Every NBA Team's Top All-Star Candidate

Roy Burton@thebslineContributor IJanuary 14, 2013

Every NBA Team's Top All-Star Candidate

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    With voting for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game ending today, we'll soon find out which players will be representing the Eastern and Western Conferences next month in Houston.

    However, let's imagine for a moment that the NBA All-Star Game took a page out of the handbook for baseball's Midsummer Classic. What if every team in the league had one (and only one) All-Star? Managing 15 players on each side would make life difficult for the game's two head coaches, but it would create interest among fans of all 30 of the league's teams.

    Invariably, some deserving candidates would be left out, but it would be an interesting twist on a contest that is in desperate need of a jolt of energy.

     

    Note: All statistics are current as of Jan. 12.

Atlanta: Josh Smith

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    Current vote total: 131,508

    Now that Joe Johnson is in Brooklyn, Josh Smith and Al Horford are carrying the torch for the Atlanta Hawks this season. Both are worthy of an All-Star nod, but Smith narrowly edges out Horford as the Hawks' most worthy candidate.

    Smith's pure athleticism causes problems with opponents on both end of the court, and the 6'9" forward has improved his defense to the point where he may be in the discussion for league-wide All-Defensive honors. His name is already being thrown around for the All-Star Game, and it would be an achievement that's long overdue.

Boston: Paul Pierce

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    Current vote total: 205,096

    Even after 14 years, Paul Pierce is as consistent as he's ever been. If you're a Boston fan, then you love him. If not, then he's the man that you love to hate.

    Pierce is still trolling opposing teams' fans, still taking over during clutch time and is still the unquestioned leader of the Celtics. His per-36 minute averages (21.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists) are good for a player of any age, and he'll do a fine job representing the city of Boston at February's All-Star Game.

Brooklyn: Joe Johnson

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Joe Johnson isn't the Brooklyn Nets' leading scorer (that would be Brook Lopez), nor is he the team's most recognizable star (that would be Deron Williams). But when compared to the rest of his teammates, the 31-year-old shooting guard has the best All-Star resume this season, even after a slow start.

    Johnson's scoring average (17.1 PPG) is down nearly two points from 2011-12, but a hit in his numbers was to be expected as he made the transition from Atlanta to Brooklyn this offseason. He isn't having a great campaign this year, but Johnson is a solid All-Star candidate and is still one of the league's best shooting guards.

Charlotte: Kemba Walker

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Kemba Walker is coming into his own this year down in Charlotte. After a subpar freshman campaign, the 22-year-old Walker is averaging 17.6 points and 5.8 assists per game and has shown a willingness to take the crucial shot in clutch situations.

    The Bobcats are so bad (9-27) that most people haven't seen Walker put in work this year. He's definitely a player to watch, however, and while he won't make the actual All-Star Game, Walker is likely to put on a show in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Chicago: Joakim Noah

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    Current vote total: 158,743

    Joakim Noah's play coupled with the dearth of quality centers in the Eastern Conference makes it easy to make a case for him to receive his first-ever All-Star bid.

    The fact that there's no longer a separate and distinct "center" category on the ballot makes things difficult, but it's clear that the Chicago Bulls big man is one of the best interior players in the league (12.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.1 BPG). Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer may score more, but no player has had more of an impact on the Bulls this season than Noah.

Cleveland: Kyrie Irving

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    Current vote total: 308,878

    Kyrie Irving may have missed a handful of games this season, but leaving him off the All-Star team would be an absolute travesty. He's played all of 78 games at the pro level, yet he is dominating the competition on a nightly basis (23.6 PPG, 5.6 APG, 3.8 RPG).

    Make no mistake about it: Irving is the future of the NBA. He's already established himself as one of the league's 10 best point guards, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him as a legitimate MVP candidate in the very near future.

Dallas: O.J. Mayo

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    O.J. Mayo has cooled down a bit after a scorching hot start, but the 6'4" guard still has a resume worthy of All-Star consideration.

