For starters, I don't really care for the All-Star Game.
It's a game all about entertaining the fans, the players don't take it seriously, its selection process—which is really just a popularity contest—is ridiculously arbitrary, and it creates false evidence of greatness (look no further than eight-time All-Star Vince Carter) which is amateurishly and annoyingly used in debate.
With that said, I love the often-heated discussions that take place right after the teams have been announced. Questions about who doesn't belong and who got snubbed just greased my intellectual need to identify those who should be acknowledged and rewarded.
Others have their reasons for picking certain players, often to build up their own guys. But I have no loyalty to anything but the truth.
I want to pick the 24 players who, without question, deserve to have a spot on the team. You know, the true All-Stars. After much thought and consideration, I've decided on my 2011 NBA All-Stars. Here they are:
Center: Dwight Howard
Forward: Amar'e Stoudemire
Forward: LeBron James
Guard: Dwyane Wade
Guard: Derrick Rose
Center: Pau Gasol
Forward: Dirk Nowitzki
Forward: Kevin Durant
Guard: Kobe Bryant
Guard: Chris Paul
No shocking picks here, obviously. These guys are pretty much the best players in the league at their respective positions.
Al Horford: Quality big men in the East are quite scarce, which is why Horford, a consistently good but not great player, continues to make the team. He's 5th in the league in field goal percentage (.568), 7th in rebounds per game (9.9), is scoring 16 points per game and leads the Atlanta Hawks in both PER and Win Shares.
Kevin Garnett: KG is old and far from a sexy pick, but what he does for the Boston Celtics—currently the 2nd-best team in the league—is invaluable. He is the anchor of their top-ranked defense. Also, keep in mind that his stats aren't gaudy because he's only playing 31 minutes per night. Production-wise, he's putting up 17 and 10 per 36 minutes. He's the East's version of Tim Duncan.
Josh Smith: Smith has been robbed now for two years straight. Seriously, it's time this man gets his due. The recently turned 25-year-old is averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and shooting 37 percent from three-point range. He's second to Horford on the Hawks in PER and Win Shares (3rd in the NBA in Defensive Win Shares) and has made several clutch plays.
Paul Pierce: Even with over 930 games under his belt, Pierce remains one of the best players in the league. As the heart and soul of the Celtics, Pierce is putting up career-best shooting percentages this season (.512/.420/.850).
Joe Johnson: "I'm no fan of Joe Johnson" is a sentiment I pretty much share at any chance I get. He's a versatile player who does many things well, but nothing great. You'd be interested to know the only statistical categories he ranks in the top 20 in are Turnover Percentage (13th) and Usage Rate (18th). With that said, he's basically the Hawks point guard. Danny Granger and Ray Allen don't deserve to be ahead of him.
Rajon Rondo: Call me a purist, but aren't point guards supposed to be able to shoot free throws and protect the ball? Despite being the worst free throw shooter around and leading the league in turnovers per game, Rondo is a unique player who makes an impact in a way few others can. He causes havoc on the defensive end, much like Gerald Wallace, and can help his team win without even taking a shot.
Raymond Felton: Felton is posting career-best averages of 17 points and 9 assists per game and is the single-most reason, after Amar'e Stoudemire, why the Knicks have turned things around. Anyone who feels that he doesn't belong here should check the standings and see how the Charlotte Bobcats, his former team, is doing.
Tim Duncan: Those who feel that Timmy doesn't belong here do not understand his value to, and impact on, the San Antonio Spurs. This guy has won four titles; he doesn't care about anything except winning in the playoffs. The reason he only plays 29 minutes per game is because of that. Coach Popovich is preserving him for when the ante is raised in late April. Still, despite a decrease in floor time, Duncan ranks 10th in rebounds and 7th in blocks.
LaMarcus Aldridge: The 25-year-old, 5th-year player out of Texas has transitioned from an above-average forward to a superstar this season. Portland has been cursed with a ridiculous amount of injuries, including season-enders to Brandon Roy, Marcus Camby, Greg Oden and rookie first-round pick Elliot Williams. Aldridge has averaged 25 and 10 over the last 24 games to keep the Blazers a playoff team.
Kevin Love: I originally thought to hate on Love because his Timberwolves hold the 2nd-worst record in the league. Then I realized the guys playing alongside him are Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Luke Ridnour, Wesley Johnson and Corey Brewer. Wow. I just got a flashback of a clip from the 1989 comedy, The Dream Team. Seriously, how do you leave averages of 21.4 points, 15.5 rebounds, and .472-.439-.870 shooting percentages off this roster? HOW?
Manu Ginobili: I'm going to let you in on a secret only true basketball fans know (sorry, you have to watch the games; SportsCenter highlights don't count). After Kobe and D-Wade, there isn't a better all-around two-guard in the NBA than Ginobili. It's actually been this way for years but because Manu (a) doesn't put up gaudy stats, (b) plays in Tim Duncan's shadow, (c) speaks English with an accent, and (d) doesn't appear in advertisements.
Kevin Martin: After Kobe and Manu, there hasn't been a better two-guard in the West than Martin. Seriously, an argument can be made Martin should be a starter on this team. He's averaging 23 points per game while just playing 31 minutes a night. He has made more free throws than any other player this season (as a guard!). Only seven guys have scored more points. The Rockets don't have much besides Luis Scola and yet are just five games under .500 despite playing in the top division. It's all because of Martin.
Russell Westbrook: What negative thing can you say about 'Brook aside from the fact that he can't shoot well from the outside? Every night: 22.4 points, 8.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 85 percent free-throw shooting. Call me crazy, but I think he might be more important to the Thunder than Kevin Durant. If Durant is having an off shooting night, his contributions are greatly diminished. With Westbrook, he gets the hoop whenever he wants.
Deron Williams: With so many great point guards in the West, it's easy to lose track of Williams because he's so consistent and plays out in Salt Lake City. Think about how often you've heard his name this season. Hell, even Steve Nash, (at age 37 playing for a mediocre Phoenix Suns team that gets more love and publicity), is clearly a lesser player. Williams is scoring a career-high 22 points per game while leading the 29-21 Jazz.