For the Western Conference, I included an injury replacement for Yao Ming in my predictions, so I still have a chance to go eight for eight. The seven reserves announced today (Pau Gasol, Blake Griffin, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Deron Williams, Manu Ginobili and Russell Westbrook) were all on my list. However, I also included Kevin Love, who’s having an absolutely monstrous seasons, and I really thought that the coaches voting for the reserves would overcome their prejudice against losing teams to place him on the team. David Stern still has a chance to make me a perfect eight for eight overall by choosing Love to replace Yao.
Until such time as Yao’s replacement is named, Love is the biggest snub in the Western Conference, but by no means the only one. Steve Nash (a two time NBA MVP who’s still playing great basketball at 36) and LaMarcus Aldridge (almost single-handedly keeping Portland in the playoff race as the rest of the Blazers drop around him with injuries) are also on the short list of players who Stern could tab to replace Yao, and it’s clear that all of them are All-Star worthy.
From an LA-centric perspective, Lamar Odom of the Lakers and Eric Gordon of the Clippers are each having terrific seasons, and strongly resemble All-Stars, at least on paper. Unfortunately, neither had much of a chance of making the team, given the level of competition for the limited number of spots. For the 21-year-old Gordon, he’ll have other opportunities. For Odom, this might have been his best chance – he may have to settle for the title of “Best player in the NBA never to have made an All-Star team.” Andrew Bynum of the Lakers was second behind Yao in the fan vote for starting center, but he never had much of a chance given the number of games he’s missed this season. Given the state of centers in the NBA, particularly in the West, if Drew can ever get fully healthy, he could have many All-Star selections in his future.
The situation in the East is very different. The reserves announced today included players from only three teams: the Celtics (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen), the Hawks (Al Horford and Joe Johnson) and the Heat (Chris Bosh). In the top heavy East, only the six teams with winning records are represented on the All-Star team, and nine of the 12 players come from the Celtics, Heat and Hawks.
The situation in the East was opposite that in the West – instead of having too many All-Star-worthy choices, they had too few. Joe Johnson is arguably the least deserving – it’s his fifth straight selection, so reputation probably plays a part. Yes, he’s averaging over 20 points per game, and yes, he’s been better in the last month or so. But he’s shooting 45% from the field and 31% from three point range, so he’s taking a lot of shots to get those 20 points. Carlos Boozer might have been a better choice, but clearly the coaches felt he’d missed too many games (he’s played in 30 out of 48) to be included.
The biggest story is Griffin. It’s the first time since Yao Ming in 2003 that a rookie will be an All-Star, and the first time since Tim Duncan in 1998 that the coaches have chosen a rookie as a reserve. The same prejudice against losing teams that kept Love off the squad had to work against Blake as well, but there was just too much positive energy to ignore. He’s the most exciting and talked about player in the league right now, he provides the types of highlights every night that this game was made for, and the simple fact is that he’s really, really good. He’s the only player from a sub .500 team on either team at this point, and he definitely earned the spot.