    Dirk Nowitzki has been the Dallas Mavericks' best player for the better part of a decade and a half, but offseason knee surgery on his right knee forced the team to turn to Mayo as the focal point of the Mavs offense.

    Mayo was originally brought in to serve as Nowitzki's running mate, but the former USC standout has performed well enough on his own merit (18.2 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.7 RPG) and is quite possibly the best free-agent pickup of the year.

Denver: Kenneth Faried

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Danilo Gallinari scores more, and former All-Star Andre Iguodala has more of an all-around game, but Kenneth Faried is the true All-Star for the Denver Nuggets.

    Very few plays are called for Faried, but the bruising second-year forward finds a way to make his mark each and every night (12.3 PPG, 10.2 RPG). Faried leads the Nuggets in Win Shares (4.2), and his Player Efficiency Rating this season (19.3) exceeds those of both Iguodala and Gallinari.

Detroit: Greg Monroe

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Greg Monroe is the best player on an otherwise talent-starved Detroit Pistons team. But even though he is All-Star-worthy, Monroe will never be able to lead his franchise into contention unless the Pistons complement him with a better supporting cast.

    The averages for the 22-year-old Monroe (15.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 3.2 APG) are pretty much in line with those from last season. He was a fringe All-Star candidate then, so it'll be interesting to see if he has enough supporters to represent the Pistons in Houston next month.

Golden State: David Lee

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    It's not often that a team can get out to a 23-13 start without much fanfare, but that's exactly what the Golden State Warriors have been able to do this year. While they have a diverse attack that showcases a number of players every night, power forward David Lee's All-Star credentials are better than those of his teammates.

    Lee has played at a high level in each of the past five seasons, and he even represented the Eastern Conference at the 2010 All-Star Game when he was a member of the New York Knicks. Omitting him from the team this year would be the ultimate snub, as his stats (19.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG) place him among the league's elite.

Houston: James Harden

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    Current vote total: 337,585

    Ever since he arrived in Houston mere days before the start of the season, James Harden has been everything that the Rockets have expected and more.

    He's easily assumed the role as Houston's primary scorer (26.5 PPG), and his ability to attack the basket has opened things up for a number of players, including Chandler Parsons and emerging forward Patrick Patterson.

    Once a sixth man for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden has already carved out his spot as one of the three best shooting guards in the NBA.

Indiana: Paul George

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    So far, the 2012-13 season has been Paul George's coming-out party. With knee issues putting Indiana forward Danny Granger on the shelf for the past few months, George has assumed the mantle and has matured into the Pacers' No. 1 option.

    His shot and shot selection (42.2 percent) both need work, but the 6'8" George is so athletic and versatile that he can fill up the stat sheet in a number of ways (16.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.6 SPG). At only 22 years old, George has a bright future—and several All-Star bids—ahead of him.

L.A. Clippers: Chris Paul

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    Current vote total: 651,893

    Some have argued that Chris Paul is the best basketball player in the city of Los Angeles, so it's only right that he would be the one Clipper most deserving of a spot in the league's midseason showcase.

    What isn't up for debate is whether Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. He's owned that title for some time now. Based on his start to this season (16.8 PPG, 9.7 APG, 2.6 SPG), he won't be relinquishing it any time soon.

L.A. Lakers: Kobe Bryant

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    Current vote total: 1,177,456

    Kobe Bryant is 34 years old, he has played for three different coaches this season alone and his three best teammates have all missed time with injuries. But none of that has stopped him from having the best season he's enjoyed in years.

    Bryant is leading the NBA in scoring (30.0 PPG on a career-high 47.2 shooting percentage from the floor) and has been the saving grace during the turbulent storm that has been the Los Angeles Lakers' season. Much was expected out of the Lakers' Big Four in 2012-13, and so far Bryant has held up his end of the bargain.

