DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors has just as good a shot as any other guard in the Eastern Conference to be named as a reserve for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game. Unfortunately, as is the case in life, nothing is guaranteed.
The reserves for each squad are selected by coaches of their respective conferences, with each bench rounded out with the following players: two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. The chosen few will be revealed on Jan. 30 on Inside the NBA.
For a guy who's averaging 21.8 points per game, which is fourth-highest in the East, it's almost crazy to think that DeRozan doesn't have a strong enough case as is.
The only players in the conference who score more than the fifth-year pro are LeBron James of the Miami Heat (26.2), Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks (27.0) and Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (23.5). Conveniently enough, all three will be starting for the East on Feb. 16 at the New Orleans Arena. That's pretty good company to be associated with.
Despite his stellar first half to the season, fans around the NBA (especially those outside of Canada) have failed to take notice of the improvement and success he's been experiencing. When the final All-Star vote returns came in, DeRozan had only garnered the eighth-highest amount of votes among backcourt players.
|Dwyane Wade||Miami Heat||929,542|
|Kyrie Irving||Cleveland Cavaliers||860,221|
|John Wall||Washington Wizards||393,129|
|Derrick Rose||Chicago Bulls||359,546|
|Ray Allen||Miami Heat||250,909|
|Rajon Rondo||Boston Celtics||174,654|
|Lance Stephenson||Indiana Pacers||148,382|
|DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors||131,228|
|George Hill||Indiana Pacers||129,533|
|Deron Williams||Brooklyn Nets||126,423|
To be fair, the fan voting is more of a popularity contest that doesn't necessarily reflect on who the best players are. For example, Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets (13.1 points and 4.2 assists) finished with more votes (628,818) than Damian Lillard (280,966) and Tony Parker (258,751) combined in the field of Western Conference guards.
DeRozan may have finished eighth, but no one can deny that he's been more productive than Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, who have just 14 games played between them this season. Fans gave them their votes based on their reputations and not because they've outperformed DeRozan through the midway point of the year.
On top of his 21.8 points, DeRozan is averaging 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks, which are all career highs. His 37.7 minutes are also seventh-highest in the association.
Since the seven-player trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings back in December, DeRozan has grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and taken the Raptors to greater heights. The team currently owns a record of 22-21, which is good enough for a 1.5 game lead over the Brooklyn Nets for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Being the top dog on a team that has themselves positioned for home-court advantage and their first postseason berth since 2007-08 is a ringing endorsement for DeRozan's All-Star candidacy.
With all due respect, being the leading scorer of a team doesn't necessarily deem you the best player. There are those writers out there, such as Zach Lowe of Grantland, who believe point guard Kyle Lowry has a more legitimate claim to being an All-Star than his teammate.
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.
Along with Lowry, DeRozan's stiffest competition will come in the form of Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers, Aaron Afflalo of the Orlando Magic and John Wall of the Washington Wizards.
|DeMar DeRozan||Toronto Raptors||21.8||4.7||3.6||1.2||0.5||18.0|
|Kyle Lowry||Toronto Raptors||16.0||4.2||7.5||1.6||0.2||19.6|
|Lance Stephenson||Indiana Pacers||14.2||7.0||5.3||0.7||0.1||15.7|
|Aaron Afflalo||Orlando Magic||20.3||4.4||3.9||0.6||0.0||17.9|
|John Wall||Washington Wizards||20.0||4.3||8.5||1.9||0.4||20.0|
You could throw any combination of those aforementioned five names on the roster and not hear a peep out of even the most skeptical of fans. All of their numbers mostly hover around the same margins, so it's just a matter of what the coaches put more stock in.
How important are statistics? For someone like Afflalo, will his team's record (12-33) be held against him to a large degree?
Frankly, intangibles like winning should be factored in. Are you truly an All-Star if your individual play isn't helping your team pile up victories? How does that make sense? You could have one heck of a stat line, but what does it matter if it's all for naught?
If it's vital enough to the coaches as they conjure up their criteria, then DeRozan should be a shoo-in.
It just shows you the hard work [I've put in] just to be mentioned in it [All-Star discussion]. Of course every NBA player wants to be an All Star and I’m just happy to [have] my name even brought up in the conversation. I’m just trying to go out there and do my job every night and if that leads me to being an All Star that would definitely be great to go out there and represent for the country of Canada. - DeRozan (Sportsnet)
With four spots available for DeRozan and the depth not nearly as grand as it is out west, I'd be very surprised if he didn't earn the first All-Star nod of his young career.
Rondo has missed too many games, Rose is on the sidelines and Deron Williams has battled injuries all season. I'm not saying that DeRozan wouldn't have a shot if that all wasn't the case, but his odds are definitely higher because of it.
Stephenson should be there as well. He's been the backbone of an Indiana Pacers team with the best record in the NBA at 34-9. He's the definition of a stat-sheet filler who can hurt you in so many ways on both offense and defense. Paul George already has his ticket booked and center Roy Hibbert is likely to follow. Having three players from the best team in basketball as All-Stars won't bother anyone.
Wall is second among Eastern Conference point guards with a player efficiency rating of 20.05. The Washington Wizards are ever-so-close to getting above the .500 mark for what seems like the first time in forever, so why not give Wall a pat on the back for playing as well as he has by sending him to the Crescent City for All-Star Weekend?
The Orlando Magic are beyond terrible at 12-33. Even though Afflalo is having the best season of his career, coaches will likely take a pass and condemn him for not keeping his team competitive.
It's going to be close. The control is out of the hands of the fanbase and now in the possession of those who see these players up close and personal on a regular basis.
Toronto hasn't had an All-Star since Chris Bosh in 2010.
DeRozan will change that in 2014. I like his odds.
Follow Featured Columnist Christopher Walder on Twitter at @WalderSports