NBA All-Star Game 2013: Picking the Reserves for LeBron, Kobe & Co. in Houston
We've reached the midway point of the 2012-13 NBA season which means the league's premiere athletic showcase is just weeks away, to be held on Feb. 17 in Houston.
The fans have done their due diligence via tweet and text choosing each conference's starting five, released last week.
Representing the Eastern Conference is Rajon Rondo, making his fourth consecutive selection, but first as a starter. Joining Rondo in the backcourt is Dwyane Wade, an All-Star every year since 2005.
In fact, Wade hit the game-winner the last time the classic was played in Houston back in 2006. Our next starter was MVP of that game—LeBron James, who will start his ninth straight NBA All-Star game.
The Western Conference is headlined by Kobe Bryant, a four-time All-Star MVP winner. Joining him is three-time reigning scoring champ Kevin Durant, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris "Cliff" Paul, 2011 Slam Dunk champion Blake Griffin and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
The starters are often the easy choices, the no-brainers. Picking the reserves is where it gets tricky.
Each conference's coaches are asked to select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards, meaning they can be chosen without regard to their position. They vote only for their conference and cannot vote for their own players.
So, let's fill out the rosters. We start with the East.
*All statistics current as of 1/22/13.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
The East's first guard spot must go to Kyrie Irving.
Last season's Rookie of the Year has been spectacular all season and plays with a poise beyond his years. His talent and maturity have given Cleveland fans a reason to cheer post-LeBron.
His season averages of 23.7 points, 5.7 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 39.9% from behind the arc have him already among the game's offensive elite.
The Cavaliers have just 11 wins and Irving missed 11 games with injury, but his talent is undeniable.
Look for Irving to play in his first of many All-Star games next month.
Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks
Brandon Jennings has been a fringe All-Star for a couple of seasons now. Unfortunately, the occasional dud performance playing for a mediocre team has kept him from serious consideration.
This year is different. Jennings is leading a Bucks team currently holding the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, but just 2.5 games out of fourth.
Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday is having a great year for a Sixers team just trying to tread water with Andrew Bynum out, but I'm going to recognize team success here as the Bucks are six games ahead of Philly in the standings.
Finally, Jennings has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week twice already this season.
The league has taken notice. We'll see if the coaches follow suit.
Tyson Chandler, New York Knicks
This one has been a long time coming.
Tyson Chandler is averaging a double-double (points and rebounds) for the first time since 2007-08, leads the league in field goal percentage by a wide margin and is anchoring the defense of a winning team.
Add all of this up and it equals a first All-Star selection for the former NBA champion and gold medalist.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls
2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose has yet to play this season as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL in his left knee.
However, Chicago is just three games back of Miami for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The continued growth of Noah is the key reason why.
Noah is averaging better than 12 points, nearly 11 rebounds and more than two blocks per game.
Throw in career highs in assists (4.0) and free throw shooting (78.4%), and Joakim should be in Houston next month.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
Maybe this should go to P.J. Carlesimo. After all, the Nets are 11-2 since he took over coaching duties from Avery Johnson just days after Christmas.
Leading the way on the court is Lopez, whose play should have him representing the Nets rather than perennial All-Stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Brooklyn's big man is averaging 18.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game while sporting the league's fifth-best PER.
It would be the first such honor for the fifth-year center.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Statistically, this may be viewed as a down year for Bosh. His career-low 7.1 rebounds per game has certainly garnered its share of criticism.
However, his 1.4 blocks per game match a career best rate and his 54.5-percent field goal shooting is easily a career high.
Bottom line: He is a nightmare matchup that opposing coaches must game plan for each time they face Miami.
Look for Bosh to make his eighth straight All-Star team.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
I can't blame you if you expected a different Paul in this spot. Paul Pierce has been an admirable choice 10 times in his career.
But Paul George deserves to represent a formidable Pacers team in Houston. He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game while shooting 38.6% on threes.
His two-way talent likely has 2009 All-Star Danny Granger on his way out in Indiana.
He edges out Pierce based on team performance as the Pacers have six more wins than Boston.
Now, on to the West.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some picks are crystal clear. Russell Westbrook joining teammate Kevin Durant in Houston next month is just that.
Westbrook and LeBron James are the only two players in the league who rank in the top 10 in both scoring and assists.
Couple that distinction with the fact that he plays for the best team in the NBA and it's easy to see why Westbrook will make his third consecutive All-Star team.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
Much like the team for which he plays, Tony Parker tends to fly under the radar. This hurts him come All-Star time as he has made just four teams in his career.
Make that five.
Parker is averaging 19.7 points and 7.3 assists for the 33-win Spurs. Career best marks on three-pointers (40-percent) and free throws (82-percent) should give him the nod.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
After missing the All-Star game for the first time in his career last season, Duncan has positioned himself for a return with strong play.
He is averaging 17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks per game. His 82.6-percent mark from the foul line is a career best and he is leading the league in defensive rebounds, all while playing just over 30 minutes per game.
Look for the Big Fundamental to earn his 14th All-Star nod.
David Lee, Golden State Warriors
There are several reasons the Golden State Warriors are relevant again.
Along with a healthy Stephen Curry, Lee's production has the Warriors 10 games over .500 and threatening to shake up the Western Conference playoff picture.
With per game averages of nearly 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, Lee is a dominating offensive force for an up-and-coming squad led by second-year head coach Mark Jackson.
This would be Lee's second selection after making it with the Knicks back in 2010.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
This seemed a forgone conclusion after his first game with Houston back on Halloween.
James Harden has been scary good for the Houston Rockets, averaging a shade under 26 points per game to go along with 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals.
The Rockets have stumbled recently, losing eight of their last 10, but retain the eighth seed in the West at 22-22.
The leader of the resurgence has been Harden, last season's Sixth Man of the Year.
What a difference a year makes.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
These numbers would be hard to deny on a losing team.
Instead, Stephen Curry's 20.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 3.2 three-pointers per game serve as the catalyst behind a 25-15 Warriors team currently fifth in the Western Conference.
Per ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, Curry is on pace to do something never before accomplished in a single season: average three made three-pointers along with six assists per game.
This would mark Curry's first All-Star selection.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
I feel like he's fighting teammate Marc Gasol for this last spot. After all, as Memphis sports the fourth-best record in the West, they need an All-Star.
Randolph's monster double-double of 16.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game just edge out the more refined game of Gasol, who averages more assists, steals and blocks.
However, Z-Bo's considerable advantages in scoring and rebounding, along with a slight edge in shooting percentage earn him his second All-Star birth and first since 2010.
Just as some players will be celebrating after Thursday's announcement, others will be sulking.
Heading that list in the East will be Jrue Holiday, who is averaging 19 points and nine assists for a struggling Philadelphia team. Joining Holiday will be Celtics all-time leading scorer Paul Pierce.
In the West, Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie teammate Damian Lillard both make strong cases for a spot on the team. O.J. Mayo is having a personal renaissance in Dallas, but not quite enough to get to Houston.
Finally, Anderson Varejao (14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds per game) is hurt but was well on his way to making his first All-Star game before going down with a leg injury, then suffering a blood clot in his right lung that ended his season.
Whoever makes it to Houston, the game promises to add to the already rich history of the NBA's midseason exhibition.