Now that the starting lineups for the 2013-14 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans have been decided by the fans and officially announced, it's time to tackle the reserves for each conference.
If you're unfamiliar with the format, here's how the selection process works.
The All-Star reserves are chosen by all the head coaches representing their respective conferences. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own players. The coaches will vote for two backcourt reserves, three frontcourt reserves and two "wild card" choices that can play any position.
If a player is injured and can't play in the All-Star Game (like Kobe Bryant may be), the commissioner picks an injury replacement.
Got all that? Great. On to the All-Star reserve predictions!
It was a bit surprising to see Stephen Curry beat out both Chris Paul and James Harden in the fan vote, but after being snubbed from the All-Star team last year, the fans took it upon themselves to make sure Curry would be in this year's game. Good job, fans.
But as for the player starting alongside Curry? Bad job, fans. Kobe Bryant doesn't deserve or particularly want to be in the All-Star Game this year, as he'd rather defer to the younger players who have actually, you know, played this season.
Here's what Bryant told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com:
With all due respect to the fans that voted me in, I certainly appreciate that, they know how much I appreciate that, but you got to do the right thing as well. My fans know you got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in.
While we wait and see if Bryant is able to sit out or not, the reserve choices are pretty straightforward.
Before injuring his shoulder, Chris Paul was averaging 19.6 points a game and a league-leading 11.2 assists with a 27.3 PER. He's still the best point guard in the league, and the coaches won't hesitate to vote him in, even without a full slate of games under his belt.
Harden is a pretty easy choice next to Paul. Even though he's having a slightly worse campaign than last season, no player has ever averaged at least 24.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 5.4 APG and missed the All-Star Game. Harden won't be the first, especially since the Rockets have been one of the conference's best teams.
Again, it was a bit of a surprise to see Dwight Howard not get voted into the All-Star Game as a starter, but we probably shouldn't underestimate how many Lakers fans are spread across the world. It's not like Kevin Love doesn't deserve it either, as he's putting together one of the most impressive statistical seasons of this generation.
All that being said, Howard should be a lock for one of the reserve spots, as the coaches will probably take a more measured look at his impact in Houston this year. He's still one of the most dominant two-way players in basketball, even if just about everyone has soured on his antics at this point.
Joining Howard in the frontcourt reserves will undoubtedly be LaMarcus Aldridge. Although he's been on the snub list in the past, Portland's incredible first half of the season will factor in heavily here. The fact that Aldridge is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and PER won't hurt either. He's a no-brainer selection.
The third frontcourt reserve spot is a bit trickier. There are multiple deserving candidates, but Dirk Nowitzki is probably the choice here. Coaches typically defer to veterans in these situations, especially when it's for one of the game's legends.
This isn't just a nod to sentimentality, though. Nowitzki is having one of the best shooting seasons of his career, and his scoring numbers per 36 minutes have actually been better than his career averages. The fact that Dallas is also currently a playoff team will probably be enough to give him the nod over bigger stat guys like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, but it will surely be close.
Surprised? Remember, these are the coaches voting. No organization and players garner more respect than the San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker do. They are the gold standard.
The argument is pretty clear for Parker. The West will likely need another guard given the injuries to Bryant and Paul, so at least one of the wild-card choices will come down to Parker and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard.
While Lillard will certainly win some votes for Portland's play this year and all his game-winners, the per-game stats are close enough for coaches to justify siding with the veteran. Lillard has been the more effective scorer, but Parker has been the better distributor. It's very, very close, and that's before putting Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic into the fray. When in doubt, though, go with the more established star. That's Parker.
That leaves Duncan to duke it out with the likes of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and all the guards. That's pretty tough, but something tells me the coaches will treat this a bit like a lifetime achievement award and give the last spot to Duncan over the younger players who have multiple seasons left in their careers.
Statistically, Duncan isn't too far off from what he's been in the last five seasons, but that pales in comparison to the raw numbers Cousins is throwing up every night.
Still, it's not like Duncan is robbing someone of their rightful spot—he's one of the best two-way players in the league, even at 37 years old. It doesn't hurt that he plays for a winning team as well, which is something Cousins and Davis can't say.
