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With All-Star weekend just days away I thought it was time to make my all-star picks for this season. My criteria was simple: I picked 12 players from each conference that I thought played best during the first half of the season. Whether they played on a bad team or an elite one, I made my decisions based on their level of play. Without further ado, here are my all-star picks for the 2011-12 season.
Hit the jump for Mark’s All-Star picks…
Rose has missed a few games this year with back issues but when he’s been on the floor he’s been every bit as good if not better than he was last year when he won the league’s MVP award. Rose is passing better than ever before and he continues to be one of the best closers in the league, although the Bulls haven’t required that service from Rose very often this season. The only thing you’d like Rose to improve on is his three-point shooting. He has some great moments but 32% isn’t all that great. If he were to start making 36% or 37% of his long-range looks, he’d be unstoppable offensively.
Wade has also missed time this season with injuries but he’s still the best shooting guard in the East by far. No other shooting guard in the East has a PER greater than 16.72, which is Joe Johnson’s mark. The Heat did have some success when Wade was out and I do have questions as to when the Heat are at their best but Wade is still playing strong. Wade’s incredible versatility as a scorer, passer, defender and rebounder make him one of the top 10 players in the league and an easy selection due to the lack of standout talent at the two guard position this season.
LeBron James is playing better than anybody else in the league. In fact, his current 32.68 PER is the greatest of all-time. James has expanded his game to include a couple of effective post-moves and he’s cut down on his three-point attempts (4.1 a game on his career, two a game this season), which has helped him become the most efficient basketball player in the league and perhaps ever (no other player in league history has shot 55% from the field and 40% from three while scoring at least 27 point per game before). It will take a devastating injury or Andre Iguodala and Danny Granger fusing their talents together for LeBron not to be in this spot for the next five or six years.
Stan Van Gundy was right to criticize his six-foot-10 power forward for grabbing just two rebounds a few nights ago but some poor rebounding nights doesn’t overshadow what else he does for the Magic, at least in my mind. Anderson leads the league in three-point attempts per game and he’s shooting 43% from deep, filling in the Rashard Lewis role from Orlando’s run to the Finals in 2009 perfectly. Anderson also has the 12th best offensive rebound rate amongst power forwards, meaning the few times he isn’t spotting up from deep, he’s making a positive impact on the offensive glass.
Even a semi-disinterested Dwight Howard is the most devastating center in the league. I do think that he has the most competition he’s ever had for Defensive Player of the Year this season due to a slight dip in production on his end, but he’s still the best defensive player in the league when he is locked in. Howard’s free throw problems remain the only hole in his game. He’s had a few encouraging 10-for-14 games over the past week but he followed both of those games up with 2-of-10 performances, coincidentally putting his percentage right at 50%, which is his percentage on the season. Still, the guy is averaging 20 and 15 and has a 23.83 PER.
Irving is having a rookie season on par with LeBron James’ performance. I’ve already admitted that I was wrong about this kid and it’s been obvious to me that this kid as an extraordinary feel for the game for a rookie, particularly one that played fewer than 15 games at the college level before being placed into LeBron’s shoes in Cleveland. Irving is averaging 19 points, five assists and four rebounds a game and his percentages (49/44/86) are Nash like. Irving has turned a mediocre Cavs team into an exciting one and if Anderson Varejao didn’t break his wrist last week, they’d be in the playoff conversation right now.
I know this sounds odd since Lin has been in the starting line-up for such a short period of time but hear me out. The other point guard that would be considered in this spot is Rajon Rondo. Due to injuries and a recent suspension, Rondo has only played in 22 games this season. Once the Knicks and Heat tip-off tonight, Lin will have played in 21 games this season. Of course, Lin has played at least 20 minutes in only 12 of those games, but given how successful the Knicks have been since he was inserted into the starting line-up, wouldn’t you say he’s been as impactful as Rondo this season? Lin is averaging 23 points, eight assists, four rebounds and two steals in February and he’s been knocking the three ball down at a good clip over the past week. With his excellent 24.18 PER, I think Lin is a very deserving all-star even if he was late to the party.
Ryan Anderson is the league leader in three-point attempts, which isn’t surprising given he’s a three-point specialist. But do you know who is sitting in second place, just three attempts behind him? That would be point guard Deron Williams. With New Jersey having so few offensive options, the Nets have had to treat Williams as a two-guard fairly often this season and he’s come to love shooting the three while coming off of down screens. It kind of seems like Williams is taking the easy way out by taking all of these threes, preserving his body until the games start to matter, but he is hitting a career 37% of them, so there’s some good to this. In addition to his 22.2 points per game Williams is also averaging eight assists per game and his 21.18 PER is pretty impressive given the play of his teammates so far this season.
