Very Early Predictions for 2013-14 NBA All-Star Teams
The All-Star game is a chance for the NBA's premier stars and best players to get together and show off for their fans. But it's also an opportunity for those fans to debate endlessly about who actually belongs on the team.
We see it every year.
"Player X was snubbed! Why isn't Player Y part of the festivities? It's ridiculous that Player Z is starting!"
Well, let's get the conversation kick-started with some way-too-early predictions about the 2014 contest.
I'll give you a hint right now: This is an impossible task, as there are plenty of deserving candidates in an increasingly deep NBA who have to be left off because there just aren't enough spots. Trust me when I say there are at least 20 more players who I'd love to recognize.
As you compile your own rosters, let me encourage you to remember two keys: Positions within the frontcourts and backcourts don't matter, and the starting lineup is ultimately a popularity contest.
With those rules in mind, who's on your squad?
East Starting Guard: Derrick Rose (4th Selection)
Team: Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: N/A
Derrick Rose is way too popular to miss out on the All-Star game when he actually gets onto the court. This is a guy who ranked fifth in jersey sales back in April despite not having played even a second for the Chicago Bulls.
When Rose returns, he'll be at 100 percent. As he proved last year, he'd continue sitting out if that wasn't the case.
And 100 percent of Rose is a scary, scary point guard. He's a dynamic offensive threat with an improving jumper, one that will help keep defenses honest before they're subjected to even more of his constant assaults on the rim.
Last time Rose played a full season, he was an MVP. And when I checked, most MVPs tend to be All-Stars while they're still in their primes.
It's a little shocking that the Chicago floor general is only 24 years old, and that gives him plenty of time left before he even gets to his prime. Rose might not win MVP again, but he's a near lock for the All-Star game and a strong favorite for one of the starting guard spots in the Eastern Conference.
East Starting Guard: Kyrie Irving (2nd Selection)
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 21.4 PER
Irving is one of the premier offensive players in basketball, capable of scoring in a variety of ways and generating enough highlights that he's going to be a mainstay on SportsCenter for a long time. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Irving was the eighth-best isolation scorer in the NBA during the 2012-13 campaign, and he put on one hell of a show at the last All-Star festivities.
He's exactly the type of player who—if he can stay healthy—dazzles fans on a consistent basis, and that's the type of player that generates All-Star votes.
Irving is going to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to one of the final postseason spots in the Eastern Conference, and a starting spot on the All-Star squad will come along with that accomplishment.
East Starting Frontcourt Member: LeBron James (10th Selection)
Team: Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER
The best player in basketball is also one of the most popular players in the Association, and that's a combination that results in an absolute lock for the starting lineup. LeBron James will be striding onto the New Orleans Arena's floor as part of the first unit on February 16, 2014, and there's not even a question about it.
No one can come close to matching him in the Eastern Conference.
Period. End of story.
East Starting Frontcourt Member: Carmelo Anthony (7th Selection)
Team: New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER
How could I possibly leave the league's leading scorer out of the starting lineup?
There are a number of other forwards gunning for this spot in the frontcourt, but they're all well behind Carmelo Anthony, who should continue to play like one of the five best players in the NBA during the 2013-14 season.
Over the past season, 'Melo showed off some improved defense and a heightened sense of awareness when he decided to pass. Expect that trend to continue as he seeks to play team basketball more than ever before, passing on individual glory for his best possible shot at a championship.
Add in his immense popularity that stems from both his play and the massive market that is New York City, and you can see why he's another 100-percent lock for the starting five.
East Starting Frontcourt Member: Joakim Noah (2nd Selection)
Team: Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.1 blocks, 18.1 PER
This will prove to be the most heavily contested spot in ether conference's starting lineup.
Lopez is the least intriguing of the three, simply because his weaknesses are that much more glaring. The Brooklyn Nets big man is awful on the glass, and his defense—while improving—still isn't up to snuff. As for Roy Hibbert, he's showing signs of a massive offensive leap, but he still doesn't have the same all-around game that Noah possesses.