The biggest threat to Duncan's spot may still be Davis, though, since the All-Star Game will be in New Orleans. I don't know how much the coaches (or whoever is actually doing the voting for them) care about the hometown fans having one of their players in the big game, but it could be a factor.
Wall just continues to steadily improve, and this year he's shown off a much better jumper that's helped him become a more dynamic offensive player. He's guaranteed an All-Star spot.
After Wall, though, it's kind of a free-for-all. My guess is that the coaches reward the Indiana Pacers for being so dominant and give Lance Stephenson the nod. Stephenson seems to flirt with triple-doubles every other night, and his remarkable improvements as a playmaker have taken Indiana's offense to a different level. He's been impossible for anyone to ignore this season.
There's also the thought process that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, both of the Toronto Raptors, will sort of cancel each other out, as coaches might just reward one or the other and be a little hesitant to have two Raptors on their ballots.
Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo might have the best individual case of anyone for the second backcourt spot. He's the most efficient player of the group, but it's going to be tough for the coaches to ignore Orlando's dreadful record when considering him.
Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert may not have the big per-game averages you typically see from an All-Star, but he's the anchor of one of the best defensive teams we've seen in quite some time. The front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year shouldn't be left out of the All-Star Game, especially when he plays on one of the only two great teams in the conference. He's in.
Chris Bosh should also be tabbed as a reserve fairly easily as well. After making it for the last eight straight seasons, there's no reason why he shouldn't make this his ninth. Bosh is one of the most consistent players in the league, and his stats haven't dropped off a bit. The Big Three will all be in the Big Easy.
There aren't many players in the Eastern Conference that are more admired and respected for the energy they bring on a nightly basis than Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah. Even with everything crumbling around him, Noah has held the Bulls together and has somehow kept them above .500 and second in defensive efficiency. He deserves the recognition.
It doesn't hurt any of these players that there are basically no other viable candidates to take their spots. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson have both had nice seasons as the leaders of two competitive teams, but neither would feel like snubs in comparison to Hibbert, Bosh or Noah.
We'll guess the coaches opt for balance and grabbing players from multiple teams, which might mean there's only one available spot for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. It's really a close battle, but DeRozan is the more prolific scorer. This one could come down to these last few games, really, and DeRozan has been better than Lowry as of late.
For the last wild-card spot, Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap deserves some love. Without Al Horford, he's been the go-to guy for a Hawks team that has been the third or fourth-best in the conference all season. Millsap has never been named to an All-Star team, but perhaps the increased exposure as "the man" will lead the coaches to vote him in.
Next in line would likely be Lowry, Afflalo and Jefferson, in that order. That said, Big Al may have a tough time getting in with Hibbert and Noah already manning the middle as reserves, even though he's made a really nice push in the last few weeks.
Likely most of the action here will boil down to how the coaches view the battle between Stephenson, DeRozan, Lowry and Afflalo. Just about everything else should be locked up.
Let's take a look at which players would be next in line as injury replacements in each conference:
West: Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins, Goran Dragic, Mike Conley.
East: Kyle Lowry, Arron Afflalo, Al Jefferson, Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams.
For the West, it's really difficult to imagine the commissioner passing up on the chance to give the New Orleans crowd some Anthony Davis action, even if it's likely going to be a guard (Bryant or Paul) that needs to be replaced. If Davis gets voted in as a reserve, which isn't all that unlikely, the choice will almost certainly be Damian Lillard. Cousins would have a fine argument, but it looks like his recent ankle injury may keep him out for a few games down the homestretch.
For the East, appeasing a major market like Toronto by putting Lowry in the big game makes sense, as Afflalo and Jefferson wouldn't bring much fan appeal. Drummond is a sneaky (and deserving) choice as well, but probably a very unlikely one. Keep an eye on Michael Carter-Williams, who might be the player fans would enjoy seeing most out of this group.
Here are the final predictions (sans injury replacements) for the 2013-14 All-Star Game:
West Reserves: James Harden, Chris Paul, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker
East Starters: Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James
East Reserves: John Wall, Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah, DeMar DeRozan, Paul Millsap.