Memphis: Zach Randolph

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    Current vote total: 111,046

    You can pencil Zach Randolph in for a double-double just about every night: The 6'9" power forward already has 24 of them through 34 games and is on pace to finish with about 58 on the season.

    Four players score in double figures for the Memphis Grizzlies, but none is as important as Randolph, whose ability to work the glass (11.7 RPG—third in the NBA) places him among the league's elite. He's even turned it up a notch on the defensive end as well: His 2.2 Defensive Win Shares this season are ninth-best in the Association.

Miami: LeBron James

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    Current vote total: 1,151,304

    There's no need to make a case for LeBron James—he does a pretty good job of that every time that he steps out onto the court.

    James is the best player in the world today, and his numbers this season are flat-out ridiculous (25.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.6 SPG, 54.1 FG%). Miami will be well represented at the All-Star Game (Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are almost certain to be in attendance), but James is the brightest star in the NBA's constellation.

Milwaukee: Brandon Jennings

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    Current vote total: 56,826

    The differences between Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are relatively slight, but the All-Star nod goes to the latter for his marginally better numbers.

    Jennings has the capability of being a 25 PPG scorer in the "right" situation, but he's had to tone down his game a bit playing alongside the Ellis. Even so, his numbers (18.5 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.1 SPG) are pretty good for a co-No. 1 option who stands at just 6'1".

    While the jury's still out as to whether it will work in the long run for the Milwaukee Bucks, Jennings is still the same dynamic player that he's always been.

Minnesota: Nikola Pekovic

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Under normal circumstances, Kevin Love would be the Minnesota Timberwolves' All-Star representative. But after breaking his right hand twice this season, Love hasn't been on the court much, allowing the criminally underrated Nikola Pekovic to build on the success of his 2011-12 season.

    There isn't much not to like about Pekovic: His numbers are decent (16.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG), and he plays solid defense. The casual NBA fan may not know much about the Montenegrin star, but Pekovic may soon become a household name if the Timberwolves can ever make noise in the postseason.

New Orleans: Ryan Anderson

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    There aren't too many positives when it comes to the New Orleans Hornets this year, but Ryan Anderson (who was acquired on the cheap this offseason) is one of them.

    Anderson is one of the Association's best stretch 4's: a power forward who can rebound (6.9 RPG) and also happens to be a threat from beyond the arc (a league-leading 112 three-pointers this year). There isn't much style or flash to Anderson's game; he's just a solid, hard-working contributor whose offensive skill set makes him a very unique weapon.

New York: Carmelo Anthony

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    Current vote total: 1,054,099

    At 28 years old, Carmelo Anthony may be in the midst of the best season he's had since joining the league back in 2003. The 6'8" forward is averaging a career-high 29.3 points per game and is the primary reason why the New York Knicks are legitimate title contenders this year.

    Back in October, few would have had the Knicks pegged at 24-13 at this point in the season, but Anthony—a viable MVP candidate—has been the catalyst for New York's impressive start. It's a foregone conclusion that Melo will receive both All-Star and All-NBA honors when all is said and done.

Oklahoma City: Kevin Durant

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    Current vote total: 1,088,797

    Obviously, both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook deserve the right to defend the honor of the Western Conference at the All-Star Game. However, if only one player can represent each team, then it's the Durantula who gets the free trip to Houston.

    Durant may not win his fourth consecutive scoring title this year, but he still may be the toughest man to cover in the Association. His numbers are up virtually across the board from last season (28.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 1.6 SPG), and he's shown no signs of being content with his current skill set. The fact that he's only 24 years old should make Oklahoma City Thunder fans extremely happy.

Orlando: Arron Afflalo

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    As recently as a month ago, Glen Davis (before his injury) would have been Orlando's All-Star selection. And if the game were held in March instead of February, Nik Vucevic may have had time to strengthen his case for a nomination. As it stands, though, Arron Afflalo is the man most deserving of a trip to the NBA's midseason showcase.

