NBA All-Star Game: Raymond Felton and 10 Players Most Likely to be Snubbed
The NBA All-Star Game starting lineups were announced today and by golly if the fans didn't actually get things mostly right this year. In the East, it's Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade as the guards, LeBron James and Amar'e Stoudemire as the forwards, with Dwight Howard as the center. Out West, the guards are Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, the forwards are Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, and the center is...Yao Ming?
OK, there's obviously legitimate beef with Yao—he of the five games played this season being voted in as the Western Conference starter at center—and perhaps with Derrick Rose getting the start at point guard over league assist leader Rajon Rondo. But otherwise, I'm not mad at that list.
Now, however, is where the fun really begins. Each team currently has five players, and they need to get to 12 by February 3rd, when the reserves, as selected by the coaches, will be announced. Sure, guys like Rondo and Dirk and Steve Nash are still gonna make it, but what about the players who aren't automatic?
Here are my arguments for the sometimes overlooked players that should still get to take that trip to Hollywood.
10. Zach Randolph
After years of being an under-appreciated but effective big man, Randolph finally got his due when he was named to the Western Conference All-Stars in 2010.
I'm here to appeal for him not to be forgotten this time. He's having a better all around season than he had a year ago. Yeah, he's putting in his usual 20 points per game, but he's also averaging a career high 13.1 rebounds per game, good for third in the league, and he's second in the league in offense rebounds.
He's also fit in well in Memphis, and helped the team play much better basketball of late. After starting the season 8-14, they've gone 14-10 since, including winning three of their last four.
Randolph's not the black hole he once was on offense, and he deserves an All-Star nod.
9. Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin has recovered from the injuries that forced him to miss his entire rookie season, and picked up right where he left off, showing the form that made him the No. 1 overall pick.
He's averaged 22.6 points and 12.8 rebounds per game, with the latter number good for fourth in the league. But he's also displayed impressive touch and court awareness, as evidenced by his 3.5 assists per game, a respectable number for any big man, let alone a rookie.
Griffin has been the best player on the floor most nights for the Clips, and like a true superstar, makes his teammates better with an uncanny ability to find an opening around the basket and score easy points at the rim. He's given guys like Baron Davis countless easy assists. If he's anywhere near the rim, it's gonna be a flush.
And talk about helping your team to play better: After starting 5-21, L.A.'s other team has gone 12-7 over the last month, thanks largely to Griffin asserting himself that much more.
Besides, he should get to show off in front of his hometown fans.
8. Raymond Felton
When the Knicks signed Felton as a free agent this past summer, to many Knicks fans he was an afterthought. They missed out on LeBron, so ok, who's left? You? Alright, I guess you'll do.
Well aren't they singing a different tune now? While Amar'e Stoudemire has gotten the lion's share of the attention, and rightfully so with his MVP-like play, Felton has quietly been enjoying a career year, and has looked like the best point guard the Knicks have had since...a young Mark Jackson?
He's averaging career highs in almost every category, including scoring (17.5 per game) and assists (8.9 per game, sixth in the league). He's also been a capable leader, and has run coach Mike D'Antoni's high octane offense to perfection while helping the Knicks finally escape mediocrity and creep towards respectability.
Maybe Knicks fans would still take CP3 if he were to become available, but otherwise, they're quite happy with RF2.
7. Russell Westbrook
Sure, Kevin Durant is a beast, but if he's Batman, he's got a more than capable Robin at his side.
In his third year, Russell Westbrook has emerged as one of the best young point guards in the league, averaging 22.4 points, 8.4 assists (eighth in the league), and 2.0 steals (fourthe) per game. He's also one of the most active and physical guards around, using every inch of his wiry 6'3" frame to average a more than respectable five rebounds per game.
Along with Durant, Westbrook has helped lead the Thunder to the top of the Northwest Division, and at this point, they have to be considered a serious threat to make a deep run in the Western Conference playoffs.
Maybe Westbrook is the real Agent Zero.
6. Eric Gordon
I couldn't mention Blake Griffin here without also giving props to his teammate and fellow budding superstar, Eric Gordon.
