Bleacher Report Staff Picks for 2017 NBA All-Star Game Reserves

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2017

Bleacher Report Staff Picks for 2017 NBA All-Star Game Reserves

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    The 2017 NBA All-Star Game will take place Feb. 19 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, and now we know who'll be on the floor for the opening tip.

    Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Jimmy Butler, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been named starters for the Eastern Conference based on votes from fans, media and the players themselves. Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis will represent the West.

    Fans controlled 50 percent of the vote this year, while input from media (25 percent) and the players themselves (25 percent) rounded out the electorate. You can see the full voting breakdowns here.

    Surprises included Butler, who ranked over 200,000 fan votes behind Joel Embiid and Kevin Love in the East frontcourt but got a boost into the starting unit when players and media weighed in. Perhaps even more shocking, players and media favored Russell Westbrook over both Harden and Curry, but the guy averaging a triple-double was done in by a third-place finish in the fan vote.

    Finally, there's Zaza Pachulia, who garnered more fan votes than every West player but Harden, Curry, Durant and Westbrook. Players and media restored order to the chaos by ignoring him on their ballots.

    Under the old format, he would have started. So before you lament any of the changes to the system this year, mull that over for a second.

    NBA head coaches will determine the backups. The East and West will each add three players in the frontcourt, two in the backcourt and two wild-card picks, with those results slated for release on Thursday, Jan. 26.

    If a coach determines a player is a multi-position stud, he has the ability to choose said player at the spot he feels would give the team the biggest advantage. Coaches are also required to rank players in order of preference for all three categories to help determine who is named a reserve in the case of a tie.

    Here's how Bleacher Report's NBA panel—composed of Howard Beck, Ric Bucher, Kevin Ding and myself—think those reserve picks should look using the same process.

East Reserve Guard No. 1: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors

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    Statistically speaking, Kyle Lowry has been the best guard in the East to this point. He's leading his backcourt peers in box plus-minus and ESPN's Real Plus-Minus while joining James, Curry and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to average at least 22 points and seven assists with an effective field-goal percentage above 57 percent.

    Responsible for propping up Toronto's elite offense and succeeding as the linchpin in two vastly different five-man units that both have net ratings above plus-23.0, Lowry has been the biggest reason for his team's success. Take him off the floor, and Toronto gets outscored by 2.4 points per 100 possessions. Contrast that with DeRozan, without whom the Raptors' net rating is actually higher.

    Lowry should have been a shoo-in starter. He'll have to settle for all four members of our panel making him their first reserve pick.

East Reserve Guard No. 2: John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    The Washington Wizards are 15-6 in their last 21 games, and the most recent victory came courtesy of John Wall's blazing speed. He sealed a 113-110 win over the New York Knicks on Thursday with a full-court sprint off a defensive rebound, jamming home the decisive bucket mere hours after learning he hadn't been named a starter in the East.

    Coincidence? Message?

    We may never know.

    What we're certain of are Wall's credentials: He's averaging career highs in points, assists and steals, ranking 16th, third and first in those categories league-wide, respectively.

    His case for starting is nearly as strong as Lowry's.

East Frontcourt Reserve No. 1: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

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    Paul Millsap is the only remaining member of an Atlanta Hawks starting five that won 60 games two seasons ago, but he has his club in playoff position yet again—despite offseason overhauls and trades that signaled a teardown.

    Though his conventional counting stats are diminished from last year, Millsap trails only Draymond Green in RPM among big men. And his steadying presence on the floor is the difference between an Atlanta defense that produces a 100.4 defensive ratingbetter than the Warriors' league-leading figureand one that would check in at No. 25 overall (107.4).

    Millsap makes a surprisingly good Hawks team go.

East Frontcourt Reserve No. 2: Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Everyone remembers the 34-point first quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 23, but Kevin Love's All-Star-worthy season is about more than a headline-grabbing 12-minute stretch.

    He's quietly (and easily) posting his best year since joining the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    One of just five players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game this season, Love separates himself from that class by being the only player in the league to pair top-notch three-point shooting with his 20-10 average. He's drilling a hearty 38.2 percent of his treys.

East Frontcourt Reserve No. 3: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Perhaps our first pick that could be criticized as reputation-based, Paul George earns the final frontcourt reserve spot.

    His defense has slipped, and all five of his conventional stat categories—points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks—are lower than the ones he posted last season.

    Of course, when averages of 22.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and a career-best 51.4 effective field-goal percentage constitute regression, it gives you a good idea of how high the standards are for George.

East Wild Card No. 1: Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics (G)

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    The 27-year-old NBA leader in fourth-quarter scoring average, who also happens to be topping Allen Iverson's age-27 numbers, will not start the All-Star Game.

    But like Lowry and Wall, Isaiah Thomas should be an obvious backup selection for the coaches.

    To be fair, there's some justification for leaving Thomas out of the first unit. The Boston Celtics' net rating is plus-2.6 with him on the floor and plus-2.2 when he sits. It's reasonable to want more of a statistical impact from an All-Star starter.

    Still, Thomas' 28.7 points per game, acrobatic finishes and crunch-time production warrant a spot.

East Wild Card No. 2: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets (G)

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    This one was tough.

    Kemba Walker didn't appear at all on two of the four ballots, and he only earned wild-card votes on the remaining pair. Still, it was enough to snag him the final spot.

