The 2011 All-Star reserves were announced tonight and, with the exception of David Stern's pick to replace the injured Yao Ming as the Western Conference starting center, we can begin the debate over which troop will emerge victorious on February 20th. Will it be the East, featuring the Heat's big three and the Celtic's hall-of-fame conglomerate? Or the West, featuring the always explosive Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant, not to mention All-Star mainstays like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan?
And while the players selected are undoubtedly great and will help make this All-Star game one to remember, there are a number of players who either got snubbed for this selection or weren't quite on the radar yet.
Without further ado, I give you seven players we could be hearing Charles Barkley ranting about on TNT on year from now:
The Portland Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge not being selected for this year's All-Star game is considered by many NBA fans to be the most egregious snubbing of any player this season.
Aldridge has been carrying a Portland team sandbagged with injuries to star player Brandon Roy and veteran Marcus Camby. Couple that with Greg Oden's third season ending injury and you get a team that looked devastated and heading for a potentially brutal season. Through all the drama, Aldridge has emerged as the team's anchor and has been playing fantastic basketball.
Averaging career highs in nearly every statistical category, Aldridge is certainly playing like an All-Star, and if he keeps it up and can help his team clinch a playoff spot this season, he should be at the front of every fan's mind when voting time comes next season.
PPG: 21.2 | RPG: 9.1 | APG: 2.0 | BPG: 1.3
A strong contender this season, and still a possibility for the Yao Ming replacement position, Love has been one of the most exciting young players to watch this season. Many will say Love is penalized because he plays for a losing franchise, but his numbers speak for themselves. The league's leading rebounder in only his second year in the league, he makes cleaning the defensive and offensive glass seem easy.
Awareness of Kevin Love's talents have increased greatly in the first half of the season and by next year he'll be a bona-fide superstar. With the help of Michael Beasley, the Timberwolves are looking at a bright future despite a slow season.
PPG: 21.4 | RPG: 15.5 | APG: 2.5 | FG%: 47.2
(Kevin Love was officially selected by David Stern to replace Yao Ming as the Western Conference starting center for the 2011 game.)
Though he has missed a significant amount of time this season due to surgery on a torn thumb ligament, Noah is an invaluable part of the resurgent Chicago Bulls that seem poised to make a run at a championship for the first time since the Jordan-Pippen days. He's a strong defensive player and a huge threat in the post along with Carlos Boozer. Noah is in a difficult position competing for notoriety with Derrick Rose and Boozer, but with the dearth of Eastern Conference centers, look for Noah to mount a serious run at a reserve spot next year.
PPG: 14 | RPG: 11.7 | APG: 2.7 | BPG: 1.6
Monta Ellis - "The Mississippi Bullet" - is easily one of the most entertaining players in the NBA today. One part of the explosive Golden State Warriors' backcourt with Stephen Curry, Ellis is sixth in scoring in the league. He's also developing into quite the clutch player, his ability to keep calm and make crucial buckets is impressive. Ellis' speed and athleticism are staggering, and his ability to move with or without the ball make him one of the Western Conference's elite guards. Though the West has a myriad of strong guards: Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, just to name a few, Monta's stock is rising rapidly.
PPG: 25.1 | RPG: 3.3 | APG: 5.6 | SPG: 2.3 | 3P%: 36.5
With Blake Griffin being named an All-Star Reserve and having an all-around phenomenal season, it's easy to overlook the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers. That being said, Eric Gordon is quickly becoming one of the league's strongest two-guards. Gordon actually outscores Griffin per game, though his play isn't quite as full of mind-blowing highlight dunks. He's a solid three point shooter and can finish at the rim when called for.
Eric Gordon is another player could have trouble due to the abundance of strong guards in the West, but if the Clippers continue to rise, don't count out a pair of Clips appearing in February 2012.
PPG: 24.1 | RPG: 3.1 | APG: 4.5 | 3P%: 35.9
A strong option both defensively and offensively, Iguodala is one of the NBA's most versatile players and has become the leader of a Sixers team that has been playing solid basketball as of late. Playing ably as a two and a three, Iggy has been the subject of a number of trade rumors and is a highly desired player by a number of teams for his point-forward ability.
A trade to a major franchise like the Knicks or a strong first half of next season if he stays in Philadelphia could put Andre Iguodala over the top in terms of All-Star chances.
PPG: 14.4 | RPG: 5.8 | APG: 5.6 | 3P%: 33.7
Another possible player this season, as a replacement for Yao Ming. The real question with Andrew Bynum is can he stay healthy? Bynum has emerged as a dominant post-player and one of the strongest centers in the league due to his incredible size, but that's when he's healthy. The Lakers' starting center seems to be perennially injured, but if that can change there's always room for another All-Star on the L.A. roster. The seven-footer can score on nearly anyone and can provide energy for the often lethargic Lakers squad.
While it'll be hard to shine brighter than Kobe, Pau or even Lamar Odom, fans of the Lakers will undoubtedly make a push for him.
While Amar'e Stoudemire has emerged as the superstar to usher in a new era of basketball at Madison Square Garden, the contributions of point guard Raymond Felton can't be dismissed. Sixth in the league in assists, Felton has come into his own as a playmaker and facilitator under Mike D'Antoni. He's also a capable shooter in his own right and athletic enough to finish at the rim with gusto. Felton's career year has helped to make the Knicks relevant once again.
New York fans have been deprived of great basketball for years now, and have been clamoring for strong players like Stoudemire and Felton. If the Knicks continue to play solidly through the remainder of the '10-'11 season and into next year, there could be significant momentum behind Number 2 as an All-Star.
PPG: 17.1 | RPG: 3.7 | APG: 8.9 | SPG: 1.8