It's NBA nitpicking time!
The league announced the reserves for the 2015 Eastern and Western Conference All-Star teams on Thursday night, and as per usual, there are selections to applaud and snubs to lament.
First things first, though. Here's how the All-Star rosters shook out, with the recently chosen reserves highlighted for emphasis:
|2015 NBA All-Star Rosters|
|Starter||John Wall||Stephen Curry|
|Starter||Kyle Lowry||Kobe Bryant*|
|Starter||LeBron James||Blake Griffin|
|Starter||Carmelo Anthony||Anthony Davis|
|Starter||Pau Gasol||Marc Gasol|
|Reserve||Jeff Teague||Chris Paul|
|Reserve||Kyrie Irving||Russell Westbrook|
|Reserve||Jimmy Butler||James Harden|
|Reserve||Dwyane Wade*||Klay Thompson|
|Reserve||Paul Millsap||Kevin Durant|
|Reserve||Al Horford||LaMarcus Aldridge|
|Reserve||Chris Bosh||Tim Duncan|
|(*Denotes injury) Source: NBA.com.|
With the All-Star Game dockets finalized, the critiquing can now begin. While this evaluational inspecting will include some technicality-tamped, captious hairsplitting, there are a few shocks to marvel at and, most importantly, a couple of unjust exclusions to call out.
Nothing that melts the mind here.
There isn't much backcourt depth to tout in the Eastern Conference. Things were thin to begin with, and DeMar DeRozan's 21-game absence removed most of the guesswork.
Jimmy Butler is having a sensational campaign, Kyrie Irving's play has picked up—his 55-point outing against the Portland Trail Blazers, while post-vote submission, strengthens his case—and Dwyane Wade would have grabbed a starting spot in the popularity contest if not for Kyle Lowry's potentially Justin Bieber-buttressed rise.
Some tinkering may still follow, though. Wade is tending to a hamstring injury and did not sound optimistic about playing anytime soon while speaking with reporters Thursday, per the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman:
Never fear, because all is well. There's a certain someone just centimeters below your eyes who will be more than willing to replace Wade.
Snub: Kyle Korver
Atlanta Hawks fans can take comfort in knowing they're well-represented. Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague will all be partaking in the All-Star exhibition.
But that doesn't make Kyle Korver's omission any easier to stomach. It feels disingenuous to leave out a guy who almost never misses, after all.
Korver is shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, 53.4 percent from deep and 92.3 percent from the foul line. That's just absurd.
Just one other player has ever recorded a 50/50/90 shooting slash: Steve Kerr. But his 1995-96 accolades come with an asterisk. The NBA's three-point line was shorter that season—not situated 23'9" away from the basket like it is now—making Korver's twine-roasting stroke all the more impressive.
No, he's not your typical All-Star. Averaging 13 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists seldom earns you snub status, let alone real All-Star consideration.
At the same time, Korver is on pace to have the best shooting performance in NBA history:
Cry not, though, Hawks fans. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says there is still hope:
Keep your fingers crossed (while also sending good vibes Wade's way, of course).
Surprise: Chris Bosh
It's not like Chris Bosh is having a bad season, but bigger things were expected of him after securing a max contract from the Miami Heat over the offseason.
Stocked with enough talent, the Heat are five games under .500. They're in a continuous battle with Wade's health, yet with a superstar like Bosh, they should be striving for more than a bottom-two playoff spot in the talent-shallow Eastern Conference.
Bosh's numbers are admittedly up in almost every statistical category. He's topping 21 points per game while shooting 37.3 percent from beyond the arc, the second-best mark of his career. But he's failed to adapt his game to that of a featured scorer, and until Hassan Whiteside's breakout, he was frequently complicit in Miami's defensive downturn, as Grantland's Zach Lowe previously noted:
Basically, Bosh's performance tells two different stories. That's atypical of an All-Star.
Snub: Nikola Vucevic
Attribute this snub to a less established player falling victim to better-known candidates.
Nikola Vucevic is absolutely having an All-Star season. He's averaging 19.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 53.6 percent shooting, all of which are career highs.
Let's look at the list of NBA players going for at least 19 points, 11 rebounds and two assists on 50 percent shooting this season:
- Nikola Vucevic
For the life of me, there doesn't seem to be a worthy excuse here. The Orlando Magic's 15-34 record could hurt, but again, it's not like Bosh and the 20-25 Heat are setting the world on fire.
Of course, there is a silver lining: Vucevic is only 24 and in his fourth season. Coaches and fans will have plenty more chances to eventually remedy this breach of logic.
Surprise: Russell Westbrook
One of the Oklahoma City Thunder's wunderkinds was always going to make the West's squad, despite missing significant time with injury. Having won the league's MVP award last season and knowing the fans failed to vote a true wing into the starting five, Kevin Durant's inclusion felt like a given.
