The starters for the 2013 NBA All-Star Game will be announced January 17th, and it seems that the final frontcourt spot in the Western Conference is going to come down to Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan.
Both players have had very good seasons, and both are forwards for top-three squads in the NBA, but the way it's looking, only one of them will be grabbing a starting spot.
Vote totals were last announced on January 3rd, and it showed Griffin with a substantial, yet potentially surmountable lead. Griffin's vote total was approaching 600,000, while Tim Duncan was about 240,000 votes behind him.
If we were to take the players that "should" be starting, it would be Kevin Durant (who is second behind Kobe Bryant in Western Conference voting), Duncan and Griffin. Dwight Howard isn't having the year that either of the other two are having.
So who is having the better season? Well, that's going to take a few questions before we can really nail down an answer.
As far as being a certifiable All-Star goes, there are a lot of qualifications a player must meet. Obviously it helps if he's on a good team, but the impact he makes on a team can be taken into consideration regardless of the team's record.
Overall, it's wise to look at how productive a player has been statistically, while balancing a more intangible-based observation at the same time.
Of course, you can't ignore the fact that this game is for the fans, that's why they vote. There is some intrinsic value in how fun it is to watch a guy play basketball.
That being said, the most basic place to start is to look at each player statistically.
Tim Duncan is coming into the home stretch averaging 17.1 points per game on 50 percent shooting. He's piling on 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and a combined 3.5 blocks and steals, all while committing just 1.7 fouls per game and turning the ball over twice.
Griffin, meanwhile, is averaging 17.7 points on 53.4 percent shooting, dropping in 8.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and a combined 2.1 steals and blocks.
Simply put, Griffin is having the better offensive season and Duncan is having the better defensive season.
Both players have shown an impressive amount of improvement compared to last season—only when you're talking about Duncan it's not so much improvement as it is a "turn back the clock" type season.
The thing that impresses me most about Duncan is the fact that he is anchoring San Antonio's defense without the help of an above-average frontcourt player to manage the post alongside him.
Duncan's improvement is almost solely responsible for bringing defense back into the forefront for the Spurs, as San Antonio's defensive efficiency ranking moved from 10th in the league last season to fourth this year.
In reality, he is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Meanwhile, Griffin has shown a ton of improvement compared to a season ago in a way that makes it seem he's taking the necessary steps to really become a much better player in the coming seasons, and it's starting this season.
Pretending he doesn't have a post-game is a part of the past. Few players have as strong a drop-step, and his hook shot is becoming a piece of beauty.
On top of that, his mid-range shot is steadily improving; he's shooting 38 percent from outside of the paint, compared to 34 percent two years ago.
Griffin takes high-percentage shots directly at the rim because he can. He's able to get there as easily as any other big man in the NBA.
Going further, Griffin is the perfect example of a guy who needs to be in the All-Star Game, if only because his game is so entertaining.
If we're talking about a guy who can contribute to a team, become an unquestioned leader and is just a stellar basketball player overall, then Duncan deserves to have the start.
However, this is an All-Star Game. These two players have had very different, yet similar seasons. Both have played a huge part in the success of a very good basketball team, and both have their strengths and weaknesses at this point in their career.
I'm more impressed with what Duncan is doing, but an All-Star Game isn't some sort of lifetime achievement award; it's a goofy-midseason game meant to be entertaining.
Based off that definition of the game, Griffin is your All-Star Starter, as he should be. He's not only the fan choice, but he's got a game that lends itself to these situations.
The fans are voting for the guy they most want to see, and that's what the All-Star Game is. Griffin has played good enough for people to withhold their outrage when he is inevitably starting over Duncan, so it shouldn't be too much of a big deal.
However, if we want to get into a debate over who is more deserving of an All-NBA First Team selection, then the choice is definitely Duncan.