With the announcement of the NBA Western Conference All-Star reserves on Jan. 30, it was fitting that numerous deserving candidates were snubbed. After all, that's probably what will happen come playoff time in the West. But one of those snubs will be magically saved since Kobe Bryant (knee) cannot fulfill his duties as starter. It's a very tough choice for who to save, and the decision will be up to then-Commissioner Adam Silver.
West All-Star reserves: LaMarcus Aldridge, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker and Chris Paul— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) January 31, 2014
Since the fans around the world and on social media gush with love for the Black Mamba—voting him in as a starter despite his playing in just 13 games this season—Kobe is a placeholder for whoever the commissioner chooses to take his place.
And Bryant himself was unequivocal about who he thought should be honored on the All-Star team, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "With all due respect to the fans who voted me in, and I certainly appreciate that…you've got to do the right thing as well. My feeling is you've got to reward these young guys for the work that they've been putting in."
There are five glaring omissions from the Western All-Stars, with two of them are on the same team. Tim Duncan is having another fine season for the Spurs but was left off, as was teammate Kawhi Leonard. The consensus might adding Leonard over Duncan, but Leonard is out with a broken hand and therefore can't replace Bryant. It would be difficult to endorse Duncan with a guy on his own team more worthy of the All-Star nod.
That leaves three guys, and we'll provide our top choice after mulling their fine first halves to this season.
DeMarcus Cousins, C, Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins has been consistently destroying opponents all season. He's averaging 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Yes, he commits a lot of turnovers (3.4 per game), and yes, he gets into a lot of foul trouble (3.9 per game), but that's just DeMarcus' game.
Focusing on Cousins' robust double-double average and consistent stats on defense is the key. His player efficiency rating has jumped from to 26.5 from 20.2 a year ago. The Kings are the worst team in the West, however, and that just won't do. Cousins and his squad's 15-30 record might keep him in the snub category.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis' double-double averages—20.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game—lag slightly behind those of Cousins, but Anthony is a flat-out game-changer near the rim.
Not only does Davis lead the league in blocks at 3.3 per night, he is way ahead of the second and third players, Roy Hibbert and Serge Ibaka, who are averaging 2.5 a night. He has nine games this year with at least five blocks, and his defensive presence has the power to make the Pelicans a formidable contender with the right pieces around him.
There are always snubs. But I have no problem with the 7 West All-Star reserves. Adam Silver will get Anthony Davis in for the injured Kobe.— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) January 31, 2014
However, Davis falls prey to the same bad-record syndrome that Cousins is plagued by. NOLA is 19-26, and despite his defensive prowess, the Pelicans are yielding 102.0 points per game.
Who should replace Kobe?
Goran Dragic, SG, Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic is having an amazing season, good enough for him to be called "Scorin' Goran," by the fans in the dessert.
He's enjoying a career-best season with 19.7 points on a robust 49.9 percent shooting. He's hitting his triples at a 38.8 percent rate, more than three percent better than his career average. He's dishing 6.1 assists and nabbing 1.4 steals per game.
Since fellow guard Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury at the end of December, Dragic has been even better: 21.9 points on 52.2 percent shooting, 45.9 percent from downtown and 6.5 assists per game in January.
Moreover, the Suns have risen from likely tankers to sixth place in the West at 28-18. Someone in Phoenix deserves some love.
The Right Choice: Goran Dragic
With David Stern passing the commissioner reigns over to Adam Silver as of Feb. 1, this could be the first big decision of the newbie's tenure. Go with Goran and the surprising Suns!
First critical descision of the Adam Silver Era: Who replaces Kobe?— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 31, 2014
Really, it doesn't matter who he chooses, because you can't go wrong with these deserving three.