall in the league. A shame he didn’t get consideration, as he is also fifth in the NBA in double-doubles with 37.
6. Hassan Whiteside, C – Miami Heat
Of all the snubs on the East roster, Whiteside’s is the most outrageous. The 27-year-old 7’0″ center, in his fifth season in the NBA, is a rebounding and blocking nightmare for the Heat, who have no representative on any of the all-star teams. Yes, he’s only registered 16.7 points per game, but that is only part of the story for a guy who should have been a reserve. Let’s compare him to 6’10” power forward Kevin Love, who is Cleveland’s third addition to the East team. Love leads him in PPG with 20.0, but trails league leader Whiteside in rebounds (14.1 to 11.1). Whiteside is a better field goal shooter (.558, ninth in the NBA) than Love, who is 96th overall at .429. Whiteside, who led all players in blocks last year with 269 (3.7 per game), is still denying opponents an average of 2.0 per game this season, while Love trails way behind at 0.4. Looking even deeper, Whiteside leads Love in double-doubles, 35 to 32.
5. Nikola Jokic, PF – Denver Nuggets
Too bad for Jokic that fellow power forwards Draymond Green (Golden State) and DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) were voted on to the reserves for the West, as in our estimation, he’s having an all-star season. The consolation prize for him is that he will be playing for the World Team at the Rising Stars Challenge. Denver is eighth in the West at 25-30 and looked very good in whipping the Golden State Warriors the other day. Playing a big role in that win was Jokic, who actually leads Green in scoring, 16.3 PPG (fourth among West Conference power forwards) to 10.3. Jokic is also ahead of Green in rebounds per game, 8.9 to 8.3. Jokic is tops in field goal percentage among West PFs at .590, second in assists at 4.8 and third in double-doubles with 22 (Green has 14). Close, but we would have given the edge to the “Joker” as Golden State has three other reps on the team.
4. Mike Conley, PG – Memphis Grizzlies
Again, too bad, for Mike Conley that teammate Marc Gasol got a nod as a reserve for the West team. Gasol is deserving, yet there is a dearth of point guards on the 12-man squad, with just Stephen Curry (voted in, of course) and Russell Westbrook (reserves) running the offence. Conley, for his part, has had a quietly good year for the sixth place Grizz, scoring 19.4 points per game, fifth among all West Conference point guards. As a three-point shooter, he is third in the West for PGs, hitting on 41.4 percent of his attempts (106-for-256), which is better than Curry (.412) and Westbrook (.334). Conley is sixth in assists among West PGs with 6.3 per game, just behind Curry (6.4). Conley is also sixth in steals per game (1.36) and eighth in double-doubles with five, one more than Curry. He could be there.
3. Eric Bledsoe, PG – Phoenix Suns
Even more so than Mike Conley, the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe would have been a deserving point guard reserve. Phoenix, last overall in the West at 17-39, is having an atrocious season and would be a lot worse off if not for the contributions of their seventh-year floor general. The tale of the tape for Bledsoe among all West Conference point guards is thus: fourth in scoring (21.5 PPG, career high), tied for third in rebounds (4.9 per game), eighth in field goal percentage (.441), seventh in assists (6.1), sixth in steals (1.36), second in total blocks (23), fifth in minute played (33.2) and seventh in double-doubles (6). Playing for a lousy team, these stats make him an all-star, in our estimation.
2. C.J. McCollum, SG – Portland Trail Blazers
We gave McCollum the nod here over teammate Damian Lillard (who is having a fine season too), based on the fact he is having his finest season in four and is among the most proficient two-guards in the NBA, much less the West. First, the Canton, Ohio native is third among all NBA SGs in scoring with a career high 23.5 PPG, ahead of West reserve SG Klay Thompson (21.8). We’ll continue on that comparison, which shows McCollum trailing Thompson slightly in rebounds (3.7 to 3.8), but beating Thompson in field goal percentage (.485, first among all SGs, to .470). McCollum is eighth in three-point proficiency (.411) trailing Thompson (.418, fourth), but ahead of voted in SG James Harden (.352, 35th among SGs). McCollum is seventh among NBA SGs in assists at 3.6, way ahead of Thompson at 2.0 (29th). McCollum also leads Thompson in steals (1.05 per game to 0.79) and double-doubles (1-0).
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, C – Minnesota Timberwolves
Big whippity-do, KAT is on the U.S. Team roster for the Rising Stars Challenge. He should have been a West reserve center. As of today, Minnesota’s Towns is the leading scorer among all centers with 23.7, three points ahead of West reserve Marc Gasol and nearly twice that of the other West center, DeAndre Jordan (12.1). Towns is sixth in rebounds for NBA centers at 8.3, behind Jordan (10.2) but ahead of Gasol (6.1, 26th). KAT is also fourth in three-point percentage among NBA centers (.337, 64-for-190), fourth in assists (2.9), ninth in blocks (1.46, ahead of Gasol who has 1.41), first in minutes played (36.4) and first in double-doubles (41, which is also third among all players). Again, it is an all-star game and without KAT, it’s lacking star power.