Is he worthy this year? All-Star Game selection is relative, so while Pierce is currently averaging 19.7 points per game, his most since 2009, whether or not he makes it is more a reflection on how his colleagues are doing.
And given the new non-center format, a small forward like Pierce is now lumped in with every non-guard on the ballot. Here’s a list of all the possible players likely to contend for a spot: Anderson Varejao, Tyson Chandler, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Garnett, Al Horford, Josh Smith, Joakim Noah and David West.
The three frontcourt players currently leading in fan voting are James, Anthony and Garnett. Of the seven reserve players selected by the coaches last season, five of them were either forwards or centers: Bosh, Andre Iguodala, Roy Hibbert, Luol Deng and Pierce.
The other two reserves were point guards Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams. With Derrick Rose (a starter last year) not in the picture this season, Rondo will likely slide into the starting position while Williams will remain a reserve option. The only other guards who might make it this year are Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving and possibly Joe Johnson—although including him here is more a sign of respect than rewarding his worst start to a season since 2003.
Of the frontcourt players, this leaves roughly five spots for seven contenders: Horford, Pierce, Varejao, Chandler, Noah, West and Smith. Of the guards, the 20-year-old Irving is averaging 23.8 points per game and currently has the third-highest usage percentage in the league, but he’s missed 11 of Cleveland’s 25 games, and is the point guard of a five win team.
It isn’t fair, but going on precedent there’s virtually no chance the Cavaliers are awarded with two All-Star representatives (more on Anderson Varejao later).
Holiday is sixth in the league in minutes and third in assists, putting up a career-best PER and leading a team that lacks Andrew Bynum to a 12-11 record. But I don't see him being selected along with Johnson. Regardless, the guard situation is less cluttered than the frontcourt.
And with that said, here's Pierce’s direct competition:
Al Horford and Josh Smith
Already a two-time All-Star (2010, 2011), the 26-year-old Horford is currently posting career-best rebounding and scoring numbers. Since he’s on an Atlanta Hawks team that’s surprised quite a few people on its way to a 14-7 record, Horford will likely be selected.
Josh Smith, Horford’s teammate, has never made an All-Star team, and this season that streak should continue. Despite being a key member of a winning team, Smith is posting a career-worst 47.7 percent true shooting percentage, and his PER is down four points from where it was last year when he really deserved his first All-Star Game appearance. While Horford should make it, Smith’s opportunity has passed.
Kevin Garnett is one of the 20 greatest basketball players who ever lived and he remains an integral piece of the Boston Celtics at the age of 36, but to vote him as an All-Star starter over Varejao just wouldn’t be right.
The Cavs center is grabbing 14.6 rebounds per game, which leads the league, and is scoring a career-best 13.8 points per game with a 21.9 PER (which is also a career high, sits at 16th best in the league and is better than Dwyane Wade and teammate Kyrie Irving). Varejao is grabbing an absurd 17.1 percent of all the offensive rebounds available to him while on the court (tops in the NBA).
The Cavaliers have only won five games this season, but without Varejao that number would surely be even lower.
Chandler ranks 10th in the league with a 23.3 PER and is leading the NBA in field-goal percentage, true shooting percentage and effective field-goal percentage.
He has never made an All-Star team in his 11-year career, but his presence on both ends of the court for one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams is undeniable. It’s difficult to imagine him not making the team.
Chris Bosh has made the All-Star Game every year since 2006 and is currently the second-most important player on a title-contending team. Here’s going out on a limb and predicting he will be going to Houston this February.
Noah has never been named an All-Star, and his contextual value to Chicago is usually seen less in a box score, and more in elite defensive rotations (he leads the league in Defensive Win Shares, per Basketball-Reference.com), unparalleled energy and existence as the backbone of Chicago’s entire identity. All of that makes him a very good player, but not quite All-Star level.
Already a two-time All-Star (2008, 2009), David West might be in the middle of his finest season. With Danny Granger out, West quickly filled in the team’s scoring void and is currently averaging four more shots and five more minutes per game than he did last season (as of December 16, he’s taken one shot less than Pierce).
Much like Noah, West’s impact on the game is more important to his team than impressive when compared to other leading scorers around the Eastern Conference. But his 50 percent shooting from the field might make up for it.
Paul Pierce's Chances
Now let’s move onto Pierce, Boston’s leading scorer and primary offensive weapon. For a majority of the league, the numbers he’s producing on a nightly basis would be viewed as incredible, but for the 35-year-old future Hall of Famer it’s been disappointing: 41.4 percent shooting from the floor, 35.1 percent from behind the three-point line, 19.7 points per game, 18.7 PER.
In an effort to make up for his faulty shooting, Pierce is getting to the line like a madman, averaging 6.7 attempts per game with 27.5 percent of all his offensive production coming at the line (up from 24.8 percent last season).
With over a month still left to vote, it’s probable that Pierce will raise his shooting percentages more toward his career norms, further strengthening his case as a worthy All-Star.
The conclusion here is that with Al Horford, Anderson Varejao, Chris Bosh and Tyson Chandler all locked in for reserve spots and David West teetering on the border, it’ll be close as to whether Pierce makes the cut. His numbers are superior to those of Joe Johnson and West, his two prime competitors.
But if he continues to play steady over the next few weeks, all signs point to him making an 11th All-Star weekend trip.