    Though he's declined significantly since November, when he averaged 24.2 points and 4.9 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from long distance, Walker's overall production and impressive control of a Charlotte Hornets offense with limited weaponry remains All-Star worthy.

    On the year, Charlotte outscores opponents by 4.6 points per 100 possessions with Walker on the floor, while getting outscored by 5.8 when he's off.

West Reserve Guard No. 1: Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Wes Unseld, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, David Robinson and Steve Nash. Those are the players who won the Most Valuable Player award during a season in which they didn't start the All-Star Game*.

    If Russell Westbrook's internal furnace wasn't already burning at the temperature of the sun, his drive to join that list will kick up the heat even more over the season's second half.

    When Curry—a two-time reigning MVP and bona fide superstar leading the league's best team—stands out as one of the least deserving starters, it says everything about Westbrook's worthiness.

    Maybe all those triple-doubles and league-best scoring average aren't impressing people like we thought.

              

    *Karl Malone technically belongs in this group, but only because there was no All-Star Game in 1998-99. Thanks, lockout.

West Reserve Guard No. 2: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

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    Klay Thompson and Chris Paul split the second-place votes two apiece, and since the Warriors' sharpshooting wing will actually be healthy enough to play, he earns the tiebreaker.

    Don't worry, CP3 won't be left out in the cold.

    With the fifth-most made three-pointers in the league, Thompson's defensive versatility assures the specialist label doesn't stretch far enough. Among the top 20 in made treys, only Lowry (fourth) occupies both sides of the three-and-D coin like Thompson.

    In an era where every team is looking for Thompson clones, the genuine article has to be an All-Star.

West Frontcourt Reserve No. 1: Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

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    There was reason to wonder whether Marc Gasol would ever rediscover the form he flashed during his last All-Star campaign in 2014-15. Coming off a broken foot at age 31, he was entering what should have been a decline phase.

    So much for that.

    The key figure on the Memphis Grizzlies' fourth-ranked defense is also averaging career highs in scoring, assists and three-pointers. That last category, the triples, is what makes Gasol such a deserving option. He's morphed into a legitimate deep threat, hitting 54 three-pointers this season after attempting a grand total of 66 in his career.

    At 38.3 percent from distance, Gasol should probably be shooting more.

West Frontcourt Reserve No. 2: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors

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    Three players are averaging at least eight rebounds and seven assists this season: Harden, Westbrook and Draymond Green.

    And only one of them is the most versatile defender in the league.

    Green deserves a spot on the basis of his statistics alone (don't forget about his No. 8 ranking in RPM), which is ironic for a player whose biggest contributions come in harder-to-quantify areas like anticipation, hustle and manic intensity.

    He is the emotional tone-setter for the NBA's top team—that's where the analysis has to start.

    Being an All-Star-caliber defender, facilitator and statistical contributor comes second.

West Frontcourt Reserve No. 3: Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

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    The scariest rim protector in the league earns his first (unofficial) All-Star nod.

    He ranks first in NBA Defensive Real Plus-Minus and blocks per game—which look good alongside averages of 12.4 points and 12.5 rebounds.

    Gobert is also shooting a remarkable 66.2 percent from the field and has progressed offensively to the point where he no longer avoids contact underneath. He's shooting more free throws than ever and is hitting them at a respectable 65.6 percent. That's not to say he's a true weapon on offense, but reliable lob threats who can pound the offensive glass and hit a decent number of freebies are hard to come by.

    Guys who can do that while anchoring the league's best interior defense, well...there's only one of those.

West Wild Card No. 1: Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (G)

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    A torn ligament in Paul's left thumb will sideline him for the All-Star Game, which opens an injury replacement spot for another worthy reserve (Gordon Hayward, anyone?).

    But picking Paul's stand-in is a task for another time.

    For now, making his case is what matters.

    It turns out that's easy: He's posting his best player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage since joining the Clippers in 2011. The league leader in steal percentage, Paul is still one of the few players who completely controls an offense and captains a defense at the point of attack. No wonder the Clips are almost 21 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the court.

    Paul has played just 36 games so far, and his thumb injury will cost him plenty more. But with an undeniable impact on winning and strong numbers like his, it's not hard to overlook the lower volume.

West Wild Card No. 2: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings (C)

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    The numbers, as always, are tough to dispute: 28.0 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a 37.4 percent clip from long distance on a whopping 4.8 attempts per game. Toss in 9.8 foul shots per contest, plus matching averages of 1.4 steals and blocks, and you've got one of the biggest box-score monsters this side of Westbrook.

    Cousins does two or three things every night that no player his size has any business doing, and his numbers prove those physical gifts are being put to consistent use.

    It's the other stuff, though. It always has been.

    Cousins is too demonstrative, too prone to argue calls at the expense of transition defense, too quick to anger. Too quick to loaf. When also factoring in his team's 16-25 record, there's enough negative input to keep him here—rather than with the top three reserves up front.

    That's the long answer, anyway. The short one is that he tied with Rudy Gobert in our panel's vote, but the Jazz center took the tiebreaker because he got a first-place nod from one member—something Cousins didn't receive.

Notable Snubs, aka Others Receiving Votes

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    Eastern Conference

    • Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
    • Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

          

    Western Conference

                 

    Follow Grant on Twitter @gt_hughes and Facebook.

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Thursday, Jan. 19.