The starting fives for the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, which will be held on February 15 (Philippine time) in Toronto, have been unveiled today.
As expected, Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry lead the West with 1,891,614 and 1,604,325 fan votes, respectively. The Oklahoma City Thunder's monster duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook also got in the starting line up. Lastly, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, nabbed the final spot to complete the West All-Stars' starting five. (The East will have Kyle Lowry, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George.)
To be honest, the West's lineup was pretty predictable. The only thing that we were uncertain about it was who among Leonard, the Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green, and the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin will win the tussle for the final spot.
If there's any surprises in today's announcement though, it's Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia almost gatecrashing the event as a starter:
With the starting five all locked up, the only remaining spots are the seven reserves. The Western Conference coaches are in for a headache as they have to choose from more than a dozen players worthy of being named an All-Star. That's how deep the West is.
So which ballers will round up the West's All-Star squad? Here are our guesses:
This brings us to our second favorite thing about All-Star Weekend news (the first one is fanboying over the Slam Dunk Contest participants): Pointing out to people who SHOULD BE an All-Star but will probably be snubbed. We've already showed you our Eastern Conference picks, it's now time to choose the West's All-Snubs Team of 2016!
This is all getting too familiar for Dame. Last year, the two-time All-Star only made it to the team as a replacement for Griffin. This year could be a repeat. Lilliard's inclusion again hinges on whether the high-flying Los Angeles Clipper can suit up in time for the All-Star game.
The possibility of bumping the Bearded One and CP3 out of the line-up is unlikely. And then there's half of the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson. His numbers might have dropped a bit this season (20.6 points while shooting .427 from deep), but you can't deny Klay's contribution to the Warriors' remarkable 38-4 record. And when you're the defending champs and have the best record in the NBA, it's alright to send three players to represent your squad.
But this doesn't take anything away from the Portland star's stellar play this season. Now, that he is the team's alpha, Lillard makes sure that he plays as one. He's currently averaging a career-best 24.4 points and seven assists per game. Even with Most Improved Player candidate C.J. McCollum sharing the ball-handling duties, Dame still handles the lion's share of his club's offensive possessions. He's also one of the most lethal guards in the league that can kill you off the dribble.
Now that we're done with the positives, here are the negative points on why the Dame-Dolla won't make it to this year’s All-Star extravaganza.
First up are his turnovers. While he's enjoying a career-high in dimes (seven), he's also posting 3.5 turnovers per game—the highest for the Blazers. Second, he's also chucking too many shots which sometimes hurts the team's chances to win. Dame being trigger-happy from three also earned him a few critics. Some even labeled him as a point guard version of Harden—the bad, shoot-first, three-point-shot only, version of The Beard. Here's how NBA analyst Zach Lowe puts it:
"Lillard is Point Guard Harden—an offense-only player who controls that half of the game when he's rolling. [But] when Lillard's triple isn't falling, he can't compensate with pulverizing drives and heaps of free throws."
Lastly, his high-volume scoring game still isn't enough to catapult his team in the stacked Western Conference. The Blazers currently has a losing record of 19-25, good for ninth place.
Gordon Hayward - Utah Jazz
Hayward is playing the same position as the Black Mamba, which means he'll need to take a step back once again to make way for Kobe's swan song.
If anything, the NBA acknowledges him as a legit All-Star; 19.6 points, five boards, and almost four assists per contest lay out Gordon's importance to the eighth-seeded Jazz. He has also proven that he has the nerves for big moments as he always seem to deliver in the clutch.
Derrick Favors (finally!) and Trey Burke have also been balling crazy for Utah this season, but there's no doubt that the slick-haired Hayward is the team's leader and face of the franchise. With his do-it-all game, you can almost label him as the white guy version of LeBron—without the receding hairline, of course.
LaMarcus Aldridge - San Antonio Spurs
Aldridge is still adjusting his game to fit the smooth-flowing system of Coach Gregg Popovich, but that doesn't mean that the former Blazers superstar isn't producing positives. LaMarcus might have been plucked away from his bread-and-butter high-post game, but his tandem with Tim Duncan inside has been nothing but wonderful for the Spurs.
