The mid-way point of the season has already passed, but the public offering for the half-way mark has always been looked at as the All-Star Break. That is this weekend.
Going into the break the Phoenix Suns are one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season. They have a Skills Competition and Rising Stars participants, but despite the early season success, no All-Stars. The team has not had an All-Star since Steve Nash a few years back, but this year they put the pressure on the voters with the terrific play of a few different players.
All-Star returns may be disappointing, but this team has been far from that all season long with their play overall.
Enough of me, let's get to what matters. The staff takes some New Year's Resolutions for the Phoenix Suns, here we go.
Twenty-Seventh Topic: All-Star Rewards
1. Breaking the Ice: The Suns and the Bobcats are the only two current playoff teams without an All-Star... Is that defensible?
Jim Coughenour: The Suns have an All-Star, he just won't be playing in the scrimmage. Goran is just a victim of circumstance in a game of dominoes. Not enough fell. Even minus a gifted spot to Kobe and plus a surprise opening due to Russell Westbrook going down it just became a bad match up against math. Goran
might be is having a better season than any guard in the Eastern Conference. In the West it's not so easy. There's a reason for the huge chasm in quality between the two conferences... all the talent is over here. The Bobcats would be in a dog fight for 14th place if they moved them to Phoenix's division so I'm not inconsolable over their calamitous misfortune.
Jacob Padilla: Yes, it is defensible. As far as the Bobcats, Al Jefferson is playing well but he wouldn't even be in the conversation out West. Which is exactly why the Dragic exclusion is at least somewhat defensible as well. I've already written extensively about all things All-Star so won't spend many words here. Goran Dragic deserved it, but him not making it isn't an egregious omission because of his competition (unlike, say, Joe Johnson in the East).
Dave King: The Bobcats have not won as many games as the Suns or played in a conference as tough as the Suns have played in, so I will have to focus on the Suns here. While the Bobcats have a couple of very good players, no one on either team matches the contributions of Goran Dragic this season. Only one of these players has a PER higher than all but Chris Paul and Stephen Curry among NBA guards. Only one player from either team has the highest True Shooting Percentage (which accounts for three pointers) of all NBA point guards. Goran Dragic is an All-Star.
Kris Habbas: This is not football or baseball where there are enough roster spots to satisfy every team getting a representative. It just is what it is, but on the flip side there is no question that Dragic (and Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson) have played like All-Star's and if you remove them from their respective teams they are a few wins light of a playoff team.
Sean Sullivan: In the case of the Bobcats, yes. In the case of the Suns, no. Actually, I don't think All-Star representation needs to be based off of where a team ranks in the standings, as much as it does the individual play of the participants. Looking at Goran Dragic, specifically, he is in elite company in certain metrics, and "star" company in others. What seems to be clear, is that he deserves to be in the All-Star game over guys like Lillard and Parker, and possibly even Curry, for what he's done in Phoenix this year. I'm not really upset that Anthony Davis was picked over Dragic as a reserve to replace Kobe...Davis has also had a phenomenal season and deserved to be in it.. I'm more disappointed that one, Kobe was voted in as a starter to begin with, and two, other reserves like those mentioned above have had less of an impact than Dragic, and yet will be playing instead of him.
Mike Lisboa: So much reason in all of these answers. Allow me to channel the outrage of the more fanatical. This is an injustice and a travesty! It makes a mockery of the purported meritocracy of the National Basketball Association. Goran Dragić should have been a mortal lock for a trip to New Orleans and not just to dribble and pass in some high school talent contest! You want skills?! How about 63.6% field goal shooting, 57.9% 3-point shooting, 8 FTA, 5 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game over his last 4 games. That's against NBA players, not cones and nets. He's already won the skills competition, now it's time for him to win something bigger.
2. Who on the Western Conference Roster could you justify removing for Goran Dragic, who is having a career year?
JP: On my team, I assumed Paul would miss the game. However, I also left Tony Parker off my list. Dragic has an argument over Lillard as well. Those guys are certainly deserving, but the load Dragic has had to carry makes him a bit more deserving in my book.
DK: I have to say Damian Lillard. He gets all the touches he wants but doesn't score well at the rim and doesn't make a high percentage of his jumpers. I could also make a case to remove Tony Parker (Dragic has been better) and Chris Paul (injury).
KH: That is tough. There is no easy answer here, obviously, but if I had a gun to my head and had to remove someone from the reserves it would be -- Chris Paul. For injury purposes and the sake of a NBA Championship pipe-dream that they have in that other L.A. locker room Paul should not dress for this years All-Star Game. The other reserves are all deservedly there.
SS: Looks like I jumped ahead on this one on the previous question. But Dragic is playing better than both Lillard and Parker for sure. I can understand making an argument for Parker based on not only his numbers but what he's accomplished in San Antonio, but Lillard isn't even the best player on the Blazers this season, and LaMarcus Aldridge is already an All-Star as well. He shouldn't have made it in over Dragic. Period.
ML: I'd have to go with Damian Lillard. Dragic's play this season is better in almost every facet and tons more efficient. I know efficiency doesn't sell tickets the way game-winners do, but Goran is doing more for his team with less support than Lillard. You know what would have been awesome? The new commissioner kicking off the Silver Era by announcing a Dragic vs. Lillard play-in game of 1-on-1 for the final guard spot. I'd even be happy with Dragic vs Anthony Davis for the final injury replacement slot. A fella can dream, right?
JC: Nobody. Dragic was just the odd man out, for obvious reasons. Parker's career achievements do matter in this context. Lillard would be just as much of a snub if the shoe was on the other foot. It's theater and entertainment. Goran doesn't move the meter like some of these guys. Maybe the Suns should be doing a better job of promoting him.
3. Having said that the Suns are in two events this year. Thoughts?
DK: I think the league is fortunate to have the Suns' Miles Plumlee and Goran Dragic doing SOMETHING in New Orleans. Where the Suns are woefully underrepresented is in the three-point shootout. Channing Frye and Gerald Green would have been great reps, ahead of Damian Lillard or Joe Johnson. Channing Frye is a great NBA story, coming back from the heart issue to shoot 40% from three and scoring 12.2 points per game.
KH: We need to get Gerald Green in the Dunk Contest and Luke Zeller in the Three-Point Shootout... Look, the NBA should have done anything they could to get the Suns more representation in this weekend with how well they have been playing. The team is the feel good story of the year. Giving them exposure this weekend could boost ratings, attendance, and make the casual fan more aware of one of the most exciting teams in the league.
SS: I'm glad that Miles Plumlee replaced that 31 year old guy in Atlanta for the "Rising Stars"...He should have made it in to begin with. I think the whole format in which you have to have a certain amount of players from each conference selected initially is unnecessary, especially when they will all mix together on different teams anyway. But nonetheless, he's in now, and I'm happy for him. As for Dragic in the skills challenge, that's great and all, but I can't help thinking of it as a consolation prize. And please tell me how Gerald Green wasn't invited to the dunk contest? Or how neither Green or Frye was invited to the 3-point shoot out?
ML: I think everybody loses with the lack of representation for the Suns. The league keeps flexing Suns games to be nationally televised but is doing next-to-nothing to pimp the franchise. Maybe that's on Phoenix, but there's only so much they can do at the national level. Gerald Green and/or Channing Frye's omission from the 3-point shoot out is criminal. Hey, NBA! You've got a Cinderella story on your hands! Get this gang to the ball!
JC: The Suns have people participating? I thought it was going to be another one of those 1980 Summer Olympics meets the Smoothie King Stadium situations. At least Dave can interview Goran when he wins the skills challenge...
JP: I've also written about this. If you don't feel like looking that up: Dragic and Reggie Jackson should be the favorite in the Skills Challenge, props to Grant Hill for inviting Miles Plumlee (BAMF knows what's up) and Channing Frye should have been invited to the 3PT shoot-out. Overall, it's not what we were hoping for but it is good for the Suns to be represented at All-Star Weekend, which will be the center of the basketball universe for that three-day span.
4. Can this be motivation for the team in the second half of the season?
KH: Yes and no... The real answer should just be no. In the end a slight is a slight, but there are far too few slots in these events to get upset about not making it in a popularity contest.
SS: It could be, but I doubt it will be. This team seems more focused on winning and playing hard because that's who they are, not because who they are trying to impress or prove a point to. The thing I'm most looking forward to is seeing whether Bledsoe can rejoin the team at some point after the All-Star break, and finding out just how good this team can be with him reintroduced into the lineup with Dragic playing the was he is right now.
