Filling Out the NBA All-Star Game Rosters
The NBA All-Star Game is coming up on us quickly (take that, Sochi Olympics) and that means that both the East and the West will ned to add seven extra players to the already-announced starters. The way the selection process works is fans (historically a bunch of idiots) vote on the starting lineups and then the coaches vote on the rest of the bench.
Technically, I’m more of a fan than a coach. Actually, it’s not even close, I’m definitely just a fan and not even close to a coach. But I’m not interested in picking the starters because 1) they’ve already been picked and 2) everyone knows who the absolute best payers are.
I’m pretty into the concept of team building based on adding specialists who represent skills necessary for an NBA game. Since the fans generally only pick scorers to start, the real fun begins with the bench players. Plus, there are two more of them.
Before I get going, I’m going to explain my thought process: I’m only using information from this season (Sorry, Kobe, you don’t belong), I don’t factor in team success (Sorry, Spurs) and I’m not picking the 12 best players, I’m picking the 12 players who I think would make the best team. I’m not trying to build a team that would make the most entertaining team either, I’m trying to make the best actual basketball team.
Here are the picks, with each team broken into four backcourt (B) players, six frontcourt (F) players and two wild card (W) players.:
- Kyrie Irving (B1)
- Dwyane Wade (B2)
- LeBron James (F1)
- Paul George (F2)
- Carmelo Anthony (F3)
What does this team have? Penetrating scorers. And a lot of them. James, George and Wade give them a really good defensive presence on the wing, but it comes at the expense of interior defense. Anthony and George give the East a couple of reliable three-point shooters, but neither is truly elite. In a perfect world, the frontcourt players would bring the three-point skills, but Irving will be the third, or even fourth (behind James) deep option in the starting lineup. Wade (who has shot only 19 threes through Sunday) has almost completely removed the deep ball from his game, an odd problem for a 2-guard, but that position in the East is by far the shallowest position for either of the conferences.
What this team needs to add is more outside shooters and more post defense. A couple of good passers and rebounders are a secondary needs, since James (15th in APG) and Irving (20th) aren’t exactly ideal ballhandlers and only Anthony collects more rebounds a game than any of the Western conference frontcourt starters.
Backcourt reserve selections:
- Kyle Lowry (B3)
- John Wall (B4)
Lowry makes the roster because he brings the the two things the East needs most from its backcourt guards, three-pointers and passing. He’s third in assists in the East and tied for second (behind George) in made threes. If you remove scoring from the equation (which won’t be needed from point guards on this team), Lowry is the best point guard in the East this year. He does everything.
I think most basketball fans recognize that Wall should be starting over Irving for a lot of reasons, but especially knowing that James, George, Wade and Anthony all score primarily off the dribble, it makes no sense to add a fifth slasher to the mix. Wall has all of the driving ability of Irving, plus the passing. Wall is the leading assister in the East and has to be on the team.
Frontcourt reserve selections:
- Roy Hibbert (F4)
- Andre Drummond (F5)
- Al Jefferson (F6)
Hibbert and Drummond make the team for the same reasons, so I’ll talk assess them both in the same paragraph. They play defense down low, they block shots, and the rebound. They do all of that better than anyone in the starting lineup. neither one makes for a particularly interesting game, but if the East has any shot at winning, they need to stop the West from scoring in the paint. They both foul an awful lot, but it’s an All-Star game, so I don’t think the whistles will come as fast, and if they do, there are plenty of fouls to go around. Only one needs to play at a time, and neither will start, so they really only need to be able to stay on the floor for 15-20 minutes.
Al Jefferson makes the roster because the East doesn’t have a single player with post moves. Actually, the Eastern conference in general doesn’t score form the frontcourt positions. Of the top 15 scorers in the conference, only Brook Lopez (6th), Jefferson (10th) and Al Horford (13th) play PF or C. Of those, only Jefferson is healthy, so it’s a no-brainer. I’m not seeing Big Al on a lot of All-Star predictions, but honestly, without him, where does the post scoring come from? Oh, yeah, he’s the fourth-best rebounder in the East too.
Wild Card reserve selections:
- Chris Bosh (F7)
- Paul Millsap (F8)
Until now the frontcourt players on the team are either scoring wings or mammoth shot-blocking defenders. To even it out, Millsap and Bosh are not only the two best players left, but they both play the hybrid big position, which should be pretty mandatory against the athletic bigs in the West. The East has three relatively similar point guards and a huge hole at the two, so I’m assuming that the 2s and 3s get lumped into a “wing” category with George handling some of the minutes when Wade comes out. The starting lineup is so wing-heavy that 5 of the 7 players I picked as reserves are bigs and I’m fine with that, I’m picking a team to try to win this game, not score 150 points.
Millsap has been an under-the-radar stud for a while and it kind of sucks that he’s getting a place on my list primarily because his teammate got hurt, but injuries are a part of the game and staying healthy is a skill. If the real team shook out like I’ve outlined, Jefferson would probably be the biggest surprise, but Millsap wouldn’t be far behind.
- Stephen Curry (B1)
- Kobe Bryant (B2)
- Kevin Durant (F1)
- Blake Griffin (F2)
- Kevin Love (F3)
Congratulations to Curry, who was absolutely robbed last year. Congratulations also to the NBA, for creating a player so loved that he can not even play and still get voted as a starter. The West conference has an elite three-point shooters in Curry, Love and Durant, elite rebounding in Love and Griffin, elite passing in Curry and overall scoring in everyone but Kobe. Actually, what Kevin Durant is doing right now blows even past “elite” and into “otherwordly.”
As far as needs go, this team looks similar to the East, just not nearly as bad. The West could definitely use help rebounding (Love is phenomenal, but after that, Griffin is good but not great) and adding post scoring. Durant and Love are two of the best scorers in the game, but they get a lot of points form the outside, so it’s a little hard to imagine how the spacing is going to work out. Griffin has a couple of good moves down low, but he gets a lot of points out-athleticising opponents, and in an All Star Game, that advantage won’t be as strongly in his favor.
Backcourt reserve selections:
- Chris Paul (B3)
- James Harden (B4)
Neither of these selections should be controversial. Paul was having a sensational season before he was hurt, and the backup 1 spot should be his, assuming he’s healthy enough to come back. He’s also got a more physical approach to the game that could work will should the East go with a big lineup that utilizes James or Anthony as the primary ballhandler. If Paul is healthy, the West could play the entire game with either Curry or Paul running the point. For Frank Vogel, that’s terrifying.
Assuming Bryant doesn’t start, Harden will likely be the replacement starter. He’s a terrific slashing scorer, an area that the West needs to improve.
Frontcourt reserve selections:
- LaMarcus Aldridge (F4)
- DeMarcus Cousins (F5)
- Dirk Nowitzki (F6)
Aldridge is a monster scoring in the paint. He’s the best in the game today and he’s having a phenomenal year. In a perfect world, he’d be starting over Griffin since he scores, rebounds and defends better. Aldridge (like Wall and Hibbert in the East) is a shoe-in to make the All Star team, there’s no reason to explain further.
Cousins has a lot in common with Aldridge in terms of skills, he brings a lot of rebounds (can you imagine Love and Cousins at the same time, who could the East use to defend that?) and interior scoring. He’s also one of the most exciting players to watch. He’s just crazy athletic.
When you think about the players who the East will use to defend the interior, Nowitzki makes the most sense as a frontcourt selection for the West. He’s a midrange scorer who can neutralize Hibbert (or whoever else makes the team) by bringing them away from the basket. The East’s trio of starting frontcourt players will be at a huge size disadvantage against the German and only the two players I picked as wildcards (Millsap and Bosh) have any chance to stop him.
Wild card reserve selections:
- Anthony Davis (F7)
- Damian Lillard (B5)
I chose Davis over other options (Dwight Howard, mainly) primarily because he defends better. He also scores better. The primary rebounding need at this point is offensive boards (Love, Aldridge, Cousins handle the defensive ones very well). Oh, and he isn’t a diva. On the Western team the way I’ve built it, there needs to be a defensive anchor and I’d pick Davis to be it.
Lillard makes the team to provide some extra shooting and as a secondary ballhandler. The team doesn’t need much else, but the way I have it built, there’s a lot of pressure put on Curry and Paul (if he plays) and Lillard should provide some relief there. He’s having a crazy season too, in case you haven’t noticed.
Assuming Kobe doesn’t play because of injury:
- Tony Parker (B5)
If Chris Paul can’t play:
- Goran Dragic (B6)