With the NBA All-Star Game a little over a month away, 11 of the 12 available roster spots for the West’s team appears to be all but set in stone. While the starters are decided by fan voting, the reserves are chosen by a vote among the Western Conference’s head coaches. Either way, these are the players who figure to fill out all but one of the spots in the West’ lineup due either to popularity (Kobe) or on-court performance.
- Kobe Bryant (starter)
- Steph Curry (starter)
- Kevin Durant (starter)
- Russell Westbrook (starter)
- Draymond Green (starter)
- Kawhi Leonard
- Chris Paul
- Anthony Davis
- Blake Griffin
- James Harden
- DeMarcus Cousins
The 12th spot is definitely up in the air however, without a single player truly distancing themselves from the pack of other fringe All-Stars. I’ll be tackling those fringe players in tiers based on how much they deserve the final selection. Since this is a Canis Hoopus article, obviously I’m going to be lobbying for our very own Karl-Anthony Towns to get the final nod.
Tier 1: Zaza
Zaza Pachulia Currently coming in 8th in fan voting for the West’s frontcourt, beating out the likes of DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and teammate Dirk Nowitzki, Pachulia is one of 10 players in the NBA to average a double-double so far this season.
Attempting to vote Zaza into the All-Star Game is an annual tradition in his home country of Georgia, but it’s received a renewed push this season. Concocted as a way to spite DeAndre Jordan for spurning their Mavs, Dallas fans have joined Zaza’s countrymen and women in voting en mass for the greatest Georgian player in basketball history. Even Georgia’s ruling political party made a Facebook post encourging Georgians to vote for Pachulia. Though Zaza clearly has almost no chance of actually making the game, it’s nice to see the 31-year old grinder gain some recognition for what is shaping up to be a career year.
Tier 2: The Legacy Tier
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker
Somehow, four Spurs wound up on this list, but all of these players have received over 100,000 fan votes—save for Parker who only garnered just north of 80,000. These players have combined for 35 All-Star Game appearances, with Tim Duncan’s 15 selections tied for the third most in NBA history.
But Father Time has definitely caught Duncan, Parker, and Howard. All are averaging either at or near career lows in most statistical categories, and even Duncan’s legendary per 36 minutes consistency is finally faltering as he eases into a purely complementary role on the Spurs. Though Parker is having a banner year for efficiency (his FG% 53.1% is 6th in the NBA, and 1st among point guards), the bulk statistics are no longer enough to warrant an All-Star Game selection. Though Howard is still putting up more than respectable numbers, he is definitely past his prime at only 30 years old and has completely fallen out of any top center in the NBA discussion.
As for the other Spurs, the argument against them isn’t as cut and dry. Ginobili is unquestionably having among the greatest seasons ever by a player 38 or older, but he’s only playing 20 minutes a night, far too few to seriously warrant All-Star consideration. As for Aldridge, the talent is obviously still there, but the bulk production is way down as he integrates himself into the Spurs’ system. It feels odd to place a player still very much in the prime of his career in the Legacy tier, but LaMarcus knew the team success that accompanies joining the Spurs would likely come at the opportunity cost of personal accolades.
Considering the Spurs currently have the highest point differential in NBA history and a 21-game home winning streak, nobody should feel too bad about his exclusion. All these players are receiving votes and All-Star Game attention due to the familiarity of their names, not their on-court performance. Though four Atlanta Hawks players received All-Star nods under similar circumstances last year, the West is far too deep with talent for history to repeat itself with the Spurs in 2016.
Tier 3: The Not Quite All-Stars
Marc Gasol, Derrick Favors, Andrew Wiggins, Rajon Rondo
Players who could be All-Stars, but also probably shouldn’t be. Marc Gasol is putting up pretty much the same solid-but-not-sexy numbers as last year. The only difference is instead of submitting them on a team that was 39-14 at the All-Star break last year, this incarnation of the Memphis Grizzlies are barely treading water at 19-18 so far.