It remains to be seen if he'll actually be able to play in the All-Star Game after he recently fractured his right wrist, an injury that will keep him on the shelf for the next three to four weeks. But I'm not here to predict if he'll be on the court, I'm here to simply say that he deserves to be.
Before he went down, the third-year guard was leading the Clippers with 24.1 points per game, good for eighth in the league. Still just 21 years old at the start of the season, he already seems like an old pro, playing with a maturity beyond his years. Together with Griffin, Eric Gordon gives Clipper fans legitimate reason to hope they might finally have their moment in the sun in the not too distant future.
5. Al Horford
Like Zach Randolph, Al Horford is a big man who was recognized for the first time last year with a selection to the NBA All-Star Game. And also like Randolph, he's played even better this year, and deserves another trip.
After years as an afterthought, Atlanta has gradually and steadily built themselves into an Eastern Conference contender through patience, and savvy personnel decisions, with Horford being a key piece. He's averaging a career high 16.9 points per game on 57 percent shooting, good for 5th in the league. He's also continued to be a double-double machine, averaging 10.1 rebounds.
He doesn't have the highlight reel plays of his more splashy teammates Josh Smith and Joe Johnson, but he does the dirty work that needs to be done, does it willingly, and does it quite well.
4. Andrew Bogut
Bogut is a throwback to the days of the true center. Remember centers? No, not point-forwards, or seven-foot-tall three point specialists, but real centers. The guys who were big, mean, played defense and grabbed rebounds.
That's what Bogut has managed to become. It hasn't been a direct path, and the Australian big was seen as a bust early in his career, but he kept working and eventually really found a niche for himself in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, a scary looking freak injury a year ago derailed his ascent, but he's recovered nicely, even though he's not 100 percent just yet. While his scoring is down, he's doing exactly the things he's supposed to do. He's fifth in the league in rebounding, with 11.7 per game, and he's leading the league with 2.7 blocks per game.
If he can keep healthy from now on, look for those numbers to only continue to improve in the second half of the season.
3. John Wall
Wall has had his ups and downs in his rookie year, but for the most part, he's been as good as advertised after being the No. 1 overall pick out of Kentucky.
He's on a dreadful Wizards team that currently sits mired in last place with a 13-31 record, but now that he's had his path to stardom cleared with the exit of Gilbert Arenas, he seems poised to blossom.
His 15.1 points per game would lead all rookies if Blake Griffin had actually played last year, and his 9.3 assists per game is fifth in the league among all players, not just rookies.
Sure, he still turns the ball over too much, but his playmaking ability is already elite, and he'll continue to get better with time. He'll be a perennial All-Star in a few years, so let's just start things off right now. Why wait?
2. Monta Ellis
The only reason that Ellis would get overlooked is the fact that he plays on the Golden State Warriors and doesn't quite get the national publicity that he deserves.
But make no mistake, Ellis is one of the league's elite scorers, and his blinding speed lets him get to the basket almost at will. He really should've been an All-Star last year, as well, and this year, he's doing everything for the Warriors once again.
His 25.8 points per game is fourth in the league, behind only Kevin Durant, Amar'e Stoudemire, and LeBron James. That's pretty elite company. And Ellis is as invaluable to his team as any player in the league, leading the NBA in minutes played for the second year in a row.
He takes too many shots, and he's not a true point guard, but he does so much for the Warriors that he deserves to be recognized.
1. Kevin Love
Playing for the sad sack Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love hasn't become a household name just yet, but if you follow the game, you should know this third-year big man out of UCLA.
For his first two seasons, he was a hard worker, but his efforts were overshadowed by the team's futility. This season, the team is still bad, but we can no longer ignore his contributions, as he's blossomed into a true star.
Love is averaging 21.6 points and a league leading 15.7 rebounds per game. Not since Ben Wallace's glory days has a player come close to that figure, and he's currently more than two full rebounds per game ahead of his nearest competitor, Dwight Howard.
Especially with the West's one true big man starter, Yao Ming, out of commission, Love would really add something different to the squad, and his unselfish play is a breath of fresh air. I'd like to see him get his due a month from now.