NBA coaches have received their All-Star voting instructions.
And here on Stein Line Live they'll receive all the guidance they'll need to make their choices ... following the same official guidelines ordained by the league office.
East head coaches, like their West counterparts, are being asked to vote for seven reserves from their conference by Tuesday at noon ET under the following conditions:
1. Coaches must vote for two guards, three frontcourt players and two wild cards.
2. Players must be ranked in specific order of preference in all three categories.
3. Coaches are explicitly told as part of the voting process that the position at which a player "is listed on the All-Star ballot should have no bearing on your vote." Each coach is encouraged, furthermore, to vote for players "at the position he thinks is most advantageous for the All-Star team" and "not necessarily the one he plays most often during the season."
4. Coaches are obviously not allowed to vote for their own players.
The starters in the East, as announced Thursday night, are LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George in the frontcourt, with Dwyane Wade and Kyrie Irving at guard. The East bench, which will be announced next Thursday on TNT, would look like this on ESPN.com's mythical ballot:
Wall began the season facing seriously ramped-up scrutiny and pressure after signing a max-contract extension. His response: 20.2 points, 8.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game to outshine Irving and put the long-suffering Wizards in position to capitalize on the car crash that is the Leastern Conference standings from the No. 3 seed down.
The Wiz still haven’t crept over .500 for even a day -- even with Wall playing the best ball of his life -- but they figure to be a factor in the race for home-court advantage in the first round from here. And the All-Star berth Wall is sure to finally snag in his fourth season should ease at least some of the sting from this week’s bad news, when he was omitted from the 28-man player pool that USA Basketball has chosen to handle the next three summers.
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry is another point guard who has seized upon the injury absences of Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, as well as Deron Williams’ ups and downs, to unexpectedly contend for an All-Star spot. You could make the case that Lowry has been the second-best QB in the Least, behind only Wall, since the Raptors traded away the ball-stopping Rudy Gay. But the defiant DeRozan, on this scorecard, has been the most influential Raptor post-Gay, both on the floor and in the locker room as the Raps' anti-tanking spokesman. He's a fan favorite who also possesses the sort of rim-attacking game that makes the most sense in an All-Star setting. So since we're not quite ready to send two Raptors to New Orleans, DeRozan is the choice here alongside Wall.
Hibbert’s game might well be the furthest thing from DeRozan’s, but he also happens to be the league’s runaway Defensive Player of the Year and the unquestioned anchor for one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen in decades. Coaches appreciate that sort of work even more than we do, so Hibbert’s a lock.
Miami’s Chris Bosh is another heavy favorite here, but I’m going with a second defense-minded big -- like it or not -- because Noah has been so stubbornly good as a two-way force in keeping the 21-20 Bulls glued together in the wake of Derrick Rose’s knee woes and the trade exile of Luol Deng. (Related question: Do we really need three Heatles in New Orleans if they’re coasting like everybody says?)
As for the last slot ... Millsap is our best stab with Al Horford regrettably lost for the season to another torn pectoral muscle. The undersized Millsap can’t quite match Horford’s sky-high efficiency, but he’s a sneaky good two-way player who has proved to be one of the bargains of the season for an Atlanta team that reached the 41-game marker at a hard-to-fathom three games over .500.
In pretty much any other season, we’d be among the loudest voices screaming that an 11-32 team can’t have an All-Star. Yet this is that one unsightly season, at least in the Leastern Conference, where we’re lucky to see five teams with winning records in the morning paper and where there are no such rules.
Afflalo’s offensive consistency and highly accurate shooting eye, while grinding away on an overmatched Orlando squad that doesn’t surround him with much help, gives him a real shot at his first-ever trip to All-Star Weekend.
Jefferson, meanwhile, has won us over by helping to keep Charlotte in the East’s top eight through the season’s first half despite the very limited offensive options around him ... and without dragging down the Bobcats defense like so many cynics thought he would. It's realistically tough to imagine Bosh not getting the coaches' support to join LeBron and D-Wade, but I find myself drawn to the Millsaps, Afflalos and Jeffersons to fill all those unforeseen openings caused by the league's injury epidemic.