ML: It seems unlikely. It might be another feather in the "No One Believes In Us" cap, but I can't see Jeff Hornacek writing "All-Star Snub" on the team's locker room whiteboard. Maybe Frye and Green take it personally and rain hell from the perimeter (please!), but I think it's more likely the team is just going to keep punching the clock, putting their heads down and doing work.
JC: I'd like to see Goran keep up his parching play and make third team All-NBA. Being discounted has given this team motivation all season. It's been evident, and explicitly stated, that they've taken pride in quelling their doubters. I think this team takes a little bit of sadistic glee in being that underappreciated group that hands you your ass.
JP: Goran seems like the kind of guy who carries a chip on his shoulder over things like this, but he blew up down the stretch last year too so he was probably going to kill it anyway.
DK: No. The real season starts after the deadline, when it's the stretch run of the season to make the playoffs. It gets real later this month. Real real. All-Star representation won't be considered seriously again until summer.
5. Having said all of that the team as a whole basically has six straight days off. Good for recharging the batteries or opportunity to gain some rust?
SS: Definitely a good rest for them. This team plays full-throttle, pedal to the medal basketball. Even though they are young, they are pushing themselves hard night in and night out. If anything, that's the best news about Dragic not making the All-Star game...He'll get more of a chance to rest. I expect the Suns to come back rejuvenated and ready to resume their push for the playoffs.
ML: Why not both? No doubt the Suns have struggled after extended breaks (5-8 with 3+ days of rest), but this team has played hard in every game this season. Coach Hornacek has done a good job spreading the minutes around with only Dragic (34.5) and P.J. Tucker (30.3) playing over 30 minutes a night. That's still at least a full quarter of rest per game. If this team is going to make a serious push for and then into the playoffs, they'll need to come out of the break with pink bunny ears and a kettle drum. I'll take a game of rust initially if it means Phoenix is ready to keep going and going and...
JC: Batteries. The Suns have a lot of guys (Plumlee, Green, the Morrii) playing minutes they aren't accustomed to. Even Frye is coming off of a hiatus in terms of the rigors of an 82 game schedule. We don't want our guys hitting a wall. We want to be a wall that other teams hit.
JP: I don't think it will hurt them too much, and it might help some of the veterans and some of the young guys still adjusting to a full NBA schedule.
DK: The Suns suck after having any more than 1 day off this season, so any break is a killer. They don't get better with more practice apparently, or their defense would have better over the past week. The Suns just need to play, and play a lot.
KH: Having rest is good for Channing Frye, P.J. Tucker, and the coaching staff, but for the rest of the young legs they should be in the gym getting shots up. Playing 3-on-3 games. Keeping their legs underneath them. Rust coming out of the All-Star Weekend could be devastating, especially with Dallas and Memphis nipping at the heels.
BONUS: Are you an All-Star Weekend kind of a basketball fan? If yes, what is the best part to you?
SS: Yes. I've always been more of a fan of the competitions than the actual game. I enjoy the dunk contest like everyone else, but I also like the 3-point shooting and skills challenges. I look forward to those more than the All-Star game. In fact, even the Rising Stars challenge is usually more fun to watch for me because I get to see the rookies play against each other, and sometimes it's the first chance I get to really see some of these players play significant minutes against each other.
ML: I rarely sit down to watch it. I prefer to to just check out the highlights after the fact. And I'm certainly not watching this year unless Dragic gets added to the squad somehow. Outrage! Outrage!
JC: The All-Star game and festivities are fun... plus they come along at a time where they have very little competition. I'm looking forward to seeing Durant take the MVP. Hopefully he can go off in one of those sequences where sh_* gets real.
JP: I'm a fan of all things basketball, and All-Star weekend certainly applies. I watch every year, and that won't change this year.
DK: I'm a big fan this year, thanks to Crown Royal! But otherwise, no.
KH: Nope. Honestly have not watched one since high school, which wasn't terribly long ago, but lets just say that Chamillionaire was relevant. "The All-Star Game been ridin' dirty... ridin' dirty."
Bright Siders, what do you think? What are your overall thoughts on All-Star Weekend this year?