As a compressed NBA schedule takes its toll on veteran players, expect high turnover and new faces on this year’s All-Star rosters.
A lockout-shortened season also skews the selection process toward early outcomes, meaning these fast starters will get a chance to run with the NBA’s elite at the main even in Orlando.
They aren’t household names—they don’t adorn your bedroom wall or shill Sprite— but they do have game and deserve the recognition generally reserved for dudes with shoe contracts.
If Ryan Anderson keeps this pace, Eastern Conference coaches will have a tough time denying him a spot on the All-Star team.
Anderson’s 18 points and 7.3 rebounds per game have sprung him to the league’s 10th best player efficiency rating (according to John Hollinger of ESPN).
Safe to say few saw this coming from the fourth-year man out of Cal—a guy who managed solid, non-starter minutes in his first three years, but nothing approaching stardom.
Adding to the craziness of it all, Anderson’s per 36 averages haven’t improve much (rebounds are actually down) and both his three point and regular shooting percentages are just margins better than his career numbers.
Could it be that this monster called Ryan Anderson isn’t a fluke— just a sweet-shooting white dude who needed some minutes to prove us wrong?
More important to Orlando fans, could Anderson be their best case in a desperate attempt to keep Dwight Howard in the Sunshine state?
Many saw All-Star games in Andrew Bynum’s future, but perhaps not so soon.
Bynum put the league on notice with a 20-20 effort against Houston on January 3rd and hasn’t slowed since. He’s third in the league with five double-doubles and at 18.8 points and 15.7 rebounds a night has been the best true center in the Western Conference this year.
With fan-vote warlord Yao Ming exiting stage left this offseason, Bynum has a credible chance at winning the popularity vote. Even if he doesn’t, the 24-year-old titan is a near lock for the 12-man roster provided he stays healthy.
Words I thought I’d never write:
Spencer Hawes is the second best center in the Eastern Conference right now.
The most surprising member of a surprising 76ers squad has been an efficiency machine in the season’s early-going. He’s averaging a double-double at 12.6 points and 10.6 rebounds a contest and leads the league in field-goal percentage by a comfortable margin.
In seeming conflict with that last note, Hawes’ offensive game relies on an outside shot that allows him to spread the floor. So far this year, he’s just been supremely good at it.
On the defensive end Hawes doesn’t dominate, but at 1.9 blocks a game he can at least compensate with a few game-changing plays.
More to the point, in a league lacking depth at center we can’t have it both ways. Hawes has been near-perfect on offense and solid on the boards, and that’s good enough to get him an All-Star Game nod.
If you’re not buying Spencer Hawes’ case, then I give you Roy Hibbert as the next best candidate to back up Dwight Howard.
Just as Hibbert took time to develop at the college level, the big stiff has grown into his NBA game over the last two seasons and led a surging Indiana team into the Eastern Conference's top five.
Fans of a bygone era will recognize Hibbert’s game, a true back-to-the-basket center with limited capabilities outside 15 feet but big-time presence in the paint.
Hibbert has added to that reputation by increasing both his offensive and defensive rebounding rates early on in 2012 to complement his inside scoring ability.
According to John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Ratings, Kyle Lowry has been the sixth best (blank) in basketball this year.
Sixth best player on the Rockets? Sixth best point guard in the Western Conference? Sixth best guy named Kyle?
Try sixth best player.
Lowry’s 26.44 PER follows from per-game averages of 15.3 points, 10 assists and 6.2 rebounds, making him all-everything on a Rockets team that lacks muscle inside.
Long one of the game’s most underrated performers, the coaches can’t ignore the fact that Lowry leads his team in assists, steals and rebounds. If there’s hope for the future, Rockets fans can find it in the Villanova product’s stellar all-around game.
Forwards/centers who can score in droves always get the attention of the All-Star selection committee, and Bargnani fits the bill his year.
Now in his sixth season, the former first overall pick ranks third in the Eastern Conference in points per game and has established a level of offensive production to match his pedigree.
Bargnani doesn’t rebound or defend well for his size, but neither does Dirk Nowitzki. And comparisons to the golden-haired German make sense, so long as they come with the qualifier that Bargnani isn’t nearly as good.
He is good enough to take Kevin Garnett’s emeritus spot as a forward-center on the All-Star roster, and is one of the NBA’s regular candidates to consistently score 30-points.
When he’s on the court, with his ego well fed, DeMarcus Cousins is the second best center in the Western Conference.
That’s how the numbers tell it.
Cousins has averaged 20.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes, with nearly half of his rebounds on the young season coming via the offensive glass.
That’s man-sized productivity, even if the petulant teenager within garners Cousins the most attention.
With Carmelo Anthony gone for the East Coast, there’s an open forward spot on the Western Conference All-Star team and Rudy Gay looks poised to take it.
Though his scoring is down from years past, Gay’s become a better rebounder and all-around defender in his sixth NBA season.
And I expect his offensive game to round into form as well, jolted into action by Zach Randolph’s injury and buoyed by his own emerging confidence following last year’s season-ending shoulder injury.
Derron Williams’ spot on the Western Conference team needs replacing, and no one’s more deserving than the blur they call Ty Lawson.
Lawson’s speed in the open court has the Nuggets ranked second in points per game and Denver fans peeking over the tear-soaked pillows in the realization that there is life after Carmelo Anthony.
Just as his team merits mention for staying afloat in the league’s most competitive division, so too does Lawson deserve recognition for keeping them there. After all, it’s his 16.6 points and 6.3 assists a game that drive the offense and open things up for an ensemble cast that features Danilo Gallinari, Arron Afflalo and a resurgent Al Harrington.
This team’s calling card is its speed, and there's none speedier than Lawson.
If but for injuries, Eric Gordon would be a lock for Orlando.
And even though a two-to-three-week knee ailment sets Gordon back, I still think he’s got the game to make a serious All-Star push.
In the two months before his wrist injury last year, Gordon was arguably the best pure shooting guard in the Western Conference (or at least in the same rarefied air as you-know-who). He averaged 24.1 points per game over that span and finished 2010-11 with eight games of 30 points or more despite missing significant time.
In his two healthy games with the Hornets this year, Gordon appeared to pick up where he left off before bad luck struck again.
If he can return strong from this latest ailment and put in a month of good work, Gordon deserves a spot on the Western Conference team.*
*Note: If Gordon doesn’t return in time to makes his case, expect Monta Ellis to assume the guard spot vacated by the injured Manu Ginobili.