Iguodala doesn’t have the all-around numbers that were used to seeing from him as he’s been able to let the rest of Philly’s players take on bigger roles. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t played at an all-star level. Instead of being the team’s primary scorer this season, Iguodala has settled in as their top playmaker, and he’s got the best assist rate (27.7) in the league for a small forward. His usage rate is just 18.2%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2005. With Iguodala being such an adept passer and the league’s top perimeter defender, it’s hard to say he isn’t an all-star.
At this point it’s hard to figure out what Smith needs to do to make an all-star team in real life. The Hawks had their best player (Al Horford) go down early in the season and the only reason Atlanta is still in the playoff conversation is because of how good Smith has been this season. Smith has a career high rebound rate, a great assist rate for a power forward and remains one of the best defensive forwards in the game. Smith’s offense is down a bit this season (his 48.6% true shooting percentage is a bit concerning) but he’s scoring 18.2 points per 40 minutes for a team that doesn’t have an offense that suits his strengths.
Monroe has been outstanding this year for a second year big man playing with inexperienced or poor passing guards. He’s averaging just under a double-double (16.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game) and his work in the post has been polished and effective. Monroe is also doing a good bit of facilitating for a center, posting a 13.0% assist rate. To put that in perspective, Dwight Howard has an assist rate of 8.6%. Monroe only trails Howard in PER for a center, putting up a very impressive 22.98 mark. Monroe does struggle on defense most of the time but that’s the least bit of Detroit’s worries at this point.
Chandler has helped the Knicks go from treacherous defensive team to a pretty good one in a couple of months. What Chandler did for the Mavs last season was impressive but he’s been even better this season. And with Jeremy Lin running the offense in New York, he’s finally becoming a factor offensively as a weakside cutter. Factor in his fantastic work on the boards and his role as a leader in a lockerroom that has gone through a ton of change over the past few months and you have a center that’s just as valuable as any other player in the league.
As I discussed on the podcast, Paul is my MVP pick right now. The way he controls the game in crunchtime has been incredible and he’s taken an otherwise overrated Clippers team and has them meeting expectations at the all-star break. Paul is actually slightly below his career average for points and assists per game but something tells me he’s enjoy that luxury a bit. Paul has become an efficiency maestro, picking his spots and finishing every game with picture perfect operation of the pick-and-roll. Paul is also putting up Nash-like shooting numbers (48/44/86) as he adjusts to his new role as the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.
All his bad shots aside, Bryant is having a great season considering everything that’s going against him (age, injuries, new coach, insane playing time). Bryant is the league’s leading scorer not because he’s gunning for records but because the Lakers absolutely need him to score 30 for them to have a chance on most nights. Bryant is shooting an extremely high number of mid-range jumpers this season (8.3 attempts per game from 16-23 feet) but he is also hitting 43% of those shots, which is the highest he’s shot from that range since 2007. If the Lakers can find a way to get someone capable of actually backing him up, I’m sure that Bryant’s level of play will increase.
I called for Durant to improve his overall game during the off-season and so far he’s delivered improved results. Though the focus is off of him because Kobe is leading the league in scoring and LeBron is playing better basketball than anyone in the world, Durant is quietly posting the highest rebound and assist rates of his career while shooting 52% from the field and 37% from deep. There is still room to grow – Durant is getting to the foul line the fewest times per game since his rookie season and he’s averaging a career high 3.7 turnovers per game – but Durant is showing very good signs this season. Oh, and he’s just 23 years old and averaging 27.7 points per game with a 27.49 PER. That’s ridiculous.
Love is starting to come into his own as one of the best players in the league. After being recognized as a super rebounder last season, Love has developed into a super scorer as well. Love is averaging 25.5 points per game and is getting to the line nine times per game, which is very encouraging for someone that may not be able to create his own shot all that often, in addition to the now expected 14.2 rebounds per game. Love has made the three-point shot a focal point of his game and though he’s only shooting 35% from that range this season, I can see him settling in as a 40% shooter once he’s done developing. With Love’s post-game coming along, he’s turning into a superstar in this league.
With all of the talk about Bynum finally stepping into a bigger role in the Lakers’ offense, his touches haven’t gone up all that much this season. His usage percentage is a career high 20.1% but he posted similar marks of 18.9% and 19% in 2008-09 and 2009-10 respectively. That said, Bynum is averaging a career high 34.5 minutes per game, is being used as the focal point of the second unit and is finally playing in crunchtime every night now that Odom is gone. Bynum’s career high averages of 16.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per night are well earned and he is definitely using his possessions more efficiently than ever this season.
So Lowry is an overall improved player with a sky high efficiency rate that is passing better and hitting his shots at a better clip. If that’s not enough to convince you that he’s an all-star, let me remind you of Lowry’s contributions on the other end of the floor. Lowry is the best defensive point guard in basketball and the only players that are even in the conversation with him are Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday. Lowry has a perfect combination of lateral quickness and upper body strength that makes him one of the very few players in the NBA with the ability to check the league’s quickest players. On the season, Lowry is only allowing his man to score 35% of the time they attempt shots against him and in one-on-one situations, that number drops to 33%.
The fact that I’ve used “Nash-like” to describe two other point guard’s fantastic shooting is a testament to the two time MVP who, by the way, at age 38, is outdoing both Irving and Paul with his 54/40/86 line. Nash has been pure brilliance this season, posting 14 points and 11 assists a night on a team that would probably be in last place in the West without him. He’s made Marcin Gortat into an all-star big man with his amazing pick-and-roll game and he continues to beat father time, and the opposition, when the game is on the line. There’s nothing I want to see more than Nash getting a chance to play for a contender. He’s earned it.
Parker did a great job stepping up his play for the Spurs when Manu Ginobili went down early in the season. It appears that increased workload has helped him get on a role of late as he’s averaging 26 points and eight assists in the month of February. During February Parker has had four 30-point games, including a 52-point, nine assist output against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s no coincidence that as Parker started getting on a roll, the Spurs rattled off 11 straight wins. Parker is probably having his best season ever, posting a 22.45 PER with a career high assist rate and a career low turnover rate. That Parker/Duncan pick-and-roll has never looked better.
Westbrook gets unfairly criticized for freezing out Kevin Durant late in games. Durant has taken the most shots in the final two minutes of five point games this season, with 37 attempts to Westbrook’s 22. Westbrook is actually shooting a much higher percentage (55% to 46%) and is hitting a better percentage of his threes. Give Westbrook his credit: he doesn’t shy away from he moment and he’s been very good late in games. If we are going to attack LeBron for shying away from these moments, we can’t penalize Westbrook for believing in himself, especially when Durant is still getting his touches. Oh, and Westbrook is 23 years old, averaging 23 points per game and has a 23.53 PER. Not bad, huh?
Batum doesn’t have eye-popping per game averages nor is he the best player on his team, but the six-foot-eight small forward is putting in work at both ends of the floor for the Blazers. Batum is shooting a career high 42% from three, which has helped him score a career high 14 point points a night. Batum is also an excellent defender and leads the league in chases-down blocks with nine. His numbers may jump off the page but outside of Durant, the only other quality small forwards in the West are Danilo Gallinari, Batum and Rudy Gay. With Gallo hurt and Gay struggling to score this season (he has a 51% true shooting percentage), Batum and his 19.67 PER deserve a wing spot on this roster.
Aldridge is building off of his all-star worthy 2010-11 campaign. His PER has seen a slight increase from 21.57 to 23.81, he has a career high assist rate and he’s scoring 24.8 points per 40 minutes on a team that desperately needs him to be the steady force of the offense. Aldridge already has one of the best mid-range games in basketball but he’s managed to improve on that this season. He’ shooting a career high 46.2% from 10-15 feet and a career high 43% from 16-23 while still taking a solid five attempts at the rim per game. Aldridge’s only bugaboo is his rebounding but eight rebounds isn’t so bad when you have the best rebounder in basketball in Marcus Camby playing alongside you.
This was a tough selection. It’s hard to have to Suns on the all-star team while leaving off a deserving Grizzlie in Marc Gasol, an all-star talent like Pau Gasol and four other very good big men: Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Blake Griffin and even Nikola Pekovic. In the end I went with Gortat because of how well he’s worked with Nash in the pick-and-roll and because of the improvements he’s made to his game. Gortat is shooting a career high 44% from 16-23 feet, and an impressive 49% from 3-9 feet on four attempts a night. Gortat’s PER of 21.37 matches up well with any of the aforementioned snubs and I think Gortat is a better defender than any of them. In fact, Synergy ranks Gortat in the top 9% of all defenders in the NBA. When defending the pick-and-roll, Gortat is only allowing a score 25% of the time and when defending players in the post, he’s only allowing a score 32% of the time. Those are two ELITE marks.
East Snubs: Rajon Rondo, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert.
West Snubs: James Harden, The Gasol Brothers, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Blake Griffin.