Final Predictions for Full 2014 NBA All-Star Team
All of the stars come out to play when the All-Star teams are assembled.
Well, that won't technically be the case in 2014, as injuries have severely weakened the talent pool from which the Western and Eastern squads will be culled. But it's not like there's a shortage of players who deserve to be featured when the rest of the NBA goes on break in February.
You'll see that soon enough as we run through the full expected rosters.
"Expected" is the keyword in that sentence, as these picks aren't based on what should happen, but rather what will happen. Thanks to fan voting, there's a huge difference.
The reserves can be selected based on merit, but popularity still matters when making up the starting lineups.
Just keep that in mind, because I'm not saying Kobe Bryant should be an All-Star starter, only that he will be one.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference and are current as of Jan. 16.
Eastern Conference Guard: Kyrie Irving
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
All-Star Appearances: One
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 21.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.7 PER
Kyrie Irving has looked brilliant some nights and downright incompetent on others, but there's no denying he's one of the most entertaining players in the NBA.
The 21-year-old point guard isn't afraid to show off his handles when the occasion calls for it, and that's quite often for a Cleveland Cavaliers team that often struggles to create offense. When it's in Irving's hands, the ball usually just looks like it's on a string.
Oh, and he can shoot the lights out of the gym when he heats up.
Irving might be having trouble maintaining a consistent level of domination—what 21-year-old can?—but his upside is immense and he continues to justify the No. 1 pick the Cavs spent on him a few years back.
The young point guard is a deserving All-Star, even if he should be a reserve so that John Wall can take over this spot.
Eastern Conference Guard: Dwyane Wade
Team: Miami Heat
All-Star Appearances: Nine
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 22.1 PER
Dwyane Wade isn't declining, so get that notion out of your head.
Although he's averaging "only" 19.2 points per game, that's a product of more limited playing time and a Miami Heat system that preaches sharing the ball whenever possible. If it makes you feel better, Wade is shooting a career-high 54 percent from the field this season.
Plus, he actually plays defense. According to 82games.com, the 31-year-old has spent time guarding three different positions during the 2013-14 season, and he's done pretty well against each of them.
With Kobe Bryant nursing his injured knee, Wade has emerged—once more—as the best shooting guard in basketball. While James Harden may get a lot of hype for his offensive talent, the Miami Heat 2-guard is the top two-way presence at his position.
It's not necessary to have a shooting guard in the starting lineup for an All-Star Game, but Wade still belongs.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Paul George
Team: Indiana Pacers
All-Star Appearances: One
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 22.0 PER
The year of Paul George continues.
He'll undoubtedly make his second All-Star appearance at the tender young age of 23, and he's a deserving starter. After emerging as a bona fide MVP candidate while steering the Indiana Pacers to the top record in the Eastern Conference, George is a justified starter as well.
The small forward had his coming-out party during the 2013 postseason, culminating in the now-infamous moment when LeBron James showed him some respect at midcourt with a post-buzzer high five. But the party hasn't stopped.
George has improved his shooting stroke, shown off better handles and dominated both sides of the court throughout the 2013-14 campaign. There's no longer any doubt about his superstar status.
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: Carmelo Anthony
Team: New York Knicks
All-Star Appearances: Eight
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 26.0 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 23.4 PER
If you're looking for a scapegoat for the New York Knicks' miserable season, please avoid Carmelo Anthony.
He's been playing great basketball throughout the campaign, even if his teammates can't stay healthy and/or effective around him. Blame J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Andrea Bargnani, Raymond Felton, Chris Smith, Mike Woodson, James Dolan and a whole other litany of names before you settle on 'Melo.
The scoring stud has actually been an unselfish player this year, even if his assist totals don't show it. That's more a testament to the number of shots his supporting cast has made rather than a negative in the ledger for 'Melo.
"He’s doing a great job. He’s making the right play," Raymond Felton told ESPN New York's Ian Begley about Anthony after helping beat the Phoenix Suns with a triple late in the fourth quarter, one that was the result of a 'Melo assist.