Russell Westbrook's did not.
The numbers, like always, are solid. Westbrook is averaging 25.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 7.5 assists and a league-leading 2.3 steals per game. The only players to ever hold those statistical touchstones for an entire season are LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wade. That's ridiculous company.
Career highs in assist percentage (46.2) and player efficiency rating (27.5) strengthen his case as well. But Westbrook is also shooting under 43 percent for the first time since he was a sophomore in the league.
Playing with Durant, meanwhile, is having a weird impact. In the 528 minutes they've logged together this season, Westbrook is shooting just 38.8 percent from the field. That number climbs to 45.1 percent when Durant steps off.
To be sure, there's definitely a case here for Westbrook to make the All-Star squad. A really, really strong case.
Just not an airtight one.
Snub: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is the Nikola Vucevic of the Western Conference's backcourt. He has the numbers, just not the longstanding reputation—though he comes pretty darn close.
As the Association's resident Clutch Master General, Lillard is an unbridled shot-taker and shot-maker. He's averaging 21.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.3 steals on the season—benchmarks only Stephen Curry, James Harden, James and Westbrook are hitting.
His 43.4 percent clip from the floor is underwhelming, but it's a career best. He also continues to put in 36.7 percent of his treys, despite jacking up 7.3 deep balls a night.
And then there are his crunch-time heroics to consider. He's one of just 17 players to have attempted at least 20 shots during the final three minutes of games in which his team is ahead or behind by no more than three points. His 44.4 percent conversation rate in those situations ranks sixth within that group.
To put that in perspective and to understand how difficult scoring can be that late in games, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Joe Johnson, Westbrook and Lowry are all shooting below 40 percent under the same duress.
Which means what?
Allow NBA.com's David Aldridge to explain:
Surprise: Tim Duncan
This is fine by me.
Duncan has already been named to 14 All-Star Games, and he most definitely deserves No. 15. See, this isn't reputation-rewarding. Duncan is not Kobe Bryant.
Like The Salt Lake Tribune's Tony Jones notes:
If Duncan's per-game numbers hold, he'll become the oldest player in league history to average at least 14.5 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and 1.5 blocks for an entire season—by five years. The previous record was 33, held by Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Duncan himself.
Time has not slowed him, and this season is a pointed reminder of what he can still accomplish. His minutes are the highest they've been since 2009-10, and he's anchoring the league's third-best defense.
Why, then, is Duncan's selection surprising?
Well, it's Duncan. He plays for the Spurs. He's 38. Older players not named Bryant don't typically receive such dap, even if the numbers show they deserve it.
Indeed, the real surprise now may be Duncan actually participating rather than skipping the festivities for a weekend of shuffleboard, bingo and aqua aerobics.
Snub: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins not making the West's All-Star team yet again is the snub of all snubs. It's an all-time slight and, frankly, super surprising.
Justice has since been half-served, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein:
All signs—yes, all the signs—pointed to Cousins snagging a reserve spot for the first time in his career. He's appeared to make great strides as an emotional leader after winning gold at the FIBA Basketball World Cup with Team USA over the summer, and he remains a statistical genie.
Only seven players in NBA history have averaged at least 23 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, one steal and 1.5 blocks per game for an entire season: Bob Lanier, Bob McAdoo, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Olajuwon and Abdul-Jabbar. Cousins is on pace to become the eighth—and just the second over the last 20 years.
There are also these tidbits to consider from SB Nation's Tom Ziller and ProHoopsHistory.com's Curtis Harris:
Two days before the reserves were announced, Wojnarowski also made it sound like Cousins was on course to nab his first All-Star selection:
Consider this both a surprise and a snub. Cousins should have most definitely received the nod. The season he's enjoying should have made it a formality.
Fan voting certainly didn't help. Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis were all named as starters, and there isn't a true scoring wing among them. The latter two are basically centers, even though Davis is a listed power forward.
Rosters aren't typically overloaded with non-three-point-shooting bigs, so while unfair, Cousins' exclusion was an inherent peril of how the West's starting five unfolded.
Not that this is a viable excuse. If Cousins' reaction to last year's upstaging is any indication of how important All-Star recognition is to him, he certainly won't see any of this as legitimate logic:
On the bright side Cousins will still wind up representing the Sacramento Kings in New York.
Still, it shouldn't have come down to this. Though it's difficult to pinpoint whom exactly Cousins should have replaced to begin with, the facts haven't changed.
Cousins is now an All-Star, yet if not for an injury to Bryant, he wouldn't be.
*Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com and are accurate as of games played Jan. 28, 2015, unless otherwise cited. Special thanks to Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal for the Infographics.