So, ladies and gentlemen, here are your 2009 NBA All-Stars from the Eastern Conference:
Which means these are the Eastern players who are currently feeling pretty disappointed:
This one is really tough. The Celtics would be excellent, we all suspect, with just anyone playing point guard. But they don't have just anyone playing point. They have one of the NBA's truly elite players. Even though he was doubted coming out of college, and still doesn't quite fit the mold (he's not much of a jump-shooter), Rondo is still truly special playing defense, getting into the lane, pushing the pace, deploying Boston's various weapons, and running one of the best teams in basketball for two years straight. It's just a matter of time before he makes this team.
For Ray Allen, it's not just a snub -- you can make a case he's the MVP of the current champs -- but it's also Groundhog Day. This happened last year, too! (He only made it as a replacement for an injured Caron Butler.) What's it going to take for the Celtics to earn the coveted three all-star status? If the Magic and Cavaliers hadn't come on so strong, and if the Celtics were still the NBA's best team by a country mile like they were in the early going, then Allen would be on this team.
Dwight Howard is the most important Magic player. And Rashard Lewis has not only hit more 3s than any other player in the NBA this season, but he is also now doing a nice job of mixing in efficient drives to the hoop. But I don't think Stan Van Gundy or anyone else in Orlando wants to know what this team is like without Hedo Turkoglu. He makes the right pass, he slashes with grace, he gets the ball to Dwight Howard when and where he can use it, he shoots like a guard, and he's absolutely deadly in crunch time and big games.
It is such a strange season for Vince Carter. There is a new sheriff in New Jersey, and his name is Devin Harris. And the Nets aren't all that great. So, all of that counts against him. But I'll tell you what -- the Nets are pretty good, considering they are in phase nine of ripping apart the last good roster they had. This thing is held together with duct tape until 2010. Vince Carter is that duct tape. And anyone who ever saw the TV show "MacGyver" knows, duct tape can be heroic.
The Hawks lost Josh Childress, and Joe Johnson has been hot and cold. But somehow they have improved over last season (26-19, compared to 21-24) even as the East has gotten tougher. A lot of that is attributable to the late-career maturation (or contract year effect?) of Mike Bibby. He's shooting the ball, and leading the team, better than ever.
Lee is just here as a courtesy to the millions of Knick fans. Oh, he's a player and all, and I know Mike D'Antoni was campaigning for him. But when your guy makes an open 20-foot jumper, and everyone is pleasantly surprised? That guy's not an All-Star. The competition is just too stiff. Look up there and look at who made it, and tell me who he should replace.
Adjusted plus/minus is a tough statistic for most people to internalize. It's plus/minus, but adjusted (with actual science!) for the quality of the other nine players on the floor. Like every measure, it's not perfect, but it does do something important: It at least attempts to encapsulate defense. Anyway, by that measure, Andre Iguodala is the second best player in the NBA. Just something to think about. Not to mention, since the last All-Star team was announced, the Sixers had some nice spells of making some noise in the East.
LeBron James has been waiting for a big shotmaker of a teammate for some time. And in recent weeks it has become clearer than ever that Williams plays that role better than anyone has. Despite the campaigning of James, a couple of things work against Williams as an All-Star: His stats are not elite -- his PER is 68th in the NBA -- and his 43-point game on Tuesday came just after the coaches finished voting for All-Star reserves.
Moving West. Your 2009 Western Conference All-Stars:
Which means here is the list of guys who are crying in their beer tonight:
Al Jefferson didn't make this team last year. And do you know what I wrote? "Play some defense! Jefferson might have the best right hand in sports. But without a commitment to defense, teamwork, and passing, all that gets you is a 'Junior Zach Randolph' badge."
Now, I can't say he has really mastered the art of defense yet. But his team has improved notably, and his numbers prove he is truly a bear. His PER is 14th best in the NBA. He's on track to have his second straight year averaging better than 20 and 10. At some point, that's good enough, even if your team is not elite.
In fact, Jefferson may be the strongest example yet that now, more than ever, the quality of your team matters as much as the quality of your play. I'm OK with winning being a factor. But I hope it's not a litmus test. If Danny Granger hadn't made it, you'd have to start thinking the players from also-ran teams weren't in the mix at all.
Carmelo Anthony is basketball royalty. He was a starter in this game last year. He has led Team USA, and NCAA champion Syracuse.
But things have always been hot and cold in Denver. People have been disappointed in everything from his body language to his defense. The teams he has led without Chauncey Billups have not been that great.
The Nuggets have turned over a new leaf. But nobody thinks that's a story of Anthony taking it to the next level. Players who don't play great D can't complain about PER. And PER says that Carmelo, this season, is not quite as good as Nate Robinson. The reason the Nuggets have improved so much is because of the arrival of Chauncey Billups, so it's right that the Nuggets send Billups to the big game ahead of Anthony.
One of the worst ways you can analyze a player is to cherry pick a handul of statistics that don't even mean all that much without a broader context. But it's fun, so I'm going to do it anyway. 35 points, ten rebounds, and six assists. 46 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. 28 points, 12 rebounds, and four steals. 41 points and ten rebounds. You see what I mean? These k
inds of stat lines are not hard to find in Kevin Durant's body of work.
Granted, his team came out of the gate terribly. But if they had played the entire season like they have played the last month, there is no way that Kevin Durant would not be on this team. I don't know precisely what the qualifications are to be an All-Star, but I know that just about everyone who puts up those kinds of numbers consistently for any length of time seems to make it.
Justin Kubatko is one of the most sophisticated NBA statistical minds out there. (I know this, because he is undefeated in the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown.) And today Kubatko wrote that Nene should be an All-Star. That's enough for me. If you want some actual evidence: Nene has two very strong things going for him: He plays unbelievably tough defense, and he leads the NBA in field goal percentage. Both of those things contribute nicely to winning.
Whenever Deron Williams plays against Chris Paul -- an MVP candidate -- it's abundantly clear that Williams is one of the best players in the NBA. Some injuries this year, and stats that are good but not incandescent like a lot of West guards, have made this time this year a lot like this time last year was for the young guard.
He's a two-time MVP! The game is in Phoenix! And it's not like he forgot how to play.
So, what happened? How is he down near the bottom of the list? There's simply no denying the fact that without Mike D'Antoni's open court offense, and without the Suns of yesteryear's up-tempo roster, Nash is a less potent player. The operative phrase of the season so far comes from TrueHoop's own Kevin Arnovitz: Nash, in this system, is "like a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag." It doesn't remove all of the glory. But it sure takes some of the shine off.
First, he wasn't expected him to make an NBA roster. Then no one expected him to get playing time. Then he didn't like ready for prime time minutes on a playoff team. Then he wasn't really a starter, was he?
Too small, too unfamous, too ... whatever the excuses were, they're done. This second-round pick has broken through in a whole different way this year. He's averaging 16 and 10, and his PER is nearly 21, which puts him in the NBA's top two dozen (and above the likes of Amare Stoudemire). Utah fans are now torn about who they value more, Millsap, or Carlos Boozer, who was an All-Star each of the last two years. Utah will have some difficult contract decisions ahead, as both could be free agents this summer.