There are a few checkpoints in every NBA season.
Opening day obviously comes first, the Christmas Day games always capture national headlines and the NBA playoffs is what the entire process builds toward.
If there is a midway checkpoint, outside of the NBA All-Star Game itself, it is the annual complaining we get to do about the fan vote for the All-Star starting lineups. Far too often, the bigger name with a longer track record will get the nod over the upstart player who deserves recognition for the year he is having.
This season is no different, as even Kobe Bryant himself recognizes that he doesn’t belong anywhere near the game, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles:
Kobe: "With all due respect to the fans that voted me in ... you got to reward these young guys for the work that they’ve been putting in"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) January 24, 2014
Bryant has played a whopping six games this season and still got a spot in the starting lineup. For the record, the complete starting lineups are as follows:
The eastern conference All-Star starters! pic.twitter.com/AioSFzIu69— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) January 24, 2014
The western conference All-Star starters! pic.twitter.com/6TZGdB8WxV— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) January 24, 2014
Bryant’s inclusion or not, Sean Highkin of USA Today says that we should give the fans a little bit of credit:
Maybe we should give the fans a little credit — they don’t always make the obvious picks. This year, Curry beat out Chris Paul (who is also hurt, but is one of the most recognizable names in the sport). And Love beat out Dwight Howard, who had seemed like a lock. In both cases, the more deserving player beat out the bigger name.
Highkin may be right, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some snubs this year. Let’s dig into a few of them.
In case you couldn’t tell from the aforementioned starting lineups, the Eastern Conference will be sans a center in the starting lineup.
That is unfortunate for Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers because he has been the best center in the conference all season.
He is on the short list of Defensive Player of the Year candidates (and may even be the front-runner) and has anchored the league-best defense the Pacers bring to the court every night. In fact, he is averaging 2.59 blocks a game in only 30 minutes of action and alters plenty of other shots by simply extending his wingspan in a straight-up fashion.
Who is the bigger snub?
Furthermore, Hibbert should also be rewarded for the role he plays on the NBA’s best team. There is no way Indiana would be pacing (pun not intended) the way in the East without its big man.
The argument can be made that LaMarcus Aldridge is the best power forward in the NBA this side of Kevin Love, but alas, he will have to settle for a reserve spot on the Western Conference roster.
He is a walking double-double and is averaging 24.2 points and 11.6 rebounds a night. He is also a solid passer when double-teams come his way and has a very impressive 23.5 PER. This isn’t an argument against Blake Griffin’s inclusion, who has had a great season as well and has completely expanded his offensive arsenal, as much as it is pointing out how great Aldridge has been this year.
Just like Hibbert, Aldridge should be rewarded for Portland’s impressive season. The Trail Blazers are the surprise team in the league this year and deserve at least one starter in the All-Star Game, be it Aldridge or Damian Lillard.
If the Trail Blazers are the surprise team in the Western Conference, the Toronto Raptors are the surprise squad in the East.
Kyle Lowry has been the centerpiece for this Raptors squad, as Grantland’s Zach Lowe points out when making the case for Lowry’s inclusion in the starting lineup:
Toronto fans are clamoring for DeMar DeRozan to make the team, and while he does have a case, Lowry has been the team’s best player—and probably the best all-around point guard in the Eastern Conference this season. He’s taken flight offensively since the Rudy Gay deal, and he’s found a way to reconcile his havoc-creating gambles on defense with Dwane Casey’s larger scheme.
Lowry has posted nightly averages of 16.1 points, 7.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.61 steals and has gradually improved as the season goes on. For as talented as Dwyane Wade is, he has missed too many games to have a starting spot in the backcourt.
Lowry deserves it.