Now that the 2016 NBA All-Star rosters are officially official, we have the option to bask in the celebration of those chosen to represent the Feb. 14 superstud exhibition in Toronto.
We also have the option to sip some nitpicking juice, comb through the All-Star dockets and suss out the most notable snubs and surprises.
Option B it is.
Here's what the final Eastern and Western Conference All-Star squads look like for reference:
|2016 NBA All-Star Rosters|
|Starter||Kyle Lowry||Stephen Curry|
|Starter||Dwyane Wade||Russell Westbrook|
|Starter||Carmelo Anthony||Kobe Bryant|
|Starter||Paul George||Kawhi Leonard|
|Starter||LeBron James||Kevin Durant|
|Reserve||Jimmy Butler||James Harden|
|Reserve||DeMar DeRozan||Chris Paul|
|Reserve||Isaiah Thomas||Klay Thompson|
|Reserve||John Wall||LaMarcus Aldridge|
|Reserve||Chris Bosh||DeMarcus Cousins|
|Reserve||Andre Drummond||Anthony Davis|
|Reserve||Paul Millsap||Draymond Green|
Selecting All-Star reserves is an inexact science, and it's difficult to argue against any of the coaches' second-string picks. Deserving exclusions exist in abundance, but it's not always possible to figure out who—if anyone—they should replace.
Still, there are snubs. There are surprises. So let the quibbling begin.
Anyone who has an issue with how the East's backcourt reserves shook out really has a problem with the fan vote.
Dwyane Wade's rise into starter territory forced Jimmy Butler into the reserve platoon, and things snowballed from there.
Everyone else belongs. It's as simple as that.
DeMar DeRozan plays for the hometown Toronto Raptors and is the version of Wade who should actually be an All-Star. The Boston Celtics post a top-five net rating when Isaiah Thomas is on the floor (plus-5.2). John Wall is the first player since Chris Paul to average 19 points, nine assists and two steals per 36 minutes before his 26th birthday.
Snub: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
My sincerest apologies, Reggie Jackson.
Four point guards would make for an unnecessary crowd, and Khris Middleton allows for more lineup possibilities. Most of his minutes come at shooting guard these days, but he played power forward for a majority of last season, and the Milwaukee Bucks have experimented with him at center in the past.
Oh, also: Middleton is freaking awesome. He is doing everything for the disappointing Bucks—and as Ian Levy wrote for Sporting News, he's doing it incredibly well:
Taking on a larger offensive load usually involves sacrificing efficiency. However, Middleton has increased his true shooting percentage and usage rate for the third consecutive season. He has also worked to become more of a facilitator and his assist percentage is a career-high as well.
According to the usage and possession statistics at Nylon Calculus, Middleton's teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 61.9 percent on his potential assists, implying that he's creating high quality looks for them, not just a high volume.
Middleton is one of two players averaging 17 points, four assists and one steal per 36 minutes and shooting 40 percent or better from long distance.
His statistical sibling? Stephen Curry.
Surprise: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Even after Andre Drummond lost the popularity contest to Carmelo Anthony, he was an All-Star lock. His per-36-minute scoring and rebounding splits haven't existed since Wilt Chamberlain.
Paul Millsap was similarly a safe bet. He didn't receive much love from the fans, but he is the Draymond Green of the Eastern Conference.
Chris Bosh has been solid—even great. He leads the Miami Heat in win shares and has become the quintessential floor-spacing big man. But he's not the playmaking forward or center that has become all the rage—the Green- and Millsap-type bigs who play defense, stroke threes and, most importantly, create works of art off the dribble.
Counterpoint: Maybe Bosh is that kind of player.
Bleacher Report NBA @BR_NBA
Chris Bosh showing off his guard skills. https://t.co/lxESojkyEw1/27/2016, 1:21:58 AM
Either way, the league's infusion of combo forwards leaves limited room for the more traditional bigs.
In any other season, it would have been Drummond—not Bosh—who drew shock-and-awe duty. Drummond's dalliance with starting, though, made his appearance inevitable.
Snub: Jae Crowder, Boston Celtics
So long as we're being honest, Bosh was also listed as a surprise because Jae Crowder's should-have-most-definitely-been-an-All-Star case is beyond strong.
Crowder has become one of the NBA's premier two-way talents. He can play either forward position and some shooting guard, and Boston's impenetrable perimeter defense doesn't work without him zipping around screens, forcing ball-handlers to change direction and providing timely, suffocating traps.
