Beard: These players are deserving of an All-Star nod
The starters for the NBA All-Star Game were named last week, with very few surprises — led by the Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, based off the combination of voting by the fans, media and players.
Rounding out the East squad are Kyrie Irving (Cavs) and DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), along with Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) and Jimmy Butler (Bulls). For the West, it’s James Harden (Rockets) and forwards Kawhi Leonard (Spurs), Kevin Durant (Warriors) and Anthony Davis (Pelicans).
No arguments, right? Wrong.
Russell Westbrook is having one of the best all-around individual seasons in the past 30 years and because he was third in the fan voting, wasn’t selected as one of the two starting guards. It’s an interesting debate, but Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy summed things up succinctly:
“Westbrook should be in there, but so should Harden and Curry. It’s hard to argue. You can’t look at those guys and say (either one) had no business being in there,” he said. “I always say in those debates — you take first pick and I’ll take the leftovers and I’ll be fine.”
Almost assuredly, Westbrook will make it as a reserve, but it’s sparked a debate about what being selected an All-Star starter means and whether the process needs to be overhauled yet again.
Although I had a media vote for the starters, each coach selects seven reserve players — two guards, three frontcourt and two wild cards. The reserves will be announced Thursday on a special selection show on TNT.
Here are my selections:
Isaiah Thomas, Celtics: By many accounts, he should have been a starter ahead of Irving. He’s having his best season and is keeping the Celtics afloat. Even after they acquired Al Horford, Thomas still is their best player.
Kyle Lowry, Raptors: He sometimes gets lost in the shuffle with his backcourt mate, DeRozan, but Lowry is every bit as important to their success. Playoff struggles aside, he’s one of the best all-around point guards in the league.
Kemba Walker, Hornets: After improving each season, he’s finally in position to get his due with his first All-Star selection. He’s the glue that keeps the Hornets together and he would have gotten to showcase it in front of his home crowd — before the game moved to New Orleans.
Kevin Love, Cavs: He showed his versatility last season in the playoffs. He’s a threat from the paint or the perimeter and he was one of the key pieces to their championship run.
Paul George, Pacers: A versatile and electric playmaker, George has been the mainstay for the Pacers in their playoff quest. He had an argument to be a starter ahead of Butler.
Paul Millsap, Hawks: He’s a steady and versatile two-way player and like all the All-Stars, is a matchup nightmare. Through ups and downs this season, he’s helped keep it together for the Hawks.
Joel Embiid, Sixers: It’s a somewhat controversial pick, because he’s a rookie and he’s been on a minutes restriction. But what he’s brought to the moribund franchise is hope and enthusiasm. Some would have him wait another year, but why wait?
Next choice: John Wall, Wizards: He probably deserves a reserve spot, but with three other point guards in the mix, he’s the odd man out.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Four words: Twenty-two triple-doubles. Any further explanation is just a waste of space.
Klay Thompson, Warriors: He’s still one of the best two-way guards in the league and playing a more limited role after the acquisition of Durant hasn’t cramped his game. Somehow, he’s still underrated.
Gordon Hayward, Jazz: In a resurgent season, he’s been the best player for the Jazz. He’s an outstanding shooter and gradually improved in each of his seven seasons. That’s enough to get him his first All-Star nod.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: He could have been a starter for everything that he does for the Kings, who are flirting with the No. 8 spot in the West. He’s the league’s best big man — and it’s almost not even close.
Draymond Green, Warriors: He’s the Swiss Army knife of the NBA, able to contribute in almost any category: scoring, rebounding and defense, on the perimeter or in the paint.
Marc Gasol, Grizzlies: Memphis is well above .500 and staying competitive in the West, mostly because of Gasol’s two-way play and a healthy Mike Conley. Gasol has added a 3-pointer to his repertoire, making him even more difficult to guard.
DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: There aren’t very many deserving big men in the West, but because of the thumb injury to Chris Paul, the Clippers needed a representative.
Next choice: Rudy Gobert, Jazz: Defensively, he’s one of the best big men in the West and continues to develop his game on both ends.