Grit And Grind is faltering, and Gasol’s once ironclad defense is going with it. Though Ben Wallace Syndrome was enough to get him voted in as a starter for last year’s All-Star Game, this year people are starting to catch on that Gasol is towards the end of his prime and isn’t worthy of a selection.
Derrick Favors was looking like a breakout candidate earlier in the season, but has slowly regressed back to his 2014-15 stats. He’s pretty much the definition of a fringe All-Star candidate, with his averages of 17/8.5/1.5 on a TS% of 55.8% with solid defense meaning he’ll always be a key piece on his team, but never a superstar.
As for Andrew Wiggins, it’s not all been entirely his fault, but he’s certainly leaving many Wolves fans with twinges of remorse. One shouldn’t denigrate a 20 PPG season out of a sophomore, but this was supposed to be a breakout year for Andrew in more ways than just scoring. However, his flaws are becoming more and more apparent. He can’t shoot from the outside at this point in his career, and his defensive impact is definitely lesser than promised pre-draft. He still looks like a star in the making, but it’s certainly disheartening watching him turn in the least efficient 20+ PPG campaign in the league so far this season—and by a wide margin.
Sam Mitchell’s antiquated offense definitely deserves some of the blame, but Andrew’s currently shooting 6% and 4% worse than Ricky Rubio from deep and mid-range respectively this season. Considering scoring is pretty much all he’s asked to do on a consistent basis, Wiggins doesn’t deserve serious All-Star consideration.
Finally there’s the ever-complicated Rajon Rondo, the only player in the league to average a points-assists double-double so far this season with 11.9 points and a league-leading 11.6 assists to go with 6.5 rebounds and 2 steals a night. He has also supplied 4 triple-doubles so far this season, 2nd only to Draymond Green’s 7. But in many ways Rondo is the DeAndre Jordan of point guards. It appears that despite the eye-popping numbers, Rondo might not be helping the Kings as much as we think he is. He’s near the bottom of the Kings’ regular rotation players with a NRtg of -4.7, and it’s possible his gaudy assist numbers is more a result of dominating the ball than anything else.
According to NBA.com, Rajon averages the 4th longest time of possession per game with an average time of 7:44 of ball possession. Assuming an even 50/50 split of time alternating between offense and defense of Rondo’s 35.4 minutes a night, and that means that Rondo has the ball in his hands over 40% of the time when the Kings are on offense. This could explain why DeMarcus Cousins is only marginally better when sharing the floor with Rondo, and the other Kings star Rudy Gay is actually about 9 points per 100 possessions better without him. Some players experience huge production boosts when Rondo sits, such as Omri Casspi whose TS% rises from 56.9% to 71.4%, and shooting guards Marco Belinelli and Ben McLemore are the only players who appear to benefit greatly from Rajon’s presence. Looking at the advanced statistics, Rondo doesn’t even appear to be the best point guard on his team, trailing Darren Collison in most measures of team performance.
This is why Rondo’s off NRgt in On/Off is the 2nd highest on the team at positive 0.9 points per 100 possessions when he sits. There will probably be a great push to get Rajon into the game, but an All-Star’s team shouldn’t be near their best when the All-Star on their bench.
Tier 4: The Pretender
Last season Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers called DeAndre’s absence from the All-Star team a "travesty."
Rivers later doubled down on his support of Jordan when he said DeAndre "is clearly the Defensive Player of the Year.' He was wrong in both circumstances. Though popular with fans, Jordan’s value is definitely overstated on defense, and probably overstated on offense as well. I can’t extrapolate further upon the argument that Seth Partnow delivers for the Washington Post on why DeAndre’s defense is overrated. Many times his reckless pursuits of blocks leads to him overextending himself on defense, leading to easy stick backs if he doesn’t corral the block.
On offense, inability to create his own shot outside of an offensive rebound has been exposed almost as often as his troubles from the free throw line. Regardless, he’s still averaging 11.6 points a game on a league-leading 73.1% from the field, all while grabbing 13.4 boards a game (good for 2nd in the league) and 2.4 blocks (4th). Jordan is a fine basketball player, but his highlight plays definitely inspire fans to overstate his true value—which is a shade below All-Star consideration.