“Jae’s improved,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted, per NESN.com's Darren Hartwell. “You know, he’s only been here a year, and I told you last year: I’m not sure I knew quite all that he could do, and he just keeps adding to it.”
Five qualified players are currently clearing 15 points, two assists and two steals per 36 minutes while shooting 35-plus percent from deep. Four of them are All-Stars (Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Paul).
The other is Crowder.
Five forwards have collected at least 2.5 offensive and defensive win shares. Four of them are All-Stars (Green, LeBron James, Leonard and Millsap).
The other is—you guessed it—Crowder.
We're done here.
Surprise: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson's case is more fragile. He doesn't fall inside the top 10 of backcourt PER or win shares, and Green's rise has rendered him a No. 3 option. But that doesn't make his selection indefensible.
Fans already voted in two point guards as starters, and Harden—from a coach's perspective—is a pseudo-floor general. Thompson complements the rest of the backcourt nicely as someone who gets more than 80 percent of his buckets off assists.
Though nearly 40 percent of his looks come as catch-and-shoot triples, Thompson has developed into a legitimate post-up threat, deft driver and adequate playmaker. And he has All-Star numbers. Curry and Leonard are the only other players averaging 20.0 points and 2.5 assists per 36 minutes while putting in 40 percent of their treys.
Last season's Atlanta Hawks set a precedent: Third fiddles are worthy of All-Star exposure. And Thompson is essentially an alpha dog masquerading as a sidekick.
Snub: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard took last year's snub personally.
I wonder how he's going to take this one.
At least last season, with so many injuries, he was guaranteed a replacement slot. This go-around poses no such promises. Lillard is once again the victim of circumstance. The point guard position remains immeasurably deep, and he takes a backseat to Curry, Paul and Russell Westbrook, among other big names.
That's not exactly fair at this stage, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News boldly pointed out:
Frank Isola @FisolaNYDN
If you're picking players from losing teams Damian Lillard is more deserving than Anthony Davis. Fair is fair.1/28/2016, 10:59:04 PM
This is an actual debate. Lillard is piloting a top-eight offense that lost four key contributors over the summer. He is the lone player on a sub-.500 team who ranks in the top 10 of offensive box plus/minus. His output is also historically ridiculous. Two other players have ever cleared 24 points and seven assists per 36 minutes with a three-point success rate north of 35 percent.
Curry and James.
Surprise: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
Boban Marjanovic would have been an epic, glorious shock. Instead, we get LaMarcus Aldridge, who has the reputation but no longer has the numbers.
His production was always going to dip once he joined the San Antonio Spurs. They never rely too much on one player, and Leonard warrants all the touches ever. Aldridge's playing time is down by nearly six minutes per game, and his usage rate—while higher than any other everyday Spur—hasn't been this low since 2009-10.
That rotation-leading rate hasn't allowed Aldridge to distinguish himself, either. He is a net negative on the offensive end and has the Spurs' third-worst box plus/minus, putting him ahead of only Ray McCallum and Jonathon Simmons.
Does that sound like an All-Star performance to you?
Snub: Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz
Four players are averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes in addition to shooting 37 percent or better from three-point range.
Gordon Hayward is one of them.
Playing for an injury-riddled, potentially lottery-bound Utah Jazz team may have hurt Hayward's chances. The (rightful) inclusion of Green also didn't do him any favors. After all, how many point forwards can you have on one All-Star roster?
In this versatility-obsessed NBA? As many as possible. Hayward fits the All-Star bill, and the prospect of a Curry-Harden-Durant-Hayward-Green lineup should have been enough to get him a reserve nod.
Snub: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns deserves to be the latest exception—especially with the coaches ostensibly moving on from legends like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. While New York Knicks newbie Kristaps Porzingis receives most of the viral-highlight loving, it's Towns who has, in many ways, outclassed his most direct rookie competition, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Games with 25 Pts and 10 Rebounds Rookies This Season Karl-Anthony Towns 8 Jahlil Okafor 2 Kristaps Porzingis 21/26/2016, 2:47:20 AM
More than that, Towns is already producing like an All-Star.
Anthony Davis is the only other player averaging at least 19 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes, and Towns has a higher box plus/minus than him. His PER also ranks fifth among Western Conference frontcourt players who have logged at least 1,000 total minutes.
Towns, of course, never really stood a chance. The West has too many established superhumans, and it's become clear over the years that seniority matters. But those factors only succeed in keeping Towns out of the picture. They do not make him any less deserving.
Shoutout to Derrick Favors, who probably would've jumped Towns if the latter hadn't missed so many games.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @danfavale.
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