Love has clearly stepped up his game. Entering the season, the UCLA product averaged just 13 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Earlier this season, Love posted the first 30-point, 30-rebound performance in the NBA since Moses Malone accomplished the feat in 1982.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this week, Love turned in his fifth 20-point, 20-rebound game of the season. He then followed up that performance with a 27-point, 18-rebound performance last night against the Detroit Pistons for his fifth consecutive 20-point, 15-rebound game.
Love’s shooting has also dramatically improved this season at almost 42 percent from beyond the arc; in his first two years, Love shot only 34 percent. At the free throw line, Love has gone from an 82 percent shooter to an 88 percent shooter.
Is this a holiday fantasy in the land close to Santa’s workshop, or does Love have a realistic chance of making the Western Conference All-Star team?
In reviewing the list of players from last year’s Western Conference team, there are several players that will likely be repeat All-Stars.
Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Carmelo Anthony, starters for last year's Western Conference team, are definitely going to make the 2011 All-Star game and likely will be starters again this year. Tim Duncan has started slow and may not put up numbers to justify being a starter, but it is hard to imagine the first ballot Hall of Fame player not being on the team as a reserve.
In looking at the 2010 reserves, the following players will again be on the squad: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
I like the following players as starters for the West: Bryant, Nash, Anthony, Durant and Gasol.
In determining reserves, the Western Conference coaches select two guards, two forwards, a center and two at-large positions. I think we can pencil in Paul and Williams for the two reserve guard positions, Nowitzki for one of the reserve forward positions and Duncan for the reserve center position.
The rest of the conference is then battling for one forward reserve spot and the two at-large positions.
On the short list of players for the three remaining spots on the Western Conference team are the following players in alphabetical order:
Monta Ellis (24.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.4 steals)
Ellis has posted All-Star caliber numbers but his game may be discounted and his numbers will be viewed as inflated, because he plays for a franchise that has a wide-open offensive scheme. Ellis is scoring six points above his career scoring average, but his three-point shooting percentage has dropped slightly this year. In an odd way, Stephen Curry’s nagging ankle injuries may help Ellis as he may get to showcase his passing skills and pick up a few more assists before February.
Rudy Gay (21.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 steals)
Gay may be the stealth candidate on the short list, as he will be viewed as an emerging superstar given his performance on Team USA this summer. This year Gay has improved his shooting percentage, scoring average, rebounding average and assist per game average over his career numbers. Gay’s candidacy may be hurt by the fact that the Grizzlies as a team are a few games off of their pace from last year.
Manu Ginobili (20.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2 steals)
Ginobili, the former All-Star and NBA Sixth Man of the Year, may be the sentimental favorite to make the team as he is posting career-best numbers after bouncing back from an injury-plagued season last year. Ginobili’s candidacy gets an extra boost if the Spurs still have the best record in basketball at the end of January.
Eric Gordon (24.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists)
Gordon is the best-kept secret in the Western Conference, and there is reason for Clippers fans to believe that the franchise might be turning a corner. Gordon should get serious consideration for the All-Star team, but given that the Clippers are still viewed as an afterthought in Los Angeles and he is playing in the media shadow of teammate and rookie sensation Blake Griffin, one has to wonder if Gordon will generate enough buzz to be selected as a reserve.
Blake Griffin (20 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
Blake is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors as he has been a YouTube sensation with his spectacular dunks around, through and over helpless defenders. Griffin could boost his candidacy by starting to knock down his free throws as he is shooting only 58 percent from the field. What also may hurt Griffin is that his presence may be needed more by the league as a draw for fans in the rookie/second year player game during All-Star weekend.
Paul Millsap (17.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists)
Millsap began the season on a tear but has cooled off the past three to four weeks as Al Jefferson has begun to become more involved in the offense. Millsap could heat back up, but Coach Sloan’s offense of stressing team first will likely prevent Millsap from getting enough consistent touches to get back into the All-Star conversation.
Zach Randolph (17.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists)
Randolph made the team last year, so he will get serious consideration for a spot on the team again this year. Zach’s numbers on the court are impressive, but he may not get selected as a reserve given the negative publicity Randolph generated when friends of his inner circle were implicated in drug dealing and being involved a fight at a strip club last spring.
Brandon Roy (18.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists)
Similar to Randolph, Roy made the All-Star team last year so he will also get a serious look. However, Roy’s game has been slowed a little bit by nagging injuries this year. Also, the politics of the Trail Blazers appearing to be a team that has hit a plateau, or even going backwards, may also hurt Roy’s chances.
Luis Scola (21 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists)
Scola is having his best season in the league, as he is averaging eight points a game over his career average. Scola started the season with three straight double-doubles. On Tuesday, Luis recorded his fifth of the season as he poured in 35 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Rockets' victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Russell Westbrook (23.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.17 steals)
While Durant received the most publicity of the players selected for Team USA over the summer, Westbrook appears to be the player that benefited most from the experience as he has emerged as a force this season. Westbrook does not have a consistent shooting stroke, but appears to be rapidly improving that part of his game. The biggest negative to Westbrook making the team is that he is averaging 4.09 turnovers a game. Both Paul and Williams average more than 10 assists a game, yet Paul averages 2.48 and Williams 3.43 turnovers a game.
In looking at the field, Love’s numbers stand above the crowd. Love has better numbers than any other post player on the list and should secure the last forward reserve position.
In the unlikely scenario that Love doesn’t get the final reserve forward spot, he should still secure one of the two at-large spots on the roster.
Right now, the three players that have likely earned their way on to the All-Star team for the Western Conference are Love, Westbrook and Ginobili. Of course, there is still a lot of basketball to be played before February.
If Love continues his torrid pace, maybe there is enough time for him to make the team as a starter.