The Chicago Bulls center is even better than Hibbert at the Indiana Pacers' calling card. Noah and Marc Gasol stand at the top of the rankings in terms of big-man defense, and Noah's offensive versatility makes up for his lack of scoring prowess.
Quite simply, Noah is the best center in the Eastern Conference.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers (second selection)
An emerging two-way star, Paul George could very well assert himself as one of the 10 best players in basketball during the 2013-14 season.
As long as he cuts back on the turnovers and starts hitting his three-point shots with even more frequency, he's going to live up to the hype. And there's a lot of hype.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers (second selection)
A true 7-footer, Roy Hibbert emerged as a dominant big man during the second half of 2012-13, and his production carried over into the postseason. Against the Miami Heat, he was dominant on defense and still had enough energy to knock down mid-range jumpers with frightening consistency.
Hibbert was seriously considered for the starting spot that Joakim Noah currently holds down, and he's going to be a near lock for the reserves.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks (third selection)
After making the All-Star squad in both 2010 and 2011, Al Horford has experienced a two-season absence from the midseason classic. That changes in 2014.
Without Josh Smith on the Atlanta Hawks roster, the team belongs to Horford. He's going to use that opportunity to post the best numbers of his career, all while keeping Atlanta firmly within the realm of playoff squads.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets (second selection)
Brook Lopez made the All-Star squad for the first time in his career last season when he was selected as the replacement for Rajon Rondo, whose torn ACL prevented him from playing in the contest.
This year, no such stipulations will be necessary. Playing in a star-studded Brooklyn Nets starting five, Lopez will be able to focus on what he does best: scoring and blocking shots. And he'll excel at it.
Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics (fifth selection)
Let's basically consider Rajon Rondo the sixth man here. He's fully deserving of a starting spot in the lineup, but he's not going to get one because two more popular players also play his position.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (10th selection)
Is Dwyane Wade slipping? Nope, but his role is changing.
The Miami Heat shooting guard is playing more efficient offense than ever before, offsetting the decline in the number of opportunities he's receiving. The fans might not recognize that, but the coach certainly will.
John Wall, Washington Wizards (first selection)
The only first-time All-Star in the Eastern Conference, John Wall will use the 2013-14 season to emerge as a truly elite point guard. He has to in order to justify the massive extension handed to him by the Washington Wizards.
Wall played like an All-Star after he returned from injury last year, and now he won't be sitting out the beginning of the year.
West Starting Guard: Chris Paul (7th Selection)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.4 PER
The Western Conference point guards are a rather stacked bunch, but Chris Paul still reigns supreme.
CP3 is one of the best facilitators, scorers and defenders in the NBA, and that's a combination that few players can ever hope to claim. He's the true leader of the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that should be in the competition for the top spot in the Western Conference from the day the 2013-14 season opens.
Plus, Paul is one of the more popular players in basketball. He may not dunk with anything even resembling frequency, but it's almost impossible not to respect his heady, consistently outstanding play.
The floor general hasn't missed an All-Star game since 2007, and he won't in 2014 either. However, his grip on a starting spot is beginning to get a little more tenuous thanks to the presence of so many other stellar point guards in the West.
West Starting Guard: Kobe Bryant (16th Selection)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.0 PER
This is another one of those no-doubters.
Let me pose a question for all of you. Which is more likely: Kobe Bryant missing out on a starting spot in the All-Star game before he retires or the All-Star festivities ceasing to exist?
Honestly, I'm going to roll with the latter. Kobe is too respected and popular among the vast realms of basketball fans across the world for him to ever lose out in a popularity contest. Even if his skills decline due to both age and the recovery from his Achilles injury, he's still going to start this midseason contest.
You can go ahead and pencil Kobe into the starting five for the West right now. If you want, feel free to use a pen.
West Starting Frontcourt Member: Kevin Durant (5th Selection)
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER
Another mortal lock for the Western Conference's starting lineup, Kevin Durant has emerged as the second-best player in the NBA. And since LeBron James plays for the Miami Heat, that makes KD the No. 1 guy in the West.
Everything about Durant is perfect for the All-Star game.
He plays incredible basketball, highlighted by his incredible scoring prowess. Durant's set of skills have allowed him to post historically great offensive seasons before even turning 25 years old.
Additionally, the Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the premier teams in the Association, which means Durant gets even more attention and hype. Add in his media presence and hilarious commercials, and you can see why he's such a perfect fit for the roster.
The small forward isn't as big a lock as Kobe, but he ain't far behind.
West Starting Frontcourt Member: Blake Griffin (4th Selection)
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 22.4 PER
Here's where it's important to remember that the All-Star game's starting lineups are ultimately giant popularity contests.
Blake Griffin is going to start for the West again, but that doesn't make him one of the three best frontcourt players in the conference. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
Don't get me wrong, though. Blake is still an incredibly talented player who has a rather underrated game at this stage of his career. It's one of those cases in which he's been called overrated so many times that the opposite is now true.
Griffin isn't a defensive ace, but he's an offensive menace with a developing post game and mid-range jumper. And he's kinda good at dunking the ball. Last time I checked, that was worth just as many points as a 20-footer, so it's actually impressive that he can dunk it home so often.
Expect big things from Griffin this year, as his development is so crucial to the Los Angeles Clippers' inevitable pursuit of the top seed in the postseason.
West Starting Frontcourt: Dwight Howard (8th Selection)
Team: Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks, 19.4 PER
When healthy, Dwight Howard is still the best center in basketball. No disrespect meant to Tim Duncan and Marc Gasol, both of whom enjoyed better seasons in 2012-13 than D12.
Just think about what the big man did during his one and only season with the Los Angeles Lakers. While the campaign was filled with plenty of turmoil, and the Lakers weren't as successful as they originally hoped to be, Dwight was still an impressive player.
He fought through a back injury that could have completely curtailed the production of most mortals, and he ended up playing fantastic defense, putting up efficient offensive numbers and leading the league in rebounds per game.
No big deal.
Now just imagine what he's going to do while healthy, happy and on a roster that's perfectly tailored to his talents.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (first selection)
The Eastern Conference has one first-time All-Star, so the Western Conference needs one as well.
Enter Stephen Curry, who was snubbed from the game last year and should have absolutely no trouble using his three-point shooting to earn the first big honor of his career.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (15th Selection)
Don't doubt Tim Duncan. Just don't.
This isn't common knowledge, but he and Father Time hang out on the weekends and go bowling. That's why old age doesn't affect him.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (second selection)
I'm still trying to wrap my head around how Marc Gasol missed out on the All-Star game in 2013. After all, he was the best defensive player in the league, and that was already clear by the time the teams were selected.
No such mistakes will be made this year, especially if Gasol begins to take more command over the Memphis Grizzlies offense and asserts himself in the scoring column.
James Harden, Houston Rockets (second selection)
James Harden making the reserves in the West is about as obvious as it gets. This is the season he becomes the best shooting guard in basketball, but the popular presence of Kobe Bryant is still going to prevent him from working his way into the starting lineup.
Still, expect to see the bearded Rocket early and often during the New Orleans-based festivities.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (third selection)
Kevin Love is back.
Trust me, he'll be back to his old, dominant form throughout the 2013-14 season and should challenge for a 20/15 on a nightly basis while competing for the league lead in rebounds per game. I admittedly left him out when this was first published, but that was an oversight on my part, hence the change.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (sixth selection)
Seeing as Gregg Popovich coached the All-Star squad in 2013, Tony Parker won't have the luxury of his head coach's influence during the selection process, even if the San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the West.
It won't matter, as Parker has continued to improve well into his 30s and exited the 2012-13 campaign as the second-best point guard in basketball.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (fourth selection)
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has improved during each and every season of his career, and 2013-14 won't prove to be any different. Fueled by the return from his meniscus injury, Westbrook is going to play even more angrily.
Don't expect this offensive dynamo to miss out on a chance to posterize a few people in New Orleans.
Note: Dirk Nowitzki originally appeared here, but he was removed when commenters alerted me that I had overlooked Kevin Love. For that, I apologize.