The All-Star Game is still two months away, but there have been many standout performers in the West. Who currently deserves a starting spot on the West’s squad? Kevin Pelton made his early selections in today’s Per Diem. Now our 5-on-5 crew weighs in.
1. First West All-Star backcourt starter?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Chris Paul. He’s quietly having an MVP-caliber season, and the Clippers are somehow flying under the radar as one of the best teams in the league. He leads the league with 11.3 assists per game, but more impressively, his assist percentage of 55.3 percent is the third-highest single-season mark in NBA history for any player with at least 500 minutes played. Plus, what’s an All-Star Game without someone to set everybody up?
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: Chris Paul. The best point guard in basketball has been playing his best ball since joining the Clippers. For the first time in his career, Paul’s team is pushing the pace, yet he’s remained as in control as ever.
Andrew Lynch, Daily Dime Live: Chris Paul. Paul is the perfect point guard for an All-Star Game, able to knock down his own shot while setting others up for monstrous alley-oops. He’ll even make a token effort at playing a bit of defense, which is always appreciated in an exhibition that can be light on effort on that end.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Chris Paul by a mile, though I’m not sure All-Star votes are counted in miles. Anyway, Paul has been at his maestro greatest, averaging more assists per minute than ever. Incredibly, Paul cedes a mere 2.5 turnovers while creating all these opportunities for teammates. He’s been the league’s best point guard for a long time.
Justin Verrier, ESPN.com: Chris Paul. The best guard in the game, both statistically and subjectively, and thus an easy choice. The Clippers’ injuries and a tepid start to what was supposed to be the Clips’ colossal West takeover have iced his MVP momentum, but most of his numbers are personal bests since he landed in L.A.
2. Second West All-Star backcourt starter?
Elhassan: With all due respect to James Harden, I have to go with Steph Curry. No, the Warriors don’t have a better record than the Rockets, but for my money, there isn’t a more exciting guard to watch in the NBA than Curry. From his limitless range to his incredibly underrated ballhandling ability, Curry is must-see TV any time he sets foot on the court.
Herbert: Stephen Curry. He’s doing a bit more of everything with the ball in his hands this season, which is terrifying for opponents who aren’t used to accounting for guys effortlessly making pull-up jumpers from 28 feet. The way he’s passing the ball, the Steve Nash comparisons we’ve been making for years are more accurate than ever.
Lynch: Stephen Curry. With apologies to James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Curry is the one I’d want in the backcourt with Paul. They all have solid cases, and none would disappoint, but the prospect of Curry launching triples from 35 feet just to see how many he can make is too tempting to pass up.
Strauss: Stephen Curry, who has grown as a passer and playmaker on a team that lacked for passing and playmaking in Andre Iguodala‘s protracted absence. When Curry plays, the Warriors score 110.7 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, that figure drops to a disgusting 87.7 points. Golden State’s underwhelming start this season has obscured how fantastic its star has been.
Verrier: Stephen Curry. Sure, the 3-point percentage has dipped into somewhat-human territory, but the extra attention to the bombardier’s long game has only benefited his distribution, 2-point shooting, scoring and overall efficiency. It helps that his defense doesn’t inspire Benny Hill-themed blooper reels.
3. First West All-Star frontcourt starter?
Elhassan: Kevin Durant. He has the Thunder positioned with the best record in the league while leading the NBA in scoring and flirting with another 50-40-90 shooting season (FG-3PT-FT percentages). He’s truly a once-in-a-generation talent, and one has to wonder how we’d perceive Durant if LeBron James never existed!
Herbert: Kevin Durant. When the dude puts up 30-10-5 lines (points-rebounds-assists), we hardly even acknowledge it. He’s an incredible scorer and an impossible cover, but you knew that already.
Lynch: Kevin Durant. He’s probably the easiest choice. He’s clearly the best frontcourt player in the Western Conference, and any All-Star Game that didn’t include him as a starter would be downright fraudulent. His shooting is the obvious selling point, but don’t overlook just how vicious his dunks can be.
