We are two weeks away from the 2014 NBA All-Star Game starters being announced, three weeks from learning the reserves and five weeks from All-Star weekend itself.
On Wednesday, the latest returns for All-Star voting were released. In a complete and total shock, the two best players in the league - LeBron James and Kevin Durant - led all vote-getters.
Those two are locks to start the game. They will be joined in New Orleans by eight other starters and 14 reserves. Which players are going to take those spots? Let's take a closer look.
As I said, LeBron James is leading the East - and the entire NBA - in voting. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are running away with the second and third frontcourt spots. Those three will be starting in the East.
In the backcourt, it's pretty clear cut as well with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving way ahead of third place Derrick Rose (who is out for the season anyway).
Irving-Wade-George-James-Anthony. That is your starting five in the East and it doesn't really matter how any of them are playing.
That leaves three frontcourt, two backcourt and two wild card spots. Looking over rosters, my shortlist for reserves in the East includes Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond, Al Jefferson, Nikola Vucevic, Thaddeus Young, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Lance Stephenson, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker, Arron Afflalo, and Michael Carter-Williams.
Josh Smith: 15 points, seven rebounds and 40 percent shooting. No. Greg Monroe (15 points, nine rebounds, 50 percent shooting) and Andre Drummond (13 points, 13 rebounds, 60 percent shooting) are playing well, but Smith's (and Brandon Jennings') chuckiness plus the team's poor record hurts their case.
Vucevic is having a nice season (13 and 11) but Orlando is awful. Al Jefferson is himself, putting up 17 and 10, but Charlotte isn't very good either. Thaddeus Young is putting up 18 and seven but he might not even still be in the Eastern Conference by the All-Star break.
That leaves five players from my list.
Chris Bosh is putting up solid numbers on very good shooting percentages and he's only playing 30 minutes per game (per 36 he is at 19 and eight). Chris Bosh is an All-Star yet again.
Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah are both doing what they always do. Hibbert is the anchor of the best defense in the NBA, while Noah is putting up a double-double in addition to dishing out almost four assists per game. Both of these guys are All-Stars.
So the three frontcourt reserves are Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Joakim Noah. We'll take another look at Luol Deng and Paul Millsap when we get to the wildcards.
Can we just give the Eastern reserve guard spots to the West please? No Rose, no Rondo, Deron Williams is a shell of himself... So who makes it?
Kemba Walker, Brandon Jennings and Michael Carter-Williams are all putting up big numbers, but their teams are awful and their efficiency numbers are almost as bad.
That leaves six players on the list.
Jeff Teague is putting up great numbers, but his advanced stats and efficiency numbers are more in line with the guys I already eliminated than the others below.
Lance Stephenson is having a great year for the Pacers and he's doing a lot of things. 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists is a pretty nice stat-line. He belongs in the discussion, but I don't think he's an All-Star.
John Wall is perhaps the last of the freakishly athletic point guards that is still healthy now that Eric Bledsoe has followed Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook into the injury list. This kind of exhibition is made for him. After a slow start, Wall has picked it up and is putting up 19 points and nine assists per game and has his Wizards fighting for a home playoff series. He's an All-Star.
Kyle Lowry's name has been tossed around in trade speculation, but he's having a terrific season and has been even better since Rudy Gay was shipped out. His teammate DeMar DeRozan has been pretty darn good as well, averaging 21 points per game. If only one of these guys were to make it, I'd probably lean Lowry as he does more things for his team. And if you hadn't noticed, the Raptors have been pretty good lately with him leading the charge.
Few people have probably realized it as he's wasting away in obscurity down in Orlando, but Aaron Afflalo has been unbelievable this year. He's posting a 20-4-4 stat line on 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. There's a possibility Orlando trades him before the All-Star break, but if he's still in the Eastern Conference he deserves to make the All-Star team. Orlando may be awful, but that definitely isn't his fault and I don't think this is just a case of putting up big numbers on a bad team.
I'm going with John Wall and Aaron Afflalo as my back-up guards.
This is where it gets tough. Two spots left, and there are three guys I think deserve to make it.
Deng is having a 19-7-4 season in addition to the work he does defensively. However, he just got traded to Cleveland and we will have to see how he adjusts to his new team. If his numbers fall off or he can't stay healthy, I'd leave him off my team. However, if he's able to help that Cleveland team start to win, it would be hard not to send him to New Orleans.
As I wrote above, Lowry is leading the resurgent Raptors to within a game of third place in the East. His advanced stats are ridiculous (his offensive rating is 120!). As I also wrote above, Lowry is their best player ahead of DeRozan so he is out of the running.
The Raptors are a game out of third place, but the Atlanta Hawks are currently in third and Paul Millsap has been a big reason for that. Now that Al Horford (who would have made this team if he were healthy) is out for the season, Millsap has had to step up alongside Teague as the team's go-to guys.
I did a bit of crowdsourcing on Twitter, and every response I got was for Lowry and Millsap. Therefore, those two get the final two spots on my All-Star team. Deng is first injury alternate.
There you have it. My Eastern Conference All-Star team.
G: Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Kyle Lowry
G: Dwyane Wade, Arron Afflalo
F: Paul George, Paul Millsap
F: LeBron James, Chris Bosh
F: Carmelo Anthony, Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah
How does it look? Did I miss the mark on some players? Did I snub someone more deserving? Let me know.
Stay tuned for part two next week to see how Goran Dragic stacks up in the more talented and wild, wild Western Conference.
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