The Spurs' Twin Towers have made it easy for Kawhi to swish jumpers or penetrate into the lane. Leonard is more than enough of an offensive threat; having Aldridge loitering in and out the paint and Timmy waiting for drop passes make the Spurs a defensive nightmare for any team.
On his own, LaMarcus is still a force to reckon with. He's averaging 16 points and nine boards a game for the second-best team in the West (36-6).
His "efficient" production though is a far cy from the Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins' 25.9-11.1-1.3 monster stat-line.
Tim Duncan - San Antonio Spurs
Everyone agrees that Timmy is the greatest power forward to ever play the game.
He's also 39.
His numbers might have dropped, but it's the other things that he does on the court that make him an All-Star. The still-superb defense, those crisp screens, the patented bank shots, the nightly double-doubles—Duncan's still impressive AF.
Despite all that, at 39, doing a Kobe and announcing a plan to retire at season's end might be his only chance to get an All-Star nod. Sorry, Timmy.
Just like Duncan, it looks as though the 37-year-old, 13-time NBA All-Star took a sip of the fountain of youth. The sweet-shooting German is still the go-to guy of the Dallas Mavericks' (24-19) which is currently tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the West.
We have no idea how he does it, but the architect of the one-legged fadeaway is still swishing buckets with his 17.8 points per game while also taking down seven boards a night. Just a few days ago, he poured in 31 points and hauled down 11 rebounds, leading his team to a 118-113 win over the Boston Celtics.
But with young guns Anthony Davis, Cousins, and Draymond Green getting more All-Star notice, Dirk's only hope of being included in the roster will hinge on how much nostalgia will affect the coaches' votes.
A duel between Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre and Dwight are cut from the same cloth. Both men are athletically-gifted. They love dunks and are voracious rebounders. They love to clown around. It's also quite amusing how both of them suck at the free throw line.
At this point in their respective careers, Dwight might be a tad better player as he can dominate games without a quality point guard constantly setting him up for lobs. Sure, he has Harden, but don't kid yourselves. The Beard is no CP3.
Howard, a 12-year veteran and eight-time All-Star, may no longer be the muscle-bound machine who lorded over the East when he was still in Orlando, but when he's healthy and getting some touches, he's still capable of producing beastly numbers. For example, against the Clippers last January 19, D-12 had 36 points and gobbled 26 rebounds. Most of that came against DeAndre, who put up his own double-double of 16 points and 15 boards.
Being far from 100-percent due to nagging back injuries hasn't also helped Howard's case for an All-Star reserve slot, he's only averaging 14.8 points per game average, the lowest of his career since his rookie season. The Houston Rockets' record (22-21, seventh-place overall) is also not doing him good. His team, a Western Conference finalist last season, is playing well below expectations.
Howard is still efficient on the glass though, and is currently ranked third in rebounds per game (12.4), or just one rebound behind second-best rebounder DeAndre (13.5).
For his part, DeAndre has established himself as arguably the Association's most athletic player. The 27-year-old center has been victimizing people every time he plays the pick-and-roll.
Although Jordan is not exactly an offensive monster (11.7 points per game), he lords over the paint in a different way. Aside from his 13.5 rpg, he swats 2.4 shots and changes a whole lot more inside attempts a game. His player efficiency rating (how efficient a player is when he's on the floor based on advanced offensive and defensive stats) of 20.29 is also higher than the PERs of Duncan (17.67), and Aldridge (19.93).
All these players deserve a spot in the "last All-Star team of Kobe Bryant," but getting in will be close to impossible. Still, we salute 'em. Good luck next year, guys!
Click here for the East's All-Snubs Team!
Images via Ibtimes.com, Houston247sports.com, Purpleandblues.com, Expressnews.com, Thesportster.com,Thesmokingcuban.com, Latimes.com
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