"He understands that we need him to score, but he understands now that he can make the extra pass to us. He has confidence that we’re going to hit that shot for him."
The win totals in New York might not show it, but 'Melo really has been doing "a great job."
Eastern Conference Frontcourt: LeBron James
Team: Miami Heat
All-Star Appearances: Nine
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 29.0 PER
Usually the best player in the world gets to hold down an All-Star spot, and such is the case for LeBron James. The only thing weird here is that he'll be competing with a Western Conference big man for the opening tip thanks to the frontcourt rules.
James is the de facto center in the East's starting lineup, simply because the three best candidates for starting spots are all small forwards. It happens, and it'll make for an entertaining opening.
Although there are rumors that he's been coasting through the regular season, LeBron has still been an unbelievably beneficial asset for the Miami Heat. He's shooting a jaw-dropping 58.7 percent from the field, and he's still right up there in the chase for the scoring title.
LeBron continues to do everything you could want from a basketball player, and he's only getting better. Whether or not he's coasting, it's going to be scary to see what he can do when he truly turns on those jets.
Eastern Conference Reserves
The Eastern Conference is left in a rather weak state thanks to injuries and a migration of talent to its stronger half. But that doesn't mean we're left completely devoid of players who deserve to be featured in the midseason classic.
At point guard, it's John Wall who takes the cake. The Washington Wizards floor general really should be starting over Kyrie Irving, but he hasn't gained the same league-wide appeal that his fellow No. 1 pick enjoys. Kyle Lowry also gets the nod at point thanks to the work he's done since Rudy Gay was traded away from the Toronto Raptors.
Fellow Raptor DeMar DeRozan earns the honor for the improvement he's shown this season, both as a distributor and a scorer, but he's not the only shooting guard included. The Orlando Magic's Arron Afflalo began the season in scorching fashion, and while he's cooled off, he's still averaging around 20 points per game.
Millsap has done all the little things for the Atlanta Hawks, including stretching his range beyond the three-point arc. For the Miami Heat, Bosh hasn't gotten much attention, but he's continued posting efficient numbers and thriving on the offensive end.
Finally, Hibbert has anchored the Indiana Pacers' league-best defense by protecting the rim as well as anyone. He's by far the best center in the conference and would have been a starter under the old rules that called for two forwards and a true big.
Western Conference Guard: Stephen Curry
Team: Golden State Warriors
All-Star Appearances: None
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 23.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 21.6 PER
From All-Star snub to All-Star starter.
Curry continues to prove that he's so much more than a deadly shooter. And yes, he still counts as one since he's firing away from downtown 8.2 times per game and is still shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Only CP3 has dished out more assists per game than Curry, who routinely displays impressive and creative vision with the passing skills to make the hypothetical dimes into real ones. He also trails only Michael Carter-Williams and Russell Westbrook in rebounds per game for a point guard, thanks to his impressive knack for anticipating the bounces off the rim and grabbing uncontested boards.
Curry has morphed into an all-around stud.
Western Conference Guard: Kobe Bryant
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
All-Star Appearances: 15
2013-14 Perb-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.2 blocks, 11.3 PER
This is the danger of fan voting.
Although Kobe Bryant has quite the track record, calling him an All-Star in 2013-14 is pretty silly. The Mamba has suited up in only six games this season, and it's not like he was particularly effective during those contests.
While helping the Los Angeles Lakers go 2-4, Kobe shot just 42.5 percent from the field, turning the ball over 5.7 times per game and posted an 11.3 PER that's significantly below the league-average mark of 15.
Does any of that point toward an All-Star bid?
It shouldn't, but No. 24 is still so insanely popular that he's going to earn a nod as a starting member of the Western Conference squad before—probably—bowing out of the game and handing his spot to a more deserving player.