    After four years as a complementary player in Denver, Afflalo now has the green light as Orlando's go-to guy. He's adapted to the role well (17.8 PPG, 3.7 PRG, 2.9 APG) and is one of the league's most underrated wing players.

Philadelphia: Jrue Holiday

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    Current vote total: 66,514

    In just his fourth NBA season, Philadelphia 76ers point guard Jrue Holiday is quickly establishing his position as one of the league's bright young stars. After a disappointing 2011-12 that saw his averages dip across the board, Holiday has excelled this year, averaging 18.7 points, 8.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game.

    At this point, it would be nearly impossible for Holiday's name to be omitted when the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves are announced. Holiday is one of just two players in the league who averages 18 points and eight assists per game (Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is the other).

Phoenix: Marcin Gortat

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    No one on the Phoenix Suns truly stands out from the rest, but Marcin Gortat would be the team's All-Star representative given the fact that he leads the team in both rebounding (8.9 RPG) and field-goal percentage (53.5 percent).

    Quite frankly, it's hard to choose a standout player on a 13-26 team where no one averages 15 points per game. It's not hard to see why the Suns are 13 games below .500, and they'll need to make a deal before the trade deadline if the franchise truly wants some star power on the roster.

Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge

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    Current vote total: 111,156

    While Damian Lillard is a fantastic talent who will win the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year Award, LaMarcus Aldridge is still the standard-bearer for the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Aldridge is a relatively quiet, unassuming talent who puts up 20 and eight every night without much fanfare. He's one of the best young players who rarely finds himself on national TV, but after earning his first All-Star bid last year, Aldridge is just now receiving the accolades that he rightfully deserves.

Sacramento: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    Even with his troubles both on and off of the court, DeMarcus Cousins' skill set is too impressive to dismiss. The 6'11" center has only scratched the surface of his talent, and he's already one of the league's best centers (17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG).

    With a few years of experience and a better supporting cast, Cousins could be the best big man in all of basketball. If he's an All-Star-caliber player now, just how dominant can he be when he finally learns how to control his emotions and focus his energies entirely on the game itself?

San Antonio: Tony Parker

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    Current vote total: 128,966

    When ranking the best point guards in the NBA, it usually takes a little while before Tony Parker's name comes up. It shouldn't.

    The San Antonio Spurs playmaker is one of the finest players in the league (19.5 PPG, 7.1 APG), and his ability to effectively run a dangerous Spurs attack year after year is a testament to his talent. But to be fair, power forward Tim Duncan also has a very potent argument for All-Star honors this year, and both he and Parker may find themselves in the actual game next month in Houston.

Toronto: DeMar DeRozan

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    DeMar DeRozan's best chance of participating in the actual All-Star Weekend would be in the Slam Dunk Contest, but if every team could send a representative to Houston, the 23-year-old guard would get the nod for Toronto.

    DeRozan (17.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is having a very good season, but he has generated very little buzz due to the fact that he plays north of the border. If he keeps developing at this rate, however, it will be hard for voters to ignore him, regardless of where he plays.

Utah: Al Jefferson

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    The Utah Jazz are a relatively bland team, but center Al Jefferson is a dominant force whose talents can't easily be ignored.

    The 28-year-old Jefferson leads Utah in both points (17.2 PPG) and rebounds (9.8 RPG) and pairs with power forward Paul Millsap to form one of the most potent frontcourts in the NBA. Jefferson's name doesn't carry much weight on a large scale, but he's clearly an All-Star-caliber player.

Washington: Jordan Crawford

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    Current vote total: Unknown

    With Washington's two best players (John Wall and Nene Hilario) having missed a large portion of the season with injuries, figuring out who the Wizards' All-Star candidate should be is a difficult task.

    Jordan Crawford is probably the guy (15.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.0 RPG), but he no longer starts for a team that's 6-28 on the year. Bradley Beal is the only other viable candidate, but he shoots less than 37 percent from the floor. So Crawford gets the nod by default.