Tier 5: The Contenders
C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns
These are the five Western Conference players that should be in serious contention for the final Western Conference All-Star spot. Admittedly, I don’t foresee an instance where C.J. McCollum is named an All-Star and Damian Lillard isn’t, but he’s having such a great season it would’ve been disrespectful to not include him in the final Tier. So in actuality, it should come down to only 4 players. Each player provides something unique and has a valid claim to the final spot.
Lillard is the best volume scorer out of the bunch and is doing the most with the least amount of help. Nowitzki has the All-Star tenure, and is the most important player on a playoff-bound team even at the age of 37. Klay Thompson is the most efficient scorer and provides solid defense for a team that might break the season win record, albeit as the 3rd best player on the team. Towns is the most impactful two-way player out of the lot, and while his per game averages aren’t as flashy as the other 3, he brings the most production on a per minute basis and has the highest PER.
Though the other 3 players appear to blow KAT out of the water on offense, when the the difference in playing time is normalized, the gap in offensive production shrinks mightily. I’m sure it’s already torture for Towns to rot on the bench every other game, at times watching Gorgui Dieng play 19 straight minutes without a rest. It seems cruel to add insult to injury by having his less-than-optimal playing time count against his All-Star bid as well.
Here are the per 36 minute numbers:
Not only is Towns within striking distance of Lillard and Thompson, he comes within a single point of equalizing Dirk’s basic scoring impact. There is an argument to be made that the other 3 players provide spacing benefits to their team which won’t show up in the boxscore, but KAT has already shown the ability to stretch defenses in ways that most centers can’t. While Lillard appears to have the strongest numbers, his assist numbers are actually below average for a point guard with his usage rate. According to ESPN, his assist ratio ranks 51st out of 67 qualified point guards this season.
So, why should Towns break the stalemate, and get the nod over everybody else for the final roster spot? Because he plays defense. Not just defense, but elite-level defense. Towns is currently 4th on the team in DRtg among players who have played over 100 minutes, and only established lock-down defenders Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Ricky Rubio rank above him. When it comes to rim protection, KAT is already among the best. According to Nylon Calculus, opponents are only shooting 45.5% at the rim against him, 6th among centers who play over 25 minutes a night.
He also contests 37.4% of shots at the rim, 10th among centers who play over 25 minutes a night. He is one of 4 centers to be in top 10 in both categories (Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol, and Tim Duncan are the other 3). He’s also getting it done with blocks, ranking 6th in BPG with 1.86 and tied for 5th with a BLK% of 5.3%. His rebounding numbers are also fantastic, with Towns tied for 13th in RPG with 9.5, and in 11th in TRB% with 18.7%. This stands in contrast to Lillard and Nowitzki, arguably among the worse defenders at their position in the league. Lilliard has the 3rd worst DRtg on the Trail Blazers, while Dirk is 4th.
While Klay Thompson is among the best defenders at his position, he doesn’t bring quite the all-around impact that KAT does—albeit for a much better team. But still, Towns’ two-way production is undoubtedly greater than Thompson’s. So, I think it’s high time Timberwolves fans start making a little bit more noise advocating KAT for the All-Star Game.
As mentioned plenty of times during the first two months of the year, he’s having a historic rookie season, and is already the 2nd best center in the West behind DeMarcus Cousins. While I’m pessimistic about his chances of actually making the team (I can’t see him beating out all 3 of these players in a vote among head coaches—he just doesn’t have the body of work that is needed to garner votes from other teams’ head coaches), he still deserves it the most—even with Sam Mitchell apparently doing everything in his power to impede him.
If elected to the team, he would become the 3rd youngest player to play in the All-Star game behind Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, a few months younger than his mentor Kevin Garnett. Forget the future, Towns is a force to be reckoned with today. An All-Star Game selection would another well-justified feather in KAT’s hat.