Hell, Kobe himself even said to vote for younger players.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Kevin Durant
Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
All-Star Appearances: Four
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 29.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 29.7 PER
Kevin Durant—the NBA's leading scorer by a rather large margin—has been playing like a man possessed ever since Russell Westbrook went down after a Christmas Day blowout against the New York Knicks.
Although it hasn't been enough to keep the Oklahoma City Thunder rolling along in the brutally difficult Western Conference, Durant has averaged 34.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game without his standout point guard helping him out.
And it's not like he's just been forcing up shots.
During that 10-game stretch, Durant has shot 48.9 percent from the field, 31.8 percent beyond the three-point arc and 87.9 percent at the charity stripe. He's also turned the ball over only 2.1 times per contest.
Durant has even risen to the No. 1 spot on NBA.com's MVP ladder.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Blake Griffin
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
All-Star Appearances: Three
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 22.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks, 22.2 PER
Blake Griffin belongs in the All-Star Game, even if he's not the best power forward in basketball.
With Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge falling back to earth a bit, there's now a four-man class of elite 4s: Griffin, Love, Aldridge and Anthony Davis. How you rank the quartet depends largely on personal opinion, and mine leaves the Los Angeles Clippers in the bottom spot.
But still, he's the clear-cut favorite to hold down a starting spot due to his insane popularity, his penchant for creating highlights and his role as a star player on a Los Angeles team.
If Griffin made the squad during each of his first three seasons, he certainly deserves the honor in his fourth. After all, this is easily his best campaign, as he's developed post moves, started to hit jumpers and free throws and is playing better defense than ever before.
Western Conference Frontcourt: Dwight Howard
Team: Houston Rockets
All-Star Appearances: Seven
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.7 PER
Dwight Howard is no longer the best center in the NBA, but he's still the most popular.
Even after multiple Dwightmares, the 28-year-old big man is the favorite to rise above the rest and earn the final frontcourt spot in the Western Conference. In an ideal world, this spot belongs to Kevin Love (my first choice), LaMarcus Aldridge or Anthony Davis, but that's not going to happen.
Howard is still having a fantastic season. There's no doubt about that.
Not only is he averaging a hyper-efficient 18.1 points per game, but he's trailing only DeAndre Jordan, Love and Andre Drummond on the rebounds leaderboard, and he's still been a solid defensive presence. Though he's no longer a true contender for Defensive Player of the Year, he's still gluing everything together for the Houston Rockets.
Amazingly enough, this will be the third year in a row that Howard has started the All-Star Game for a different team. Moses Malone came close in the late '80s, and although I haven't gone through every roster, I can't think of anyone else who has matched that feat.
Western Conference Reserves
The Western Conference is unfairly stacked, as you'll see from the laundry list of deserving players who will inevitably be snubbed.
With the reserves, let's start in the frontcourt, where the NBA's top three power forwards all failed to gain entry into the starting lineup thanks to Blake Griffin's insane popularity. Kevin Love is the best of the bunch—his stats aren't empty—but LaMarcus Aldridge isn't far behind.
They're both in without question, but the third power forward will be tougher. That's Anthony Davis, who has taken massive strides for the New Orleans Pelicans and developed into a two-way stud who's putting up MVP-caliber numbers.
And how about the NBA's best center?
That's not Dwight Howard anymore, but rather DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 23.4 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Sacramento Kings.
With four big men already listed as reserves, that means there just isn't enough space for snubs like Dirk Nowitzki, who certainly deserves to be an All-Star and might get in if there are enough injuries. But he isn't one now.
In the backcourt, there are more tough decisions.
James Harden, the best healthy shooting guard in the conference, is a lock. Tony Parker and Damian Lillard aren't, though. They get in, but only by the skin of their teeth due to a myriad of talented point guards who all deserve a little recognition.
Biggest Snubs (yes, there are a lot of them): Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, Tim Duncan, Monta Ellis, Ty Lawson, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, Zach Randolph, Isaiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook