Every season, a debate starts to rage around the turn of the new year over who deserves to be an NBA All-Star. Thanks to the ridiculous amount of talent in the Western Conference in 2014-15, that debate could be louder than ever before.
When the rosters are actually announced, the list of players who got snubbed is going to look like an All-Star team unto itself. Just look at the staggering number of players in that conference who are producing at an All-Star or near-All-Star level:
Just a reminder, only 12 of those 34 guys will get into the game. And five spots are determined by fan voting. It's just preposterous.
The Fan Vote
The latest return from NBA.com on the voting offers some clues about who those first five will be.
With the amount of rest days Kobe's been getting lately, it's conceivable to think he might give his spot up and let someone else have the chance. But with no word on that yet, we'll just assume he's in.
That might be the biggest travesty of this whole thing. Kobe's having a historically inefficient season and may be the least deserving player on that list.
Only three other players in NBA history put up as many shots as Bryant while hitting such a low field-goal percentage. And you have to go all the way back to the 1951-52 season to find the most recent example.
The only conceivable way you can justify Bryant's selection is by saying that it's about actual star quality and not production—like the class president election in high school.
Kobe aside, the other four players leading in the fan voting all deserve the nod.
Davis is having an absurd all-around season and is the only player in the league with a player efficiency rating over 30. Griffin's the league's eighth-leading scorer and one of its biggest stars. Gasol is the Memphis Grizzlies' leading scorer and defensive anchor. And Curry, well, he may be the current leader in the clubhouse for MVP honors.
The last point guard to win the award, Derrick Rose, recently told ESPN's Jeff Goodman that Curry's the best point guard in the league.
With those five in place, a whopping seven spots are left. Seven.
Curry's stiffest competition for the award right now comes from James Harden, who's shouldered a massive load for the Houston Rockets this season.
In his latest look at the MVP picture, bballbreakdown.com's Ben Dowsett argued Harden's case:
Harden leads the league in scoring...and is in the top five for per-minute free-throw attempts while shooting nearly 90 percent at the stripe. His SportVU driving figures are off the charts, and he’s responsible for basically all of the team’s creation while he’s on the floor. Houston has struggled offensively with a mix of injuries and imperfect personnel fit, and The Beard is the only thing keeping them from a bottom-five unit (one they become, and then some, when he hits the bench).
Given the way he's kept the Rockets in the playoff picture while Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones have all missed significant time due to injuries, the coaches are almost sure to put Harden on the roster.
Another guy who's almost certain to get in is Chris Paul, who's somehow flying under the radar while having another incredibly productive season. He's fourth in the NBA in assists per game, and his three-point percentage of 39.5 is the best he's posted since the 2009-10 season.
The next two near shoo-ins would probably have to be the Oklahoma City Thunder's devastating duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Injuries have cost them plenty of games, but they're healthy now and have been two of the league's five best players. In fact, they're the only two averaging at least 25 points, six rebounds and three assists.
After those four, we have to start getting into what exactly it means to be an All-Star. Is it the best players on the best teams or best players period? Is it a popularity contest? Or is it about who has the biggest impact?
Dozens Fighting for Three Spots
If you go by the argument that the best team deserves to get the most players, the Golden State Warriors should be represented by three guys. Who do you put in?
There's an argument for Curry's fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, who's second on the team in scoring and fifth in the league in threes made with 108.
There's also Draymond Green, who defies traditional stats and ranks ninth in the NBA in real plus-minus, a metric ESPN defines as, "Player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors."
Now, let's pause for a minute and acknowledge that we haven't even looked at the defending-champion San Antonio Spurs or the second-ranked Portland Trail Blazers. That's five or six more candidates right there. Surely, the Dallas Mavericks deserve at least one.
What about Dwight Howard, who's made each of the last eight All-Star Games?
The field is ridiculous. All these guys are competing for three to five spots (depending on whether you think Westbrook or Durant's injuries should keep them out).
Portland's Damian Lillard is second in the NBA in real plus-minus, trailing only Curry. San Antonio's Tim Duncan is seventh. LaMarcus Aldridge is Portland's leading scorer. DeMarcus Cousins has a top-10 PER. This could go on and on.
|Notable Potential Snubs|
|LaMarcus Aldridge||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Mike Conley||Memphis Grizzlies|
|DeMarcus Cousins||Sacramento Kings|
|Goran Dragic||Phoenix Suns|
|Tim Duncan||San Antonio Spurs|
|Kevin Durant||Oklahoma City Thunder|
|Draymond Green||Golden State Warriors|
|Dwight Howard||Houston Rockets|
|Damian Lillard||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Dirk Nowitzki||Dallas Mavericks|
|Zach Randolph||Memphis Grizzlies|
|Klay Thompson||Golden State Warriors|
|Russell Westbrook||Oklahoma City Thunder|
And chances are, it will. Even after the rosters are announced, you can be certain that cases for several players will be all over television and the Internet. When you think about it, that's really a small price to pay for the amount of talent and the level of basketball being played in the West. Let's just sit back and enjoy.
Years from now, we may look back on 2014-15 as the season that the Western Conference had dozens of All-Stars, even if only 12 got the actual invite.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him @AndrewDBailey.