Way-Too-Early Predictions for 2013-14 NBA All-Star Starting Lineups
Is it way too early to be predicting the starting lineups for the next All-Star Game?
Nah, it’s never too early—there is actual NBA basketball being played, and after all, the big event is only three months away!
Mark your calendars or iPhone entries or whatever. The 2014 All-Star weekend kicks off on Friday, February 14, with the main show on Sunday. The setting will be the New Orleans Arena in—where else—the city of New Orleans, home of the Pelicans.
Predicting the starters isn’t really a matter of naming your favorite player or even who you honestly feel is the best of class. Sure, there can be happy coincidences. But let’s be real—it’s more about anticipating the votes, trends and star power.
The All-Star Game is about fan preferences, and the numbers tend to be concentrated in major urban centers. If your favorite player happens to hang his uniform in the land of corn fields or shuttered factories, good luck.
Does this seem too cynical or calculated? Noooo—of course not! Here then is an absolutely unbiased collection of way-too-early predictions.
Eastern Conference Guard: Derrick Rose
It’s the year of the great comeback for Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls. There have been questions to be sure. Rose started the season with aches and pains—some residual and some not, perhaps. The parts of the body are interconnected, and in the same way, so is the body to the mind and the game itself. His shooting efficiency was poor, and he often seemed to be pressing too hard.
Still, it's Rose's time—he came on gangbusters on Saturday night, helping to hand the Indiana Pacers their first loss of the season. The confidence in his body is coming back, and the confidence from his fanbase remains off the charts.
Rose will probably waltz into a starting spot for the Eastern All-Stars, simply based on his continued popularity. It's more than that, however—he's one of the true stars of the league, an athlete who's all about the game on the court, not the drama off it.
Rose has a clear path ahead to New Orleans Arena on Sunday, February 16, 2014.
Eastern Conference Guard: Dwyane Wade
Dwyane Wade clearly isn’t the player he once was. The years of crashing and burning in the name of pure hustle and desire have taken their toll. Where he once limped like a bow-legged cowboy, he now looks to be in constant, nagging pain.
Still, Wade isn’t ready to pack it in. He’s a champion and still starting every game for the Miami Heat. His 33.2 minutes per game aren’t exactly geriatric, and his scoring, while way off his average, is still respectable at 16.7 points per game.
Wade’s fanbase is still enormous, and there’s little doubt that he’ll be starting alongside teammate LeBron James at the All-Star Game this winter. How many minutes he’ll log are certainly questionable, but it would be strange to see him not starting in an All-Star Game.
Time is catching up fast for Wade, but it hasn’t caught him yet.
Eastern Conference Guard: Honorable Mentions
Kyrie Irving deserves to be a starter, but there’s only so much room at the top. It’s an age of colliding eras—Wade will be 32 at the next All-Star Game, but his body seems older. Irving’s only 21 and already in his third year in the league. The perpetual motion machine can change direction on a dime and back again—he’ll just as easily cross over and go to the hoop or dish to the open man.
The 2012 Rookie of the Year for the Cleveland Cavaliers will be in New Orleans come February. It’s just a question of ranking. The safe bet is that Wade starts once more.
The future, however, belongs to Kyrie.
Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in late January and was out for the rest of the season. That meant missing the All-Star Game, of course. The Boston point guard had received the second-most backcourt votes in the Eastern Conference. He's a giant question mark this time around. Rondo was recently cleared for limited practice, but a timeline for his full return hasn't been established.
Is there a path back to the All-Star Game this season? It seems doubtful, but Boston sports fans are extremely committed, and they will be filling out ballots.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: LeBron James
We might as well get this one out of the way right now—if there is any such thing as an absolute and supremely correct lock for a starter slot, it’s LeBron James. This is a man at the top of his game and entering the discussion for all-time, not just All-Star.
How good is James? Off the charts. Can he get better? It’s not a question of “if”—it’s simply what he now does, each and every year.
Once feared for pure athleticism and scoring ability, James has become the total package. He defends, he sets screens and he gets teammates involved. When the Miami Heat need to be carried, he carries them. Yet he’s also become the kind of leader who can inspire the bench to take over and allow him his justly deserved breaks on the bench.
The bridge that James needed to cross was the championship bridge. Now that he’s reached the promised land twice, he’s determined to visit again. James is now in Michael and Kobe land, possessing not only the talent and ability, but the relentless kind of drive that separates the great ones from the greatest ones.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony
If LeBron is the absolute and unquestionable King, then Carmelo Anthony is a probable starter with too many question marks. Nobody questions his talent and ability—Melo can light it up and take over games when he wants to. There it is, the knock that just won’t go away: “When he wants to.”
Put Anthony on an All-Star court, and he’s at his best—engaging, confident and lighting it up under friendly skies. When it comes down to the grind of the long season, however, and the greater good of a team, Anthony can start to lose his form. He can fade like a chameleon.
There’s a complexity to Anthony that doesn’t always serve him or his team best. This season is like too many others—he gets in the news for all the wrong seasons. It’s a free-agency year for Melo, and that has become a front-and-center story for the New York Knicks.
Can somebody take the starter slot away from him this year? It’s possible, but not probable. Melo’s in a top media market and was second only to LeBron last year in Eastern All-Star votes. It's different for some of the up-and-comers. Case in point: Paul George, a guy with no lack of desire, or a pure defensive beast like Roy Hibbert. You might not see Hibbert swatting opponents' shots in New Orleans, but wouldn’t it be fun?
Come February in New Orleans, you probably will see Anthony smiling and chatting alongside his fellow superstars. The question: Where will he be during the playoffs?
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Kevin Garnett
Warrior. That’s what you need to know about Kevin Garnett. He’s long in the tooth now, and his days as an All-Star are probably coming to an end. Getting old doesn’t mean he’s any less fierce, however. He’s a 15-time All-Star and an All-Star MVP (2003). This season, he’ll probably make it No. 16.
Garnett’s more of a power forward than a true center, but he’ll play both positions and won’t complain. This year in New Orleans, he’ll likely start at the 5. He’s not a lock, but he’s deserving.
Garnett was part of a big trade this summer, coming to Brooklyn from Beantown. Will a new zip code cause a splitting of votes? It’s not likely—Celtics fans were always rabidly supportive of Garnett, and this wasn’t a trade he sought. Similarly, fans in Brooklyn can appreciate the fact that he arrived and got right down to work.
It's also hard to ignore the fact that Garnett had the third-most frontcourt votes in the East last season. He could have two fanbases pulling for him.
I would also be remiss not to mention one of the all-time comic gold tag teams—Garnett and Craig Sager. Can you say bar fight?
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Honorable Mentions
Chris Bosh had the sixth-most votes in the Eastern Conference last year and became a default starter after Rondo hurt his knee. It’s hard to see Bosh pulling those numbers this time, but he’s certainly in the conversation. The 6’10” lefty is chipping in nearly 16 points per game for Miami through the first nine games of the season.
The Eastern All-Stars are often a bit light on size. Brook Lopez gives you that plus a little more. The Brooklyn big man isn’t exactly a board-gobbler, but he can block some, and he can certainly make his shots.
The Indiana Pacers forward entered his fourth year in the league fresh off a huge five-year extension from head executive Larry Bird. Last season, Paul George was tabbed as the league’s Most Improved Player. This year, the question is whether he can make the jump from a star to a starting All-Star.
George’s scoring numbers have improved each and every year. He’s currently putting up 23.3 points per game, to go along with seven boards. It’s more than just digits, however—he was a galvanizing force during the Eastern Conference Finals last season, giving as good as he got against LeBron.
One of the hurdles that George faces is Indiana's small-market share. We can state a player's worth until we're blue in the face, but remember, starters are voted in. For now, he'll probably get in as a reserve, but it may be the last time for quite a while—he’s that good, and the country is noticing.