Strauss: Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and assists per minute. His season isn’t generating much buzz because we’ve collectively filed his game under “consistent brilliance.” We’re so desensitized to his greatness that we’re willing to entertain the notion that Paul George is better when George surprises us with a brief Durant-esque stretch.
Verrier: Kevin Durant. It’s sobering that my first thought upon seeing Durant’s numbers is to imagine his career if there was no LeBron James. Because the encore to an MVP-caliber 2012-13 has been almost every bit as good, and the Thunder have once again climbed into the driver’s seat out West. For now, though, Durant is unfortunately defined by the success of James, not by himself.
4. Second West All-Star frontcourt starter?
Elhassan: Dwight Howard. Much to the chagrin of some Lakers fans, there is life after leaving Los Angeles, and it is spectacular. As I wrote the other day, Howard to Houston has been a perfect marriage — he’s an ideal interior presence for the Rockets’ offense and an elite anchor for the their defense. He’s not quite Orlando Dwight (and he probably never will be again), but he doesn’t have to be on a team this talented.
Herbert: Kevin Love. The Timberwolves haven’t been able to sustain the success they had at the start of the season, but it’s not Love’s fault. He’s basically the guy he was two years ago when he was healthy, except a way better passer now. All the weight he lost hasn’t hurt him on the glass.
Lynch: Blake Griffin. He’s another player whose game is tailor-made for the All-Star Game. If Paul and Griffin are Lob City during the regular season, the All-Star Game stands to turn them into Lob Galaxy. Maybe even Lob Universe. And while it’s not really a factor in this type of game, his improvement as a complete offensive player stands to be rewarded.
Strauss: Kevin Love. He has that Stephen Curry issue of “teammates have disappointed.” Meanwhile, Love is averaging an efficient 25.2 points to go with 13.7 boards. These numbers are absurd, and they aren’t empty stats. Love would get credit for more victories if the Wolves’ bench were just somewhat competent. Still, if Minnesota misses the playoffs, many are going to set about finding explanations for why it’s his fault. Hmm, reminds me of a certain other power forward who used to play there.
Verrier: LaMarcus Aldridge. This may be the only All-Star honor the Blazers end up with, but it’s an important one for Aldridge. The quiet, supposed “soft” third banana of the Brandon Roy-Greg Oden era has graduated to the player on the team of the season’s first quarter. That jumper — he catches and shoots almost as well as Curry — is the beautiful game at its best.
5. Third West All-Star frontcourt starter?
Elhassan: LaMarcus Aldridge, edging out Kevin Love in the time-honored tradition of rewarding a player for his team’s performance. He has been the main offensive workhorse for the surprising 22-5 Blazers and is rebounding better than he ever has. He’s also one of only four players currently averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. Of course, Love is also one of those four, scores and rebounds more, and has a higher true shooting percentage, but who am I to break decades of tradition!
Herbert: LaMarcus Aldridge. Surrounded by sharpshooters and a premier point guard, Portland’s rock at the power forward position is doing what he’s always done. He’s just winning more. The Blazers’ killer offense revolves around Aldridge attracting attention, swishing jumpers and making the right plays. He’s improved as a rebounder and a leader, but he’s been great for years.
Lynch: Kevin Love. He’d match Curry and Durant 3-pointer for 3-pointer, and his famous outlet passes would lead to spectacular moments in a game where everyone is leaking out after every possession.
Strauss: LaMarcus Aldridge. I’m happy there’s no longer a center spot because there are so many great power forwards out West. While you could make a case for Dirk Nowitzki, Aldridge wins on account of playing more minutes for a better team. Right now he’s the focal point of basketball’s best offense and the biggest star on a team that’s shocking the world.
Verrier: Anthony Davis. Sorry, Kevin Love, but seven missed games isn’t enough to dock a 20-year-old with the second-best PER in the league. The numbers tell the story of the browed prodigy’s big leap in Year 2, but that Davis has the Pelicans — a fine but forgettable young club — creeping into must-watch territory certainly says a lot, too.