B/R's First-Quarter NBA All-Star Teams
The members of B/R's first-quarter NBA All-Star teams have all played excellent basketball during the early portion of the 2012-13 season, clearly attempting to maneuver their way into the festivities that take place during the middle of the season.
This year, the voting rules have changed, which is surely going to shake up the rosters quite a bit. Instead of voting for two guards, two forwards and a center in each conference, fans now get to select two guards and three frontcourt members, regardless of position.
It's now possible to have a starting five comprised of two points guards and three small forwards. It's also viable to have one of each of the traditional positions.
The reserves, selected by the coaches, are comprised of seven players: two guards, three frontcourt members and two players regardless of position.
Of course, the popularity that is so integral in fan voting doesn't matter at all here. I'm just looking to find the best rosters I can, based solely on the performances in the first quarter of the 2012-13 campaign.
So, who will Gregg Popovich and Mike Woodson be coaching on these All-Star teams?
Note: All stats are current through Sunday, Dec. 9.
Western Conference Starting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 0.1 blocks, 1.7 steals, 25.57 PER
Amazingly enough, Kobe Bryant isn't going to be the only player with at least 34 years to his credit to make the Western Conference All-Star team. Father Time might be able to affect the eastern half of the United States, but apparently his effects are lost out west.
Kobe might not have been able to carry the Los Angeles Lakers to a winning record during the first quarter of the 2012-13 season, but it's not for a lack of effort on his part. While his defensive impact has been lower than it has in years, Kobe is just dominating on offense.
The Black Mamba has been subject to criticism throughout his career for shooting too much and playing me-first basketball. That's not the case this year, as it's nearly impossible to harp on poor shot selection when a perimeter player is averaging a league-leading 28.6 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting from the field.
Credit the best three-point shooting of his career, and don't expect Kobe to fall off this pace for a while.
Western Conference Starting Guard: Chris Paul
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 0.0 blocks, 2.7 steals, 25.47 PER
Chris Paul does everything for a reason, so I'm assuming that this ridiculously high dribble and strange pose from Ronny Turiaf was all part of a master plan that resulted in points for the Los Angeles Clippers. The unsuccessful photobomb attempt in the background should also be noted.
Let me put it this way: I was watching a replay of Blake Griffin's put-back dunk against the Toronto Raptors and wondered out loud if CP3 missed the floater on purpose because he knew that Blake was trailing and could easily generate the highlight.
I'm kidding, of course. He'd never just miss a shot on purpose, but Paul is so in control on the basketball court that you have to seriously stop and think about whether the thought crossed his mind.
Western Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: Kevin Durant
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.4 steals, 27.67 PER
Unless the injury bug hits Kevin Durant, he can pretty much be penciled into the All-Star lineup for, oh, the next decade. He's that good already, and his game is still evolving.
At the ripe young age of 24, Durant has already firmly established himself as the most dangerous scorer in the NBA. Kobe Bryant might be averaging more points per game, but the Oklahoma City Thunder's superstar small forward plays with much more efficiency on the offensive end of the court.
Durant is crashing the boards with zeal this year, and his playmaking skills are much improved. He's creating more shots for himself and, more importantly, for his teammates, showing off a new and improved set of passing chops.
Plus, No. 35 looks more locked in on defense during the 2012-13 season, marking another step toward his ascent into the rarefied realm of ridiculously complete basketball players.
Western Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: Tim Duncan
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.4 blocks, 0.8 steals, 26.47 PER
Remember that whole thing about Father Time not affecting players in the Western Conference? If you had any doubt, let me present Tim Duncan to you.
The greatest power forward of all time—even though he's been playing center for Gregg Popovich more and more in recent years—was supposed to take a step backward this year. He was supposed to be phased out as Tiago Splitter began to play a more prominent role in the offense.
Yeah. About that.
All Duncan has done is thoroughly dominate on both ends of the court night in and night out, showing no signs that his motor is wearing down. The only thing that's been able to stop the Big Fundamental was a controversial day off to rest against the Miami Heat.
And he didn't even get the infamous "DNP-Old" distinction. It's time we accept that Duncan is a robot.
Western Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: Dwight Howard
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.4 points, 11.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.7 blocks, 1.1 steals, 20.88 PER
Dwight Howard has struggled during the opening quarter of his first season in Los Angeles Lakers garb. His free-throw shooting has been devastatingly poor at times, particularly in crucial fourth-quarter situations, he hasn't made the same defensive impact he made with the Orlando Magic and he's looked uninspired, even lethargic, on offense at times.
Yet he still holds down the fort in the Western Conference's starting frontcourt, even without the need to include a center due to the recent rule change.
That's because while Howard has struggled, he's struggled for Dwight Howard. Even during his adjustment period, D12 has been the best center in basketball, capable of making an enormous impact in every facet of the game on any given night.
Despite the negative attention his play has garnered, he's still averaging a decisive double-double, providing steady interior defense for the purple-and-gold-clad squad and trailing only Serge Ibaka, Larry Sanders and Roy Hibbert in blocks per game.
Western Conference Reserve Guards
Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors
Now that his ankles are healed and ready to go (cue the sound of Golden State Warriors fans furiously knocking on wood), Stephen Curry has had no problem establishing himself as an elite offensive option in the Dubs backcourt.
He's a tremendous sharpshooter, but he also possesses the shiftiness and creativity to be an effective facilitator for his offensively talented teammates.
That said, it's been his increased level of focus on defense that has allowed Curry to make the leap onto this All-Star roster.
James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
It's safe to say that James Harden is enjoying his role as the featured scorer on the Houston Rockets. As good as he was while winning Sixth Man of the Year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he's been even better alongside a struggling Jeremy Lin.
The bearded shooting guard's potency from the outside and knack for drawing contact while putting his head down and driving to the rim makes him a huge threat to post gigantic point totals on a nightly basis.
O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks
It's impossible to talk about breakout players during the 2012-13 season without bringing up O.J. Mayo, who has flat-out exploded since he escaped the Memphis Grizzlies bench and was handed the reins of the Dallas offense.
While he's undoubtedly deserving of a reserve spot through the first quarter of the season, it's going to be hard for Mayo to fend off Tony Parker and the rest of the snubbed guards in the Western Conference.
His 52.3 percent shooting from downtown on 5.6 attempts per game leads me to believe that his scorching start to the season is unsustainable. That will matter later, but not now.
Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
In the Eastern Conference, Russell Westbrook would be starting without question in the All-Star lineup, but he's doomed to a reserve spot in a Western Conference full of elite guards. Even though he's played like the second-best floor general in the NBA, he's going to be the first guard off the bench.
Westbrook has continued to score with a high level of proficiency for the Oklahoma City Thunder, recently starting to truly overcome a difficult adjustment period when James Harden's playmaking skills were replaced by Kevin Martin's spot-up talents.
He's also improved as a distributor, averaging a career-high 8.5 assists per game while lowering his turnovers to "only" 3.4 per contest.
Western Conference Reserve Frontcourt Members
Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
The All-Star team would just feel incomplete without a true seven-footer. That's where Marc Gasol comes in.
Even though Zach Randolph has produced more glamorous statistics and Rudy Gay has put up the highlights, Marc Gasol has been the steadiest presence in the Memphis Grizzlies frontcourt, emerging as the team's best player.
Gasol simply does it all. He hits his free throws, scores and rebounds effectively when asked to, defends well and sparks the offense with his guard-like passing skills.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
If any player from the group of frontcourt reserves was going to knock Dwight Howard out of the starting lineup, it was going to be Blake Griffin. However, he just falls a bit short because of his lack of dominant defensive skills.
Griffin will provide plenty of entertainment during the proceedings, but he's so much more than just a terrific dunker. His mid-range game and passing skills are both All-Star material, and he's always a threat to put up 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night.
Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies double up with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol both earning reserve spots in the Western Conference's frontcourt.
Z-Bo has played with an inspiring level of tenacity, crashing the boards at all times to the tune of 12.9 rebounds per game. His 17.6 points per contest aren't too shabby either, especially as he's been more efficient as the season has progressed, raising his field-goal percentage to 49.8 percent.
Eastern Conference Starting Guard: Rajon Rondo
Team: Boston Celtics
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 12.8 assists, 0.2 blocks, 2.0 steals, 20.48 PER
Rajon Rondo has been a man on a mission when it comes to racking up assists for the Boston Celtics during the 2012-13 season. Only two things have been able to stop him from hitting double-digits: an unfortunate altercation with Kris Humphries and the ensuing two-game suspension.
Other than that, Rondo has earned at least a dollar's worth of dimes in every contest. No disrespect to Steve Nash, Chris Paul and the other great distributors in the NBA, but Rondo's court vision is currently unparalleled.
While his playmaking is obviously worth focusing on, it's also helping overshadow another important aspect of Rondo's improvement. The poor-shooting point guard has been rather impressive from mid-range this year.
Taking 3.4 attempts per game from 16 to 23 feet, Rondo has made 49 percent of his attempts from that range (per Hoopdata.com).
Of point guards who have played at least 20 minutes per game, only Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez, Jeremy Pargo, Luke Ridnour, Jarrett Jack and Kyrie Irving have been more efficient there, and only Irving and Ridnour have taken more attempts per game.
Eastern Conference Starting Guard: Jrue Holiday
Team: Philadelphia 76ers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals, 17.73 PER
Jrue Holiday has been one of the true breakout stars of the 2012-13 season, and his stardom isn't suddenly going to fade away when/if Andrew Bynum ever makes his debut in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform. In fact, he's been good enough that we're rolling with two point guards here.
Remember, the All-Star teams don't need a point guard and a shooting guard in the starting five, just two guards.
If you're looking for a reason that the Sixers have stayed afloat while Bynum has been injured, look no further than Holiday. He's been everything that Doug Collins could have hoped for in an offensive sparkplug.
Although his shooting efficiency has taken a step back in recent games, Holiday is still scoring at a high level while picking and choosing his spots well. He's also run the Philly offense to perfection, hitting his teammates as soon as they get open and averaging 9.0 assists per game during the first quarter of the season.
Eastern Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: Carmelo Anthony
Team: New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 blocks, 0.9 steals, 24.07 PER
If the MVP award was handed out after just a quarter of the 2012-13 season, Carmelo Anthony would draw some consideration. It would take some serious voter fatigue for him to beat out LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but he is most definitely a bona fide candidate for the prestigious honor.
Melo still functions as a ball-stopper in the New York Knicks offense, but he's about as good as you can get in that role. Averaging 26.8 points on 45.5 percent shooting, the small forward masquerading as a power forward in Amar'e Stoudemire's absence has been locked in and dominant on the offensive end of the court.
Perhaps more impressive, though, is his defensive game. Melo has always had the talent to make a positive impact on the less glamorous end of the court, but the problem has been that it's, well, less glamorous.
This season, Anthony has played with a readily apparent focus on defense, and the effect has been palpable. According to 82games.com, Anthony is holding opposing small forwards and power forwards to PERs of 12.0 and 15.2, respectively.
Eastern Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: LeBron James
Team: Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 25.1 points, 8.9 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 1.3 steals, 28.99 PER
I'm almost tempted to just say that LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world, so he's clearly deserving of a spot in the Eastern Conference's starting five. However, that's not giving LeBron nearly enough credit.
Once more, the Miami Heat superstar has clearly stood head and shoulders above the rest of the league. While Dwyane Wade and other members of the defending champions have taken turns struggling, the reigning MVP has been a steady presence in the Miami frontcourt.
He's a triple-double threat every night and can affect the game in too many ways to count. Even if LeBron's shot isn't falling, you can be 100 percent sure that he'll manage to help out Miami with his other skills.
It's quite possible that James is currently the best offensive player and best defensive player in the world.
Eastern Conference Starting Frontcourt Member: Anderson Varejao
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.5 points, 15.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.5 blocks, 1.5 steals, 22.63 PER
Anderson Varejao is currently leading the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage, according to Basketball-Reference.com. It should go without saying that he's also at No. 1 in total rebounding percentage.
The amazing part of that is that offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding require completely different skills and mentalities. Despite that, Varejao has topped the Association in both categories.
Playing with Energizer Bunny-like energy at all times, the Wild Thing has been a force to be reckoned with in the Cleveland Cavaliers frontcourt. His tremendous play hasn't translated into wins for the Cavs, but let's not fault him for the fact that Dion Waiters and Alonzo Gee have been the go-to scorers in Kyrie Irving's absence.
Eastern Conference Reserve Guards
Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks
It would have been easy for Brandon Jennings to fade away in a Milwaukee Bucks backcourt that prominently features Monta Ellis, but the lefty has done the exact opposite: He's emerged as the true stud.
Jennings is always going to post a low field-goal percentage because of his tendency to play as a volume scorer, but he minimizes turnovers remarkably well while knocking down three-pointers and dishing out quite a few assists per game.
Plus, he's one of the better ball thieves that the Association has to offer.
Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors
The new point guard for the Toronto Raptors began his time in Canada by putting up MVP-like numbers. He was absolutely dominant in all facets of the game, and that's by no means giving him too much credit.
An ankle injury prevented him from continuing his torrid pace and beating out Jrue Holiday for the second starting guard spot, but he's returned from the injury with a vengeance. Although he didn't dominate quite as much as he did at the start of the season once he returned, Lowry has still played like a true All-Star.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
If I had to guess, I'd say that Dwyane Wade will end up being the most controversial player on the Eastern Conference roster.
Some people—both Miami Heat fans and non-Heat supporters—will claim that he should be starting. Others will say that he's been just a shadow of his former self and shouldn't even be considered a reserve.
Both groups have a legitimate argument, as Wade has had a season filled with perilously high ups and terrifyingly low downs. He hasn't been consistent while slowed by a never-ending stream of injuries, but Wade is still an ultra-talented shooting guard.
Despite the off-games, Wade is still averaging 19.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists with a PER of 21.24.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats
Make it one more first-time All-Star in the Eastern Conference, as Kemba Walker has enjoyed a massive improvement during the first quarter of his sophomore campaign, just one season removed from a rather lackluster rookie showing.
The former Connecticut Husky and NCAA champion has been the spark that the Charlotte Bobcats have needed in their attempt to rebound from the worst regular-season winning percentage of all time. Kemba is shooting more efficiently—though his 42.4 percent from the field could still use improvement—and he's dishing out dimes with reckless abandon.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the difference-maker on defense, but Kemba has contributed across the board and been the biggest reason for the Bobcats' quick run to seven wins, matching their entire total from the 2011-12 season.
Eastern Conference Reserve Frontcourt Members
Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks
While Jeff Teague and Josh Smith will determine how far the Atlanta Hawks go during their inevitable postseason run—if you aren't a believer yet, take a look at the defensive efforts of this Atlanta squad—Al Horford will continue to be the foundation.
The big man is incredibly consistent and solid in all areas. Whether he's banging away down low, hitting mid-range jumpers with enough success that we should consider calling him Automatic Al or dishing the ball to the host of three-point shooters on the roster, Horford has been terrific for Atlanta.
Although he's averaging a double-double, Horford won't usually blow people away with his game. He'll just outwork and outperform them.
Brook Lopez, C, Brooklyn Nets
We've always known that Brook Lopez was an offensive powerhouse at the center position, and his time in the Barclays Center hasn't done anything to change that perception.
The seven-footer is averaging 18.5 points while shooting 53.4 percent from the field and helping stretch the court out to open the driving lanes for Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace and the other options in the Brooklyn Nets offense.
However, it's his play in other areas that has allowed him to earn an All-Star spot here. Lopez's 6.8 rebounds and 13.4 total rebounding percentage leave a lot to be desired, but both numbers represent marked improvements.
He still needs a lot of work on defense as well, but he's not quite the sieve that he's been in the past. As a result, his offense is now able to overshadow his glaring flaws.
Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls
As if this Eastern Conference squad didn't have enough size and hair (yes, Anderson Varejao and Joakim Noah's mops more than cancel out LeBron James' receding hairline), we're adding Joakim Noah to the frontcourt reserves.
Noah has truly stepped up his game in Derrick Rose's absence, scoring effectively and dishing the ball around from the blocks to help the Chicago Bulls offense have just a bit more flow. And, of course, he's been a defensive force in the paint, anchoring Tom Thibodeau's defensive system.
The big man from Florida is one of those players whose impact is hard to quantify, but Noah's numbers are already impressive.