Roy Hibbert’s the longest shot on the board here and by a lot.
Still, he brings a raw defensive intensity that’s refreshing to see, averaging 4.6 blocks per game this season. That’s a monster number. The Pacers' Hibbert could evoke memories of Dikembe Mutombo’s All-Star appearances if he gets in. It’s certainly possible—he was an All-Star reserve in 2012.
Like his teammate Paul George, however, Hibbert is affected by market numbers.
Western Conference Guard: Chris Paul
This one’s pretty much a given, and that’s saying a lot—the Western Conference is absolutely loaded with superstar guards.
Chris Paul changed the dynamic in Los Angeles when he arrived. The Clippers had already gone from being the brunt of jokes to a team that was starting to matter. Paul upped the ante in a big way—there was suddenly a very real shift in perception as well as in the win-loss column at Staples Center.
Paul is a floor general in the classic point guard sense—he’s confident, vocal, can score at will and is supremely gifted at scattering the dimes. He's leading the league in assists for the third time with 12.6 per game through the early part of the season.
Another stat that doesn’t get as much press is CP3’s accuracy from the charity stripe. He’s shooting .969 through the first 10 games of the season—another league-leading stat.
At barely 6'0", Paul combines a low center of gravity with a willingness to go hard into the teeth of the defense—he’ll kick it out to the open man or draw the foul, which quite often turns out to be an and-1.
Western Conference Guard: Kobe Bryant
Let the howls of protest begin—Kobe Bryant isn’t even back in uniform, and he’s already being anointed as an All-Star starter? Yup, he is. Bryant is not only that good, but he’s an NBA legend in the way that so few are. The Mamba has so many titles, awards and milestones that they don’t even need to be repeated anymore, although they will be, until your ears bleed.
A five-time NBA champion, Bryant is one of the few players who will likely retire in the same place where his professional career began—Los Angeles. And for those wanting to get cute about it—no, wearing a Hornets cap on draft day does not give that story a different ending.
Bryant dropped 81 points once in a game of basketball. Bryant saw both Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard enter and leave the land of Purple and Gold (Shaq left with a lot more hardware). When Bryant finally does return to action this season, he’ll be looking to catch up with Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. That’s casual.
He’ll be an All-Star starter once again if he has to do it on one foot.
Western Conference Guard: Honorable Mentions
OK, this category’s fairly ridiculous—the West is littered with worthy candidates. Take your pick from any one of several, and if you think your favorite should have been mentioned but wasn’t, you’re probably right.
By some abomination that can only have to do with the above-referenced cast of thousands, Steph Curry wasn’t an All-Star last year. Not as a starter and not even as a reserve. He led his team into the playoffs, though, and also dropped 54 points one wintry evening under the white-hot glare of Madison Square Garden. Included was 11-of-13 from outside the arc.
In what world is Russell Westbrook not an All-Star starter this season? He wrecked his knee in the playoffs last season for one—and is now making his comeback. Well sure, but how’s that different from guys like Rose or Bryant? It just is, that’s all.
We don’t make the rules—there’s a finite number of starters, and it’s hard to see Westbrook pushing past Bryant and CP3 in the votes tally.
One of many players from Houston in the mix, James Harden could easily find himself on the All-Star floor with teammates Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin in February. Harden’s hard as nails, and he’s popular with fans. He’s putting up 25.2 points per game as a starter and, as usual, getting to the charity stripe on a regular basis.
He faces an uphill battle to catch Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant in the votes race, however.
Houston's Jeremy Lin is an intriguing candidate. His most blazing moment in the sun happened during that brief, glorious Linsanity stretch in New York City two seasons ago. Last year, he had the fifth-highest All-Star vote total in the West.
Did it help that the game was held in Houston? Probably. Will fans vote him in as a starter this year? Doubtful, but possible. Is he having another great season? Absolutely.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is just one of those great basketball stories. It’s not about excuses or riding the tail of a reputation. By some fluke he wasn’t picked No. 1, and you know how that went. Durant shrugged it off, perhaps letting it quietly fuel him, perhaps not. You wouldn’t really know—he just put his head down and played.
At 6’9”, Durant’s a guy who can spread the floor and play multiple positions. He was switched from shooting guard to small forward when Scott Brooks took over as head coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.
He’s a shifty-smooth mover, can get to the basket faster than you might suspect and will make you pay from distance at will. He’s a tough cover from beyond the arc due to his length—he’s going to make the shot or draw the foul or both. He’s also money at the line—he does that little shoulder shimmy and then he sinks them.
For all his talents, the end of the game is often Durant’s most memorable moment. According to research done with Basketball-Reference, he's made more game-tying three-pointers in the final 24 seconds than any other player since 2007.
He’ll be an All-Star starter again on February 16, 2014.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Blake Griffin
So far in the young season, the Clippers’ Blake Griffin is picking up where he left off. His numbers are up across the board from last year, but right on track with seasons one and two. He’s averaging a healthy double-double, and while no longer embracing the Lob City label, he’s still throwing it down.
There’s a new coach in town; Doc Rivers has a championship pedigree and has been instilling concepts of defense and fundamentals. Griffin seems to be embracing his new role; he’s posting up more on offense and gambling less on the other end.
None of that will matter during the All-Star Game, and it probably won’t make a difference when it comes to voting. An argument can be made that there isn't the same level of giddy excitement surrounding Griffin this season, but it’s really searching for an argument—Griffin is a solid All-Star choice.
As for the obligatory dunk pic, you didn't really want to see him setting a screen, did you?
Western Conference Frontcourt: Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard’s career trajectory has been on an uncertain path in recent years. Unhappy in Orlando, he traveled to the land of Purple and Gold, where he promised big things, recuperated from back surgery and clashed with teammate Kobe Bryant. This past summer, Howard moved once more, signing with the Houston Rockets as an unrestricted free agent.
It’s a brand-new season, and Howard is making a difference in Houston, averaging a double-double and leading the league in rebounds at 14.2 per game. The seven-time All-Star is a virtual lock to return as an All-Star starter, where his irrepressible smile and Superman athleticism will no doubt please the fans.
Are things all peaches and cream now in Houston? Not exactly. Center Omer Asik is reportedly unhappy and asking for a trade. To be fair, it wasn’t totally unexpected—there’s only so much room in the low post, and Howard is, after all, the top big man in the league.
At some point, the stars will all align for Howard. He’s been looking for a perfect fit, a team that can contend for a title and also afford him the enjoyment of the game once again. When February rolls around, the fun factor won’t be an issue. That’s what the All-Star break is all about—pure unadulterated happiness.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Honorable Mentions
One of the enduring success stories in sports, Tim Duncan just keeps on ticking. He was selected to his 14th All-Star appearance last winter, and hopefully he gets in again as a reserve. Duncan doesn’t bring negative baggage and hasn’t traveled the league in hopes for something better. He’s played his entire career with the Spurs and will no doubt retire there. It’s all about the work and his team for the Big Fundamental.
His numbers aren’t what they once were, either on the court or with fans who vote for these things. Still, Duncan matters to the game.
If some other players’ numbers are down, Kevin Love’s are up. He’s having a better-than-solid year for the Timberwolves, scoring 26.8 points per game with 13.6 boards through 11 games. This is Love’s sixth NBA season, at age 25.
If he was in the East, he’d probably be an All-Star starter. But this is the West and the land of tall trees.
Here’s your wild-card entry. Anthony Davis is on fire this year. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Davis is putting up just shy of 21 points per game along with 11 boards, 3.6 blocks, 2.1 steals and 1.5 dimes. The unibrow is already in New Orleans, of course, as a member of the Pelicans.
Davis was one of the headliners in the Rising Stars Challenge at the last All-Star Game. He’s now ready to be measured